Kids Have the Best Ideas

Remember this? We started this map a little bit ago and have been so excited to watch the pins get added to mark all the connections we’re making!

Friday was class meeting day, and so the thing that everyone wanted to talk about was our Making Connections Map.  I thought that was odd at first, because I didn’t know what there was to talk about with it.  But that’s what’s really cool about how our class meetings work (if you haven’t read about them yet, check it out here): they’re in charge of what they want to talk about, and usually their ideas are WAY better than what I would have suggested anyway. It’s there classroom, too, after all, and they know what issues are bugging them as well as I do (sometimes better!).

So it ended up that they wanted to talk about the process of putting the pins on the map.  And they wanted to talk about how I shouldn’t have to do it all by myself.  Somebody even said, “Come on, guys, Mrs. Bearden was nice enough to not give us any homework, and so we should be nice to her and take care of this ourselves.”  Love it, right?  Then they decided that since the Manager’s job (maybe I should post about our classroom jobs some day soon) to check in homework, and they don’t have that responsibility anymore, then the Manager should be the one who is in charge of adding new pins to the map each week.  Which actually makes perfect sense, since we want the map to be interactive and usually I am the only one interacting with it!  Loved the idea of how it meant they could each get their paws on it, and be responsible to find the places for the pins.  I actually though, “Duh, Mrs. Bearden.  You probably should have thought of that initially–it’s kind of the point of the whole project.”  But now it’s even better because it was my 5th grade friends who reminded me of this fact.  Thank you, friends.

Another decision they made–which I agreed with again–was that our map was entirely too small!  We had so many pins already and they were all on top of each other.  Just St. Louis alone had about 6 or 7 because we marked them as each individual town.  So we found a bigger map and hung it up and we LOVE IT!  Check it out:

They decided to move it to the other side of the room to that big wall by the door.  It’s easier to get to, and it’s somewhere we’re always walking by, so we could look at it and talk about it really easily, too.

Most of our pins right now are in the US and Canada, and our new map makes them much easier to see.

It might look like we have a lot of blog followers in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (or like my map friends don’t know where Missouri is!), but those are actually linked to a pin that’s on St. Louis.  We had a really interesting conversation about how we could label our own hometown in all of those ways.  So far we have blog commenters from St. Peters, Florissant, Fenton, Webster Groves, Crestwood, Kirkwood, and Bel Ridge–all part of the metropolitan St. Louis area.

But this still might be my favorite pin.  Courtesy of Judy McKenzie in New Zealand.  Check out her class blog here. 🙂

Rephrasing the Question, Refocusing the Conversation

We had a class meeting today.  I know, it’s not Friday, but this was when we had time for it.  (If you’re new here or need a reminder of how we do class meetings, see this link.)

So we sat down, like normally, in a circle on our carpet.  I put up the class meetings flipchart and Archie got ready with the pen to mark our thoughts.  Today, instead of having the red dot count for things we thought we could do better on, though, I rephrased it to just be “things we want to talk about.”  I thought this might help some kiddos who might look at the list and not see an “issue.” Here’s what our dots looked like before we started our main conversation:

See all those red dots on Super SS on Monday?  Well that was related to the post about Monday’s Social Studies time and how well it went.  And unlike our usual class meeting conversations, they wanted to talk about it because it went so well!  YAY! As they went back and forth and shared, I kept hearing kiddos share how they thought it was a great day and why they thought so.  I heard them saying that they liked how they could work on the reading part in reading and then the SS part in Social Studies, how I had picked their groups for them (they admitted that often they don’t choose wisely and end up wasting their learning time), how they could work with me to make sure they knew what to do and then focus in to go and do it.  They knew that it was a good day and they wanted today’s SS time to be the same.  But then my friend Abigail asked a very important question: We know that we want it to be great again today, but it’s not as easy as just saying we’re going to do it.  How will we make it happen? I love it when a kid reads my mind and says exactly what I’m thinking!  So many times they just say that their solution is that they’re not going to do whatever we were discussing that the problem was.  And usually that doesn’t work.  Abigail knew that and was brave enough to call us on it.

They then took a little bit of time to discuss this, and made a plan for how they would go and get their work done in a focused manor again today.  And they did. 🙂

Lessons from a 4-year-old

Kids say the darndest things.  And if we really listen to what they say, we can usually learn something from them.  This was the case the other night when I was having a conversation at dinner with my son, Riley, who is 4-years-old.  He announced very matter-of-factly that “If you wanna have a friend, you gotta be a friend.”  I asked him to tell me more about that, and he told me “That’s what Ms. Liz says.” Now I know that she probably says that to the class as a whole, but I also know that she probably needs to say that specifically to my son more often then I’d like.  We continued the conversation with more about what that saying meant, and how he knew if he was being a friend.  I was glad to hear his thoughts and could tell that he’d really been working on how to do just those things.

