Sunday, February 06, 2011

Time to Play: Exploration Stations

I've been trying to get my head around emergent curriculum and Reggio Emelia.
I've seen that the Reggio way is very organic, and I see some terrific things that ECE and Kindergarten has done with the Reggio way. But I couldn't reconcile it with older grades especially intermediate, and I wondered what it would look like in grades 3 and up. I went on line and could not find any references to Reggio in anything above K really. One day, P, C and I were hanging out in the space (our dark sanctuary that I wrote about here in my blog), and I asked P what she knew about Reggio in older grades. She said something so simple that I can't believe that I didn't really connect it until she said it. She said that Project Based Learning is really Reggio for older grades. I guess I got caught up in the terms (atelier, speaking in 1000 languages, etc.) that I didn't pare it down to the essence (as Ken Robinson asked us to do): exploration.
So Ken Robinson, Shanker and Dockendorf are really a convergence of minds about exploration.

My previous challenges with both play and project-based learning.
With play, I have trouble justifying it to parents, but also I've had trouble seeing what students are learning through play. I know they are learning, but if I can't directly see it or quantify it or record it, then my scientific side can't rest easy. And with project-based learning, I once let students choose what they wanted to learn carte blanche. The choice was too much for some students and they kept doing the same things over and over again. Or one girl changed her mind about 100 times and had a tiny pom pom to show for a month's work. The teacher (and parent) side of me did not rest easy with that.

The New Distillation
So hearing Robinson, Shanker and Dockendorf over and over again helped me to distill the ideas, and I see potential for my new play/exploration centres. For me the big ideas of school are:
  • Kids need to be exposed to new ideas and experiences (to find their Element a la Ken Robinson).
  • Kids learn in different ways (and we need to find new ways to help them uncover those ways -Dockendorf).
  • Kids need to interact learn from each other (which is the best way they'll learn to self regulate - Shanker).
All of these are Reggio-like tenets also.

Playing with Play
So I brainstormed a bunch of learning centres and chose 6 to run: a Smartboard activity, magnifying glasses, playdoh, finger puppets, card houses, and a jigsaw puzzle. We used Selma Wasserman's Play, Debrief, Replay, but I changed it to Explore, Share, Explore Some More, and Record. I chose Explore instead of Play because I don't want my parents to get freaked out that we played for two hours.  Also some of my kids tend to lose it during play/free time, so by giving it a different name will hopefully yield a different mindset. I also upped the accountability factor by having them record what they learned in the Thought Logs.  The result?   I had an hour and a half of engaged hands-on learning with zero behaviour problems including during the recording stage. I learned so much about my kids by walking around and observing, and listening them during the group sharing phase, and reading their Thought Logs. I saw the way they solved problems, I saw how they dealt with others, and I saw some kids step up as leaders that I never would have predicted. I couldn't wait to tell my kids how brilliant they are.

What's the difference?
Here are the differences with the exploration stations from my other project based learning/learning through play attempts:
  • limited, but varied stations. (6 was great because that meant that there were about 4 kids per station. It was very manageable in terms of preparation).
  • a short time frame at first. (Even if a kid detests a station, they only have to stay there for 15-20 minutes). 
  • I picked who was in each station. (It forced them to be with kids they don't usually interact with.  This gave variety to interactions).
  • accountability with the sharing and Thought Logs.
  • I introduced the thinking behind the concept, each station, and the expectations (6Ts: Think, Try, Take care of materials, Talk in tiny voices, Take turns and share, and Tidy)
What's Next?
I'll continue to see how things go and get feedback on the stations. I'll drop some and add more that I brainstormed. The part I need to work on is using questions to provoke their learning, and to help them see how this learning can be used in life. 

Is this free play?  Is this the Reggio Emilia way?  No and no, but it was a manageable way for me to break into play again and still feel the students are learning something worthwhile out of it.

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