Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Saying Goodbye

(Warning: This is a long, but I believe valuable, post. If you are short on time skip to the sections titled "Saying Goodbye" and "Goodbye Activities" these contain the most concrete advice and the least personal anecdotes. Thanks for reading.)

I know I have been terrible about keeping this Blog updated. I just have not managed to find the time, but I have kept notes on a lot of good curriculum and will be trying to post them soon.

Today was a really hard day for me, one that I need to blog about in order to process (one of the best things about having a blog) and so I am here. Last week I accepted a new position, I will be working in early intervention as a Developmental Specialist. I am really excited about this position; I will be getting paid full time (maybe one day I will do a post about the lack of respect and funding for after-school teachers) and I will be working on a more one-on-one basis with children which is a move that I believe is right for me. The one thing I have not been excited about is telling my current kids (some of whom I have been with for a year and a half) goodbye. But Friday is my last day, so today I found I had to tell them.

I have said goodbye to children before, but have never experience anything this intense -- I have been marginally involved in programs for a few months and then said goodbye, I worked at a High School and said goodbye to students at the end of the year, I nannied a girl for 10 months and then said my goodbyes to her and her family. This was so different, I feel really connected, truly attached to these children. I have been their part-time mommy for a year and a half, including summers. They mean a lot to me, all my students always do, but I have come to feel a lot of responsibility for their education, their feeling of self worth and their general well-being. A part of me can't help but feel that I am abandoning them, and I know that if part of me feels that way, then part of them is likely to feel that way too.

Since I knew this was going to be an intense and new experience I started by seeking out the advice of a mentor. The woman I chose (who I knew to be a very thoughtful and caring woman, not one that I knew well but one I did have a relationship with and knew would love to help) pointed me in the direction of one of her colleagues who specializes in transitions. We met early today to discuss how I could best help my students, and myself, with this transition. I will start by explaining what we came up with during that meeting and will then describe the actual experience.

Saying Goodbye

First of all, it is important to do personal thinking about why you are moving on and why this is what you need to do, so that when you tell the children you will not need to do soul-searching about whether or not this was the right decision out loud with them. Here is what a thoughtful goodbye sounds like in very simple terms:
  • We have shared an experience,
  • That experience has been very important to me,
  • YOU are very important to me,
  • But that experience in ending,
  • Things end sometimes,
  • But I will always remember you, because you are important to me.
Goodbyes are a good teaching moment to discuss memory with the children and do exercises about our ability to keep things and people in our memory.

Next you need to prepare and consider how hard the goodbye will be, for you and for them. Some of the children might react with anger. It is human nature to want to have control and power, and since you have taken all control from them by leaving they may try to regain power and control by lashing out and treating you badly. Remember that this is only because they care for you deeply and do not know how to deal with the change. When students react with anger remember that it is a testament to how important you are to them and it is vital that you continue to treat them with the same love and respect you always have despite the fact that they are treating you differently. Children are going to go in different directions trying to deal with the change and it is your job to try and help them negotiate their feelings. If you get upset or choked up, which I did a lot, it is a good time to recognize that strong emotion is okay and just shows how much you care.

Some students will not react at all and that is okay too. Try to recognize which children are not reacting because they did not have as bonded of a relationship with you and which are not reacting because their feelings are so big that they do not know how to deal with them. If it is the later make sure to engage them one-on-one, offer them opportunities to create a memory without having to be actively involved, such as taking a picture with you.

Goodbye Activities

There are a lot of options for goodbye activities, these are the few I chose for my class.

Goodbye books: Have the students participate in creating a goodbye book for you to take with you and remember them by. Give them the opportunity to create artwork, letters or anything of their choosing to add to the book. Construct the book with the students so they can have the opportunity to see it before you leave. I will be using a three ring binder and clear plastic sleeves to create the book but you can go in a variety of directions with this.

Pictures: Take a picture with the whole class and offer individual students the opportunity to take personal pictures with you if they would like. If you have the capacity, print the pictures and give the children the chance to decorate them and add them to your goodbye book. Print an 8x10 (at least) of the picture of you and the class and put it up at the end of your last day. Some of the children will need this.

