Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sunshine in my eyes

Posted 08 Mar 2015 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

IMG_7376 After a very cold winter here in D.C., Rock Creek Park was teeming with humans soaking up the first rays of spring. Bouncing off the white snow, the warm sun blinded. A father with a wailing newborn in a carriage passed me with a look of exasperation. I wonder if it was the first time that baby had ever experienced sunlight?We forget that everything is new for infants; we take for granted the stores of knowledge we have built; we have a different sense of time.

On being human

Posted 02 Oct 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

You know why I love the Reggio Philosophy? Because it helps me become a better human being.

Guiding Guided Play

Posted 26 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

Well, it never made it into the editorials in the NY Times, but here is my response to Gina Bellafante’s article, “Guiding Guided Play.”

The merits of progressive education may be beneficial to less privileged children. (Bellafante, Guiding Guided Play,” New York Times, September 7, 2014). However, her description of environments such as the dramatic play area, misses the essence of complex play. It is not to “sound out the spelling of a word like ‘pizza.’” Rather, imitation, symbolic representation, negotiation, conversation, cooperation, and imagination are important benefits and should be valued equally with spelling mastery. Attributing a hierarchy to disciplines diminishes the importance of experiences that make a well-rounded, life-long learner. Society must recognize the inherent worth of all domains of learning to eliminate achievement gaps. What affluent children gain by “conversations about the mechanics of Congress …or the history of bagels…” is not information, but, as Ms. Farina knows, the ability to converse and sustain relationships, “some of the most important training of all.”

Transition Week

Posted 01 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

You know what my two sons said about the first week of school?

Middle Schooler: “Ugh, enough of this get-to-know-you stuff. I am only learning something in my Chinese class, he’s the only one who’s teaching us anything.”

High Schooler: “Another week of review and routines, it’s boring.”

As an advocate of “transition week,” I am thinking/rethinking long and hard about the beginning of school,  about how to establish routines and classroom culture while simultaneously engaging children’s curiosity and insatiable desire to learn.


A Good Bad Teaching Day: The Do-Over

Posted 06 Aug 2014 — by Jennifer
Category role of teacher, Uncategorized

“I’m going to start this class a little differently this morning, because I am feeling self-reflective. Yesterday was a bad teaching day,” I said to 17 DC Public School teachers who were part of a 3-day class I was teaching on color, tempera paint and watercolors. I was disappointed in the quality of the materials I had purchased. The tempera acted like watercolor and the watercolor behaved like tempera paint–it’s hard to talk about transparency and light as a quality of watercolor when the yellow paint can cover blue–and check out the transparency of the tempera paint:


I went home after Day 2 feeling disappointed in myself, and frustrated. I saw the participants’ faces and read boredom at my feeble attempts to salvage the day. I explained the material conundrum to higher-ups, saying that I might have to cut the 3rd day short if I couldn’t find a solution. Everyone was fine with that option, except me. I had 17 people who came to class excited, interested in learning something new, eager to participate and hungry for knowledge. And I had let them down. It would be so easy to blame the materials and cancel the class, so easy to blame the fact that I had to order from particular companies. I could have chalked it up to lack of participant’s experience with the materials (how many times have you said to yourself “the children can’t ________”), and  moved on to something else, but instead, I blamed myself. I revisited my teaching–the context, the environment, the provocation, the intent, and then I set out to fix my mistakes.  I rounded up better quality paper from my own stash. I left the watercolors open overnight so they would dry out a bit and not be as sticky. I experimented and came up with a way for participants to make washes with the colors. I change the brushes to a softer bristle. I found better words and tools to explain what glazing is.  I came back for day 3 with renewed vigor and determination.

This may not sound like a remarkable story, because it’s not, it happens all the time when we teach. We make mistakes, we aren’t adequately prepared for children (or adults), we don’t ask the right questions, or we miss crucial elements in our documentation. The experience did make me think though, about how many times in our classrooms we don’t acknowledge our mistakes, and just plow on through to get to the next “successful” thing. It is easy to blame bad teaching days on children’s behavior, or the week of rainy days, or lack of children’s interest, but I think in doing so we not only give up on ourselves but we give up on children. I learned a lot when I admitted to myself that I goofed. I forced myself to face the problem. I admitted my mistake to my class. I found solutions to the problems, and different strategies for teaching. And, and I think this is a key point here–I gave myself,  the participants, and the materials, another opportunity. If participants got nothing else out of the class, I hope they understood the deep learning that can emerge from the do-over, and the courage it takes to admit you need one.

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? –

Posted 04 Aug 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

Why Do Americans Stink at Math? –

I love the concept of jugyokenkyu explained in this article: a public “lesson study” for teachers where a lesson is taught, and observed discussed and critiqued. Green writes, “The best discussions were the most microscopic, minute-by-minute recollections of what had occurred, with commentary…By the end, the teachers had learned not just how to teach the material from that day but also about math and the shape of students’ thoughts and how to mold them.”