We talked about this phrase on Friday in our own classroom.  I shared it with a small group of friends who were trying to work out how to really care about each other and work together as a team.  We decided that as simple as that phrase is–a 4YO can understand it, afterall, on some level–that is is really more involved that you might first think.  We discussed at length what it might look like to a 5th grader.  And then we put a plan in place to start living it out.

And then even as I’ve gone through this weekend, I’ve realized that there are implications for me, too, as an adult.  I’m learning the same lesson that my son and my students are, just on a different level.

So it’s true what they say: “If you wanna have a friend, you gotta be a friend.”

What does that mean to you?  Feel free to add your thoughts and comment!

Class Meetings: A Lesson in Democracy

We had a class meeting today.  I love class meetings.  They are such a great way to solve problems, give everyone a voice, work together as a team, learn something new.

Last year, because of a new protocol introduced in our district, I started doing class meetings in a different way than I had done for so many years before.  At first I wasn’t sure about how it would work–mainly because it was new and new is sometimes scary–but jumped in with both feet and gave it a try.

We schedule class meetings once a week and there is a set way we do it each time:

1.  I start with a list of the things we’ve done during the week.  Usually this includes the activities we’ve done, books we’ve read, concepts we’ve worked on, and then also includes any special things we do.  Last week that was a special musical performance and meeting with our Learning Buddies.  We review this together and kiddos can add anything that I may have forgotten.

2.  We sit in a circle and then mark the list according to three criteria:

  •      With green dots, we mark the activities we like the most.  Each kiddo gets one choice.
  •      With blue dots, we mark the activities where we think we learned the most.  Again, everyone gets one choice.
  •      Lastly, with red dots, we mark the activities that we think we could improve upon, work on, or do better at the next time.

Someone is the timer for this section, and allows us 2 minutes for each round.   A student puts the dots on the ActivBoard flipchart with the pen.  This is what our flipchart looked like from today’s meeting:

3.  After these steps, then we work!  By looking at what we’ve marked, we decide what we should discuss; usually it is the item with the most red dots. The timer allows us 15 minutes to discuss the problem and work on a solution together.

4.  After we’ve reached consensus (more on this later), we decide what we’re going to try and then start doing that.

For the past few weeks, our discussions have been around the volume of our voices, choosing smart carpet spots, or other behavior-related issues.  Today, though, something really cool happened.

See how there are red dots by “getting back into our Writer’s Notebooks” and “analyzing the algorithm?”  Those were both topic-related items, based on how well we did something in writing and math, rather than how well we followed (or not followed) the rules of school.

Well, we decided to talk about Writer’s Notebooks, and what came up as a result was nothing short of amazing.  For the next 15 minutes, my students discussed (without raising their hands, which we’ve been working on!) how they feel like they haven’t been doing the best job of coming up with good ideas to put in their writer’s notebooks, and how they need to really get back into the routine of writing.  They made suggestions of how they could do this, calmly and respectfully, and worked hard together to decide on a plan of action.  I was most impressed by the leaders that naturally rose to the top, how the others listened to them as they led, and how many kiddos invited others who hadn’t said anything yet into the conversation.  Somebody even got up–without being prompted–and started keeping a list of who had shared (and how often they spoke), so she would know who we still hadn’t heard from.  There were a couple of times that they started to get off track or started talking over each other, but both times someone was there to calmly remind us of our job or of the time we had left.  The best part was that this time that person wasn’t me–I’ve been working on talking less during class meetings. 🙂

Today was a great picture of what kids can do when they are allowed to identify real problems and then work to solve them.  I didn’t have anything to do with the decision made today–outside of setting up the framework for discussing it–and they came up with a completely doable solution, that everyone was happy with.

And so now a word on consensus….in our meetings we don’t vote on an idea; we work to try to reach a consensus.  That is, work on the problem until we get a feel that most of the group is happy with the plan.  Unlike voting, it doesn’t become an “us against them” kind of thing, and the most popular or loudest voices don’t get to make the decision.  By allowing more than just choice A and choice B (like in a vote), often times choice C will arise; a choice that is often a combination of the first two, or is even better than what we originally mentioned.  And the best part is that usually that final solution suggestion comes from the quietest voice on the carpet, the one who has been sitting and listening and then finally has the courage to speak their mind.

I am so proud of my learners.  I am so glad that my friend Mike Holdinghaus taught me how to do class meetings this way.  I am so glad that we take time out to learn important things like how to have a civil discussion, how to make a decision and how to work together.   This is good stuff, people, good stuff.  And it’s all stuff that they’ll need and use long after they leave me for middle school. Hopefully for the rest of their lives. 🙂