Mailbox: To make sure you do not just disappear from the children's lives make a special mailbox where they can deposit mail for you. Give the children the opportunity to participate in creating and decorating this box. Set up with a co-worker (I choose my site coordinator) to send you this mail whenever the box fills up. It is important to follow-up with this step and send mail back to the students at the school, care of your co-worker. You can also provide your e-mail address (on display somewhere in the class) so the children have another outlet for contacting you -- again, it is important to send a response, even if you only have time for a couple lines.

Letters: Write a letter to each child in the class to hand out when the last day comes. It is easiest to do this on the computer and make the letter fairly generic but with personal additions. It is also helpful if you can include a graphic -- such as the picture of you and the class.

Follow-up: Ask your co-workers to follow-up with your goodbye for at least the first few weeks after you leave. Have them create activities around remembering you and/or keeping in contact with you.

My Experience

The approach towards saying goodbye to my students was so intense that I felt the need to write a script of what I would say during circle time:
I have something important to talk to you about. We're going to discuss an important human power, the power of memory. I want us all to close our eyes and think of our favorite memory from summer. We're not going to share -- just think. Where were you? What did it look like? How did it feel? What did it smell or sound like? Memory is an amazing human power. I have a memory to share with you (describe recent class memory).

The reason we are talking about memories is because I have something important and kind of sad to tell you. Our time together as a class has been very important to me. You are all very special to me and I have really enjoyed spending my days with you. But I have to let you know that this will be my last week with after-school. I am sorry and will be sad to leave you, but I will remember you all and you can keep me in your memory too.
My speech started off okay, some of the kids had a hard time sitting still, some did not want to close their eyes and a few could not resist the urge to share. When I got to the second half, some of my more savvy students started to recognize where I was going and let out small gasps. By the time I got to the point of actually saying goodbye I was getting choked up and actually crying a little. Then I noticed that a student who was extra special to me, a boy, had started turning red and attempting to hide his tears. A couple kids around him were pointing out that he was crying and smiling or half laughing at/with him. This whole scene really struck me, I had not anticipated this particular student crying and I found myself almost unable to continue. I forgot to mention that strong emotion is okay and only shows that we care. Hopefully, if a similar scene arises again, I will remember.

A few students asked me questions, what would I be doing? where was I going to be working? I answered the questions, and one of my kids (whom I had anticipated very little reaction from) commented that "babies do not have homework". I explained my activity idea -- making a goodbye book for me, and tried to motivate the kids to start, but everyone just remained on the carpet. At this point a co-worker rescued me, I had begun to babble a little because my own emotion was overwhelming me. She asked if anyone had any questions, and began describing the mailbox and the opportunity to stay in contact with me.

At this point I took two of my kids who were crying particularly hard to the reading area so we could talk a little one-on-one. They asked me why I was going, and I tried to explain. They asked me if I still liked them and I affirmed that indeed I did. I found it easiest to describe my leaving as a type of graduating. I reminded them that after they finished a grade they graduated and left behind that teacher to move on to a new grade and a new teacher. I explained that was like what I was doing, I was graduating from after-school and moving on to a new position. I continued to affirm that I liked them very much and that I would love to be able to stay with them and do my new position. I had to stay strong on the point that sometimes things end but that I am not disappearing and will continue to be a part of their lives if they wish.

I made a box for my students to deposit their "goodbye book" art into. A couple of my particularly shy students were being private about their art and I was able to give them the option of giving the art to me by putting it into the box or keeping it for themselves by putting it in their locker. As soon as I turned to another student they both went over to the box and deposited their artwork. One of my students drew a big heart and went around the classroom having the other children sign their names. A few students made multiple pieces of art for the book. Some made smiley faces and hearts, some made sad faces, crying faces, or broken hearts. Others simply drew animals and a couple drew monsters eating little stick figures. My "extra special" boy who cried (we can call him J) made me a card saying how much he loved me and that he missed me. Art and free drawing is an extremely therapeutic experience for children, a stress-free and safe way to express their emotions, in this case I believe that proved very true. I made a point to thank each child for their contribution and was careful not to force any of the children to do anything if they did not want to.

