This last Friday I was given a day off of work, partially due to the fact that I worked every day of the Labor Day weekend. I didn’t care. Extra pay is nice and Labor Day is a pointless holiday. But hey, free Friday off? Fine by me as well.
Instead of relaxing, I had a day of things planned, including visiting Abel’s school. In a handout they gave us at the end of week one, we saw that visitation was allowed up to two hours a month in one hour increments, so I figured I would at least do one in the year. Mostly because I had a lot of questions as to what kindergarten was like these days.
Don’t worry, this won’t be a post full of nostalgia about teaching now versus teaching then. I don’t remember enough about kindergarten to be nostalgic! I remember trying real hard to memorize a phone number for stickers. I remember an assignment where we had to write numbers 1-100, and I went to like, 2000 (took it home to work on) and got an extra check mark.
No, most of my reason for doing this came from fear. For a whole year in graduate school I taught Geology For Early Education Majors Lab. There were some good future teachers there yes, but of my ~100 students, maybe only 20 I was really confident in. A lot of them fit a stereotype where they just wouldn’t try and wanted things handed to them. I was scared for the future educators who would attempt to teach my kids!
Now that introductions are out of the way, let’s talk about this more modern kindergarten. Names will be changed for privacy reasons.
As luck would have it, right when I got to the room for observation, it was time for the class to go on a potty break. So, a bit awkward, as I was then left in the empty class. Observation is great, but observing that is awkward. It did give me time to walk around and see how the class was set up as I didn’t get a chance to do so when they first met the teacher.
They had a lot of books, and a lot of board space for hanging up the artwork. There were 5 tables, each with a different color basket on them so that they can be identified as such (like “Can the Blue table please shut up?”). They also have a big open space for sitting organized, in neat rows and columns during closer teaching time.
Today’s lesson involved teaching them how to read the Happy Birthday song, a song they presumably already knew. Then they could associate the sound of happy with the word placement. It also tested them on reading their classmates names, only 9 days in.
Before I go on, I feel like I should mention that there is something unique about this set up. There are 8 kindergarten classes and teachers, and all of them are in the same large open room. Basically, they are set up in a 2×4 grid with some closed off space to designate walls for each classroom, but you can easily walk from one to the other and hear what is happening in several classes at once.
Well, the multi-class format seemed to work really well. If anything, it encouraged the use of whispering and maintaining a proper voice level. They had a scale from 0-4 of whisper levels, where 0 is reading and 4 is outside.
After the reading, they had to write their own name in the slot for the song and practice reading it with partners. Speaking of partners, it seems that they also refer to the other classmates usually as “Friends”. How exciting.
Next was a small lesson on strong reading vs weak reading. Basically going over as a group of dos and donts with books, how to treat them, how many you can read at once, and so on.
After that? Story time. And after that? Reading time!
Yes, reading in Kindergarten. They had a graph on the wall to chart how long they would read books, and after 9 days they were up to 4 minutes of reading per book, with the intention to go to 5 the next week.
During reading time, despite most of them not knowing how to read, they were encouraged to pick one book, stay with that book, and tell a story in their heads from the pictures. To read faces and look for letters. It seemed like a good idea certainly.
During this time, a member of each table grabbed a book basket to bring to their table. Plenty of choices in each. After four minutes, a bell would go off and they’d switch books and do it again. When it started for the third time, I figured it would be going until the end of my hour and took my leave early.
They also have a pretty robust schedule, which is exciting. I wrote it down, because why not? Basically, without and filler:
8:45 – Writing
9:00 – Word Study
9:30 – Reading
10:30 – Reading Aloud
10:45 – Lunch/Recess
11:45 – More Reading Aloud
12:00 – Writing
12:50 – Math
1:50 – PE/Art/Music
2:45 – Reading
3:00 – Literary/Math work
3:20 – Fun Read
3:35 – Getting ready to go and…well going.
As you can see, a lot of emphasis on reading and working towards reading, which is mostly what one would expect for a kindergarten class. You have to learn to read before you can read to learn, as they say.
I also learned about a really interesting children’s book, called We Are In A Book. It is an intense story dealing with a talking elephant and pig as they realize that they are characters in a book. This is first met with amusement before they are met with an existential dilemma knowing that as the pages turn they are getting closer and closer to no longer existing as the panic begins to set in. Heavy themes for a kids book, but I like the idea of introducing those types of stories to them while they are young.
What did I learn? That for the most part, things that are distant and weird to me will most likely work. The school felt like a well run engine with competent people around every corner. They have a “Watch D.O.G.S.” program to get fathers to volunteer their time during a day of school. They will go to at least four classes during a day, help during lunch/recess and help with arrival/pick up. At this elementary school in particular there is only one male teacher in all the grades and yes he teaches PE. I feel like it will be inevitable for me to volunteer at some point during the year, and when that happens, I will probably make a post about it too.
I might try and observe only two more times max. Once to see how in the heck math is done in kindergarten and once closer to the end of the year just to see how much class progress has occurred.
Nick “Totally Not Helicopter Parenting” Hamden