Monday, August 27, 2007

Kindergarten Learnings

"All I ever needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten." This was the title of a popular book a few years back. I can't remember the author. At the time I found it profoundly true on a very basic level. I remember watching "Mr. Rogers" with my boys and marveling at how easy he made it all seem. "Take turns, share, and respond without reservation." Good things to remember throughout life, right?
For the past three years, I've had the wonderful honor and privilege to volunteer an hour or so at my local Kindergarten class as a tutor. Each year it has gotten better and more revelatory for me. During my teaching career, I never had the chance to work with "the little ones" on a regular basis. Oh, we had class exchanges and "big buddy-little buddy" matchups once a month maybe. These were fun for my upper graders as well as the kindergarteners. We'd walk down as a class and read to them or help them with an art project. We'd make "friends"/ "buddies" and eventually have a graduating event. I'd sometimes see them out on the playground (before school) playing together, swing pushing etc. Otherwise, they didn't have recesses together. They established a rapport and relationship that, for some, was irreplaceable. (no older sibling) What a good foundation for future learning. I honestly don't know if it is done anymore or at the least, not at this local school.
When I arrive they are usually out on their own playground and the buzzer sounds. They have to "freeze" in place and kneel down. (stop playing) Then they line up at preset marks by classroom. The first in the line gets to hold the flag so it is very hard not to run to line up so they can be first. The K teachers then come out and bring the little school flags for the line leaders to hold up. Everyone is then asked to hold up their right arm/hand and place it over their "heart". You often hear, "No, dear, your other right." Today, they said the Pledge of Allegance with great relish if not rectitude. Then they all start marching in place and singing alittle patriotic song with a salute at the end. They are still all in "straight cues" (for Kindergarteners). Then they are all asked to "Zip and Flip". They pantomime zipping their lips and crossing their arms in front of them (flipping) so that when they walk back to their classrooms (sometimes through halls) they won't talk or touch anyone or thing. You can imagine, at this level it works beautifully. They pick up their backpacks at the door and hang them just inside after taking out their "homework". They then find their own "square" on the "rug" facing the teacher. This is all done, even on this fourth day of school, without much noise or comment. Their teacher then takes roll in various repetitive ways and introduces me. (if it is Monday)
Since I haven't been called yet to be a "Substitute", I can make this connection. They are rapt in attention. I introduce myself and tell them how much I just love being there and helping them learn new songs or rhymes and new games. (fun things) I ask them if they like to "collect things" and organize or match them up? I then show them my new "collection of Rubik's Cubes" (see above).
I start out with the smallest one, "the baby of the family", a keychain cube. (see above left). Then I progressively bring out larger and larger cubes until my latest, "Grandfather Cube" - "Rubik's Revolution". I turn it on. They rambunctiously respond and want to all tell me at once about their families etc. Then, after hearing several, I tell them my favorite thing to collect is money, mainly pennies. I pull one out of my small change purse. Then, since I've already tuned up my uke, I sing them my first song for sing along and learning:
Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You'll end up having more.
It's just like a Magic Penny
Hold it tight, and you won't have any,
Lend it, spend it and you'll have so many
They'll roll all over the floor...
for (repeat top chorus)
After about three times they all are keeping time and singing along. They love it. Then, I invite groups of 6 or 7 to play a "Game" with me at a removed "kidney table" called "Left, Right, Center" At first it is alittle slow and I have to remind them about their "left and right" hand neighbors who they pass the pennies to. Last year, I started to stamp their hands with an "R" or an "L". So they soon start relating to each other left and right by giving pennies away. They roll the dice marked the same and it gets quite rejuvenating. They all end up "winners" at the end with the last one holding pennies getting more. They run to put them in their cubbies or backpacks. I think I had 3 groups of 5 or 6 and by the third group, they were really showing great rapport, with me and each other.
So, what did we learn? Many things... (like laterality) but mostly, for them, we had fun. They saw me having fun, singing, taking turns, sharing, high-f iving. This is what it is all about in Kindergarten. Other groups were beginning to learn their letter names and rhyming sounds. Eventually they were in small groups around the room doing an art project to reinforce what we had learned. Oh, it starts out so wonderfully easy and simple. Where and when does it go so wrong? Do we now test in Kindergarten? RRR