After a while my co-workers took the students that were done outside to play. I stayed inside with the students who were still working on "submissions". At this point J illustrated to me the importance of leaving a picture of me behind in the classroom (before I had felt this seemed like a suggestion that may not be altogether necessary). He stayed behind even though he had already finished with his card for me. I asked him what he wanted to do and he told me he needed to do something on the computer. I inquired what he needed the computer for and he let me know that he needed to look for a picture. "What picture?" I asked. "I need to see if there are any pictures of you on-line," he responded. I told him that of course he could do that, and I helped him search -- since I use really strong privacy measures on social networking sites only one little picture came up. I reminded him that we would be taking pictures the next day and assured him that I would give him a picture of me and us.

Well, that took more than 2 hours out of me, but I needed it. I have two more days of saying goodbye to go, I will update as I see fit.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Focus on Reading

Lately I have been making a big push for reading in our classroom.  Three things came to my attention that led me to start focusing on reading more than before.  One: I read a High/Scope article about integrating reading into the whole school day.  In the article they mentioned that they did not support the circle time group reading structure.  This is due to the fact that in a large group children find it much more difficult to really engage with the reading.  Thinking about my own classroom this made perfect sense.  During most circle time readings I could only get a handful of kids engaged and the ones wiggling and chatting always managed to draw a few more into their "inappropriate" activity. Even with the best of books when the majority were paying attention I could still never get all the kids.  High/Scope instead suggested making reading a more intimate activity, one that the kids could chose to engage in with you.

Two: I had a student tell me that he hated reading and refused to ever read anything.  This student, of course, was one of the ones whose literacy level I was concerned about. How could I get him to read in order to raise his literacy level?

Three: There is one student whose literacy level I am particularly concerned about, she may be held back this mainly due to her insufficient literacy.  When I was considering this student I realized it is very unlikely that she is ever read to in English at home.  In her household I believe she has the best mastery of English. When I took the time to consider the rest of the class I realized that most of the students whose literacy I was worried about had non-native English speaking parents -- which makes sense; if your parent can't read to you in the language you are developing your literacy skills are going to suffer.

So my push began.  In our classroom we have an activity suggestion box.  I took the suggestions from the box and used them as reading suggestions: hip hop, sharks, puppets, snakes, etc.  Then I thought about my students and what other subjects they were interested in: High School Musical, wrestling, Sonic the Hedgehog.  So I used my library card and logged onto the Public Library online network.  I searched for children's literature in the subjects which interested my kids.  If you have a large library network that allows inter-library lending you have access to a huge wealth of books.  I conducted my search and used the internet to learn more about the books that came up, then I ordered holds on all the books I liked.  A week later I went to my local library and picked up all the books.  I also always make sure to get at least a few books that relate to our weekly theme.  I put all the books out on our two easily accessible book display shelves.

This effort has yielded a big success.  The wrestling and Sonic books have been especially popular.  I have found that reading is like a virus.  A few boys become very interested in some new books and then other kids notice that now reading is "cool" and they come over and look for a book.  Our reading area has become a popular and busy place. Kids have even started picking up books that have been out for months, such as the Guinness Book of World Records, and reading them with an excitement I hadn't before seen.  One of my co-workers started suggesting that the kids go to the reading area between snack and circle time to quietly read a book.  This has been triply successful because they are reading, having fun, and they have something to do while they wait for the other kids to finish snack.  The time between snack and circle used to be a difficult transition period but now, thanks to reading, it is very successful.

