Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Observation And Reflection

I'm a belly on the floor, face full of spittle, "C'mon everybody!" type of teacher. I wear holes in the knees of all my jeans, go through much of life paint besmirched, and often forget to go to the bathroom. On my best days, the time I spend with the children almost doesn't exist and I'm genuinely surprised it's already time to go home. Yet, when the door closes on the last child and I take a moment to look back on the day, it feels so full and exciting, it's hard to believe we fit so much into so little time.

I think of it as my greatest strength as a teacher, this ability to enter this state of being fully present, bobbing on the ripples created by the actions, emotions, and interests of the kids, letting them lead me as much as I lead them.

As a teaching style, the downside is that it doesn't leave much room during the classroom day for observation and reflection. I sometimes remove myself from the action to check things out from the other side of our one-way mirrors or stand inside the classroom to watch the outdoor play, and I learn from those moments, but it ain't where my body and mind want to be while the children are around. I get restless and have to get back in there (or out there, as the case may be).

This explains why I never remember to take photos of the cool stuff going on in class. Not only do viewfinders make me feel a step removed from the real life going on around me, but by the time I realize something cool is happening, we're already on to something else.

Still, observation and reflection are important teaching tools. One of the reasons I started this blog was as an aid in this effort, and while I'm clearly writing here with an audience in mind (my years writing for money make it impossible for me to write otherwise), there is a journaling or diary-ing quality to the act of putting the words down in these daily posts.

Another opportunity I have for "observation" and reflection is when I'm distributing the children's art into their cubbies to take home. I sometimes feel guilty for how long it takes to move their artwork through this process -- it often stacks up for weeks before I finally get it expedited -- but I want to make sure I have the time to look at each piece before sending it home. They often reveal things I was not aware of in the moment they were being created.

Not long ago, I wrote about our glue collages. A few days ago, I finally got around to taking a reflective look at the work of our Pre-3 class.

I remember that Sena spent a lot of time at the art table that day. I could tell by how I found these pieces on the drying shelves that this was the order in which she created them. I love the progression. She started with just glue:

She had the choice of a rainbow of colors and shapes, so the three yellow triangles were definitely a conscious choice. I'm guessing that they started off in the center of the cardboard, but slid to the side as the wet glue shifted:

This next piece shows more work in the area of color and shape classification, but notice she's still using so much glue that the pieces floated on her:

The next piece in the sequence wasn't by Sena at all, but rather this one by Remick, who was the first of the children to work vertically by standing the marker caps on end:

He had clearly inspired her, because Sena's next piece looked like this, and notice how her glue use is more judicious:

This was followed by this colorful piece by Charlotte:

Sena's final exploration of the day is truly a masterpiece, bringing together all the things she had learned through her own experimentation (again, note the lighter touch with the glue) as well as her observations of the work of her friends:

And I'd be remiss if I didn't share Cora's work. She only made two pieces that day, but I love the strength and consistency of her artistic vision, not to mention her precise use of glue!

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Scott said...

Kids learn so much from observing and talking with each other. One idea influences another. I like that you can see others' influences on Sena's work. And I think her art series is terrific.

Deborah Stewart said...

Hey Tom,
You said, "but it ain't where my body and mind want to be while the children are around. I get restless and have to get back in there"

And that is exactly how I am. And yet, get me to talk about my students and what they are learning, and like you, I can go on all day. So obviously, somewhere in the midst of being absorbed in the action we are both observers of the growth and learning taking place. I agree that we need to take time out every once in awhile to reflect on our observations and children's work as well. But in my mind, the greatest observation come from within the box, not on the outside. I love the glue pictures - they are quite beautiful, especially when they are accompanied by your observations:)

Eternal Lizdom said...

I love glue!! As a kid, my fave thing to experience was a dab of glue in my hand, smear it around, let it dry on my palm, and then peel it away. Or rubbing it and rubbing it until it pilled up in those little gray balls...

kristin said...

yes, yes, yes. i think i have been addicted to photography since i was 12, but i am still surprised when i look at the photos of a day....we did that? when was that? i also LOVE looking in the background to see what else is going on.

one day before christmas break we were relaxing at our final circle time, taking another round in our game, slowly going through show and tell, parents started showing up. it turns out my clock was broken and we were about 20 minutes beyond "going home time."

time is strange.

Launa Hall said...

I could really SEE the art pieces with your accompanying narrative. Beautiful.

Anna G said...

After 14 years of teaching pre-school, I have finally learned how to not forget to take photos and how to use video to capture children's words, even when I am covered in paint and have thread and bits of fluff stuck to my skirt. But, there are so few photos of my own children! Ah well...thanks for the post!

Unknown said...

I love so much that you want to look at their work and think about what they were learning and experiencing and saying via their art. That is what makes you a teacher unlike any other. Not just a pretty face : ) that has to be there for money but someone who genuinely cares and adores these children and their learning process. To me Tom, you are a super hero.