The Hands and the Mind

Posted 31 Jul 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized

photo 3

William James, renowned psychologist and philosopher wrote in 1910 about “manual training,” what I would call hands-on learning. Interesting to see what deep value he places on working with your hands.

It a long quotation but I didn’t want to shorten it (my emphasis).


“The most colossal improvement which recent years have seen in secondary education lies in the introduction of the manual training schools; not because they will give us a people more handy and practical for domestic life and better skilled in trades, but because they will give us citizens with an entirely different intellectual fibre. Laboratory work and shop work engender a habit of observation, a knowledge of the difference between accuracy and vagueness, and an insight into nature’s complexity and into the inadequacy of all abstract verbal accounts of real phenomena, as lifelong possessions. They confer precision; because, if you are doing a thing, you must do it definitely right or definitely wrong. They give honesty; for, when you express yourself by making things, and not by using words, it becomes impossible to dissimulate your vagueness or ignorance by ambiguity. They beget a habit of self-reliance; they keep the interest and attention always cheerfully engaged, and reduce the teachers’s disciplinary function to a minimum.”
James, William. Talks to Teachers on Psychology: and to Students on Some of Life’s Ideals. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1910. Print.


In Memorandum: Margot Adler

Posted 30 Jul 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized



Sixteen years ago, Margot Adler came to my school, the Model Early Learning Center, to find out more about the Reggio Approach. I was saddened to hear of her death Monday, from cancer.

Here is the transcript from Morning Edition, February 1996, of her interview with us:

Margot Adler Visits A Washington, D.C. Preschool : NPR.

Adler’s early death was a  great loss for NPR, and for all of us who appreciated her insightful and compassionate reporting.



The Fieldwork of Our Profession

Posted 09 May 2014 — by Jennifer
Category observation, role of teacher, Uncategorized


I watched carefully as a male catbird puffed up his chest, threw up his head, and crept closer to a female sitting on the telephone wire.  Puff up chest, side step to the right, puff up chest, side step to the right, until a second male came in for a challenge. Nonplussed, the female flew off, both males trailing her through the woods.

I surprised myself, being able to read the language of birds. After a one-semester class on animal behavior, I have learned how to look, how to observe, and how to figure out some of the culture and communication of animals. Before this class I would have noticed something going on with the catbirds, but I would not have understood the behavior. It took a mediator, the teacher and the other students in the class, and above all, field work–real time observation of animals with colleagues–in order for me to learn this language.

The same kind of mediation, or scaffolding, is helpful in learning how to observe in our classrooms, learning how to read and interpret what we notice, and also to notice more. I remember a story published in Innovations (V. 18, n.1, Winter 2011), called Francesco and the Paper Tube.  Francesco (about 6 months old), playing with large paper covering the floor, tears off a large piece. It rolls up on itself, and he picks up a marker and puts it into the paper tube. A common situation-which could have a common interpretation about cause and effect, or balance, or gravity. But the educators in Reggio saw something else in that episode, they saw the empathy with which Francesco held the paper tube to keep it intact, his sensitivity–he didn’t crush the paper tube, but was delicate, and careful with his touch.

Before reading the article, I never would have thought of empathy in that situation.  Making the documentation–the story and the interpretation–accessible to others helps me to see differently.  I have a new point of reference in my repertoire, a different sense of what could be, what is possible. The power of documentation is this incredible opportunity for us to see the world through more points of view, to offer additional perspectives. Reflecting together, analyzing and synthesizing collaboratively, “doing together,” is the field work of our profession.


Opal School has a new ebook!

Posted 27 Mar 2014 — by Jennifer
Category Uncategorized
Opal School, a public charter school in Portland, Oregon, just put together their first eBook, based on a preschool story Caroline Wolfe and Lauren Adams  Creating Possible Worlds: The Teacher’s Role in Nurturing a Community Where Imagination Thrives.
Here is a summary and review from the website:
“This book documents a project that was facilitated by teachers Lauren Adams and Caroline Wolfe in the Opal Beginning School preschool classroom with children ages 3 – 5 years during the 2012 – 13 school year. The story that you’ll find contained in these pages was written and presented by Lauren and Caroline for the Opal School Summer Symposium in June, 2013. They inspire us to wonder together: How does the world of imagination and storytelling support the world of science and reason? How might the languages of the arts support children to make sense of their relationship with one another and together negotiate meaning of the world around them? What if adults worked with children to bring their ideas to life? What might be possible for us all?”
“Creating Possible Worlds is an invitation to educators to be curious, self-aware, humble, and contemplative. The book illuminates both the inward thinking and the collegial conversations that guide Opal School educators as they join with children to explore questions that matter. It is both provocative and encouraging, as it asks educators to claim a strong role in constructing knowledge, neither shying away from nor overly asserting their right to active participation in investigation and learning alongside children.” Ann Pelo, author of The Goodness of Rain and The Language of Art

It is a beautiful documentation project – 70 pages filled with great photos that tells a delightful and powerful story.

It will be released the second week of April, and the ebook is very affordable at $11.99.