I want to make a "shout-out" to the book that has surprisingly been the most successful, I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child.  
I actually checked this book out to read for a club I run, Food and Fun, but the book started gaining attention before I even had a chance to read it.  Lauren Child knows how to reach children on a level I can't even fully comprehend.  I'm not sure what it is, the style of writing, the way she plays with the words and pictures, the real and yet childlike aspects of the illustrations.  Whatever the draw may be, it works.  I've watched as my kids of all ages picked up the book and sat down to read it.  Some have read it more than once.  The biggest evidence of the book's success is that my student who previously told me he hates reading begged me to sit down with him so he could read it to me!  And, when I did read it during circle time I had almost every student listening and paying attention. Good job Lauren, I'll be doing a search for more of your books soon. 

Finally, with my one student whose literacy level appears significantly below grade level, we started our own private reading club.  After a few weeks of our classroom's new love for reading I approached Kate with my idea.  I told her I wanted to form our own reading club, just the two of us.  She listened, so I continued, "You choose a chapter book, any chapter book you want, and I will read it to you.  Anytime we have some free time you can come to me and ask me to read.  Then, once we finish a book, I will buy you any book you want (within reason)."  "Really?" she responded, "Any book? For me to keep?  Not for the class?"  

She picked a Goosebumps book and so far our club has been very successful.  She asks me to read to her at least twice a day.  She asks questions about the book as we go along, so I know she is really engaged.  And she even grabs the book for herself and asks me where we are if I am unavailable to read to her!  Our mini-club also attracts other students, almost every time we sit down to read one or two other students ask if they can join us.

Lesson: Kids will read, they will engage, and they will enjoy it, if you just take the right steps to make reading accessible to them.

Update:  I just learned today that Kate is so engaged with the book we are reading that in the spirit of the main character she has started collecting worms!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Luck of the Irish

Next week C will be running programming on St. Patrick's Day.   When I was looking up information about High/Scope I came across a novel St. Patty's Day craft: Scented Shamrocks.  I suggested this activity to C, especially because I have left over green Jello from when I made "worms in dirt" for our Halloween party - small container, layer of orange or green jello, drop gummie worm in, let chill, crush chocolate oreo cookies, sprinkle on top, add one more worm in the dirt layer.*

I will update about how this activity went if we use it.  I think it will be a success because the kids always like when we use materials in non-conventional ways.

* I don't usually advocate for unhealthy snacks, but Halloween is my favorite holiday and I think it's okay to indulge on occasion.  "Extra sweet and sugary snacks should be saved for special occasions."  

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Listening to the Needs of Your Students

I've been reading Supporting Young Learners 3 from the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation.  What I have been getting out of it is that I need to spend more time really listening to my students and their needs, and not to simply follow the plan that I mapped out for the day.  Children learn best from self directed but supported learning environments.

I kept this in mind yesterday when Bailey, a Kindergartner in my program had another melt-down -- this happens on occasion with her.  I have tried a number of strategies to cope with this issue, everything from enforcing my will on the situation -- "You and Nancy were playing too rough and now you need to switch tables, you need to do it now, I'm going to count to three."  I could go on for half an hour like that and it wouldn't make a difference.  To just leaving her be and letting her work the problem out on her own.  I decided that there is a strategy in between those two that I could try.

It was activity time, the theme for this week is Science Fair (more on that later), everyone was busy doing their research, some with the help of teachers, others self directed.  Students were using the computers to look up pictures and facts, drawing their own pictures, and using books to look up information.  I was with Diana, another Kindergartner, in the book area when Bailey came over and crashed herself head first into the cushions.  I continued working with Diana but asked Bailey questions to gather information about what happened.  I found out that Trevor, our resident 6th grader -- the oldest student in our class, had told Bailey that her turn with the computer was over and that it was now his turn to use the computer.  I tried encouraging Bailey to pursue another means of research, I pointed out that Diana and I were using books, and that Frank was drawing.  Bailey wouldn't have any of it, instead she crumpled up the pictures she had already printed out.

Diana and I were still in the middle of working on our project.  She was having a hard time staying focused but doing a pretty good job of participating and I wanted to see that through.  So I left Bailey on the cushions -- this is our quiet area, and the right place for a student to go if they were upset and needed some time on their own, I noted that Bailey did a good job in selecting this area.  A couple students came to me and pointed out that Bailey was upset, they asked me what was wrong.  I explained and said they could try talking with her if they wanted, but they could also leave her be.  Bailey's friend Nancy decided to try talking to her, evidently that didn't work either.