Sunday, August 5, 2007

My Pursuit of Happyness

After watching the popular movie with the above title, I got an idea for this blog. Will Smith portrays a beleagered, single father who is trying to support his son and tryout for a new job as a "Securities Analyist/Salesman" He has to be very smart and it bugs him that his son's daycare storefront sign has misspelled "happiness". Most kids and parents nowadays wouldn't probably even notice this. He also figures out how to do a "Rubik's Cube" which impressively gets him a "call-back" for an intern training position with this prestigious Wall Street Firm. It is known for its "rigorous" training and drop-out-rate. He doggedly doesn't give up no matter what befalls him and his son. i.e. crashing in subway restrooms after being evicted. He has a "resilience" and "reckoning" second to none. Their "relationship" has such a "rapport" that it constantly "rejuvenates" them.

You must know by now where I'm going with this metaphor. There are so many more "R's" that our Public Schools are not even beginning to teach or "test" that it is high time that someone, even a lowly, reluctant, retired substitute teacher, did something about it. If I could even be an "exponent" for the 4th "R" - "Arts" - Performing and Fine, that would be a step in the right direction. Most of our schools do not have time or money or teachers for "the Arts" anymore. "Responsibility", "Relationships", and "Respect", are 3 more "R's" which may not be emphsized in most of our classrooms. Then, again, I could be wrong.

So, maybe, a "fly on the wall" might have some insights into the problems and be able to advocate and expand the "R's" exponentially through rubrics that compare and contrast ideas and curriculum in the same way a "Rubik's Cube" does...very intricately and colorfully. Why rubrics? Well, the dictionary says a "rubric" is a "class or category" a title or a heading. It is from the Latin "rubrica" meaning "red chalk" (thus the red color of my blog's title) When I used to use them when I taught, they were very handy for calling attention to what the "assignment" was about and what it should have in it if it was an essay or report. This made it easier to grade on a scale when it followed or didn't follow the plan of the "rubric".

This is just what I plan to do with my "substitute assignments". Establish some "rubrics" based on the traditional "3 R's" and then raise them to a "higher power" exponentially. i.e. the face of one cube might be: "Where is this assignment/class in reference to a scale on "Rigor vs. Romance"? Is it just rudimentary and rote requiring regurgitation? Is it just redundant and remedial? Or does it reflect and resonate rationale, rhetoric, resourcefulness and rapt rejuvenation for the rambunctious little rascals? How's that for alliterative "r's"? Need I recapitulate? Yes, I want to reconnoiter and even refute or rebut the rumors that our schools are regressive and filled with rancor which rankle our raucous, repugnant rookies. Are teacher's lesson plans mostly review filled with routine which can only result in resentment, resignation, remonstrance and reprimand? Are subs just there to help the students ruminate and to register recalcitration? What regard do the "administrators" have for this process? Are they resources to help with respect and to resolve repartee or are they only there to reprove, refuse and renounce with reproach? I've tried to work with those kind. Hopefully they are long gone like the obsolete set of 3 R's. Sir William Curtis, an alderman who became Lord Mayor of London once presented these misspelled "r's" in a toast thereby betraying his illiteracy. The event was picked up by others and so used from the early 1800's on especially in those "one-room-schoolhouses". This is where my mother began as a teacher. A quick slap on the wrist with a ruler got your attention and motivation when memorizing those required tables and combinations.

This reminds me of a classroom play my students wrote and performed for the school back in 1976. It took a typical classroom through our nation's history. Scene one was "School in 1776". Scene two was "Schoolhouse in 1876". Scene three was "Today's Classroom 1976". and Scene four was what we thought a classroom would be like in 2076. It had strobe lights, computer desks and robot teachers. The theme music to introduce and end the production was "School Daze" (in fact, that was the title of the production) Do you remember that song?

School days, School days
Good ol' golden rule days
Reading and Writing and 'Rithmetic
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick...
As you can see, our schools have come a long way and "happyness" hasn't always been the pursuit. I'd like to continue to change that with my subbing and this blog. Will you join me? RRR