After a while, 5 to 10 minuets.  I went back to talk with Bailey.  She made a grumpy face as I approached her.  I made a grumpy face back and told her it looked like she was still pretty upset.  She grumbled and continued picking at the cushions.  I tried coaxing her into another activity, I offered to help her acquire a computer, I asked her what she wanted to do.  Nothing, nothing, just more sullen grumpiness.  So I said, "Okay, how about you take a walk with me." She resisted at first, then Diana chimed in that she would like to go for a walk with me.  Then, reluctantly, Bailey agreed to a walk.  

As we walked we talked about what happened.  Bailey had been using the computer, finding lots of good facts about Dinosaurs, when Trevor came over and told her it was his turn.  Bailey repeated a couple of times that she just said nothing and got off the computer.  I told Bailey she didn't have to do that, if she was in the middle of something she could have told Trevor she needed more time, or let Trevor have a turn on the condition that she get another turn in 10 minutes.  Bailey insisted that she could not do this.

I decided that we weren't getting very far with talking about strategies so I moved on.  "Okay", I said, "I have a deal for you.  When we get back to the classroom you can do anything you want to."  I brought up a few options that would be appealing for Bailey, she loves to play games, so I offered to play one with her as part of the deal.  She agreed to this part -- remember that earlier in the classroom she wanted to do nothing but sulk.  Then I told her that the second part of the deal was that she needed to work on her project the next day.  She agreed.  We walked back to the classroom and talked about the big kids that take classes on the upper floors of the school and how Bailey will be a big kid one day too.

Back in the classroom we played our game, a few of the kids who had already finished their projects came to play with us.  When the game was over one of the students suggested another game, I pointed out to Bailey that the computers were open and asked if she wanted to do some research with me.  She agreed.

So, in the end, she stop sulking, she engaged with other students, and she got some work accomplished on her project.  The one down side I can see to this interaction is that maybe Bailey will connect showing her frustration to getting special attention, but from my experience with her I don't think thats how she will interpret it.

The last piece is that while we were on the computer Trevor came over to us.  He commented on the pictures we had found and asked what happened to the others.  I do not believe that Trevor was trying to be "mean" when he told Bailey it was his turn.  The kids really look up to Trevor and see him as almost another authority figure.  I need to talk with him about being careful what he says to the other children and to be aware of the affect he is capable of having on them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Question of the Week

We recently started doing questions of the week.  We have a bulletin board at the front of the classroom and we put up a sign with the question.  Under the sign is a tissue box wrapped in construction paper that says Answers, there are little papers and pencils in front of the box.

I didn't get to talk about square root day yesterday - S' Science fair activity for the week took a lot of explanation.  So I will use it as my question of the week.  During circle time we will go over last week's question of the week: "What was your favorite part of the movie Planet Earth?"  I will randomly select one answer and that student will get to choose an origami prize.  Then I will introduce the new question:

Math days!
March 3rd, 2009 was 3/3/09.  
That date is a square root: 3x3=9
A square root is any number multiplied by itself*

K-2: Can you come up with a date this year that is a math problem?
ex. June 3rd, 2009: 6/3/09, 6+3= 9

3rd: Can you come up with a date, past or future, that is a multiplication or division problem?
ex. February 1st, 2002: 2/1/02, 2x1=2

4th-6th: Can you come up with another date, past or future, that is a square root?

*I will give the older kids a fuller and more accurate description of square roots, this simplified idea is for the benefit of all the kids. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Happy Square Root Day!

My mom just called to let me know it's square root day. 3.3.09 - three is the square root of nine, three times three equals nine.  I think it's pretty cool.  My kids are too young to have encountered square roots, but the older ones do know factors.  I will tell them today is a factor day and ask if any of them can come up with any future or past factor days (since this is the only one this year).  

Yay math!