Barb Gerst’s Response to Kendall Carter’s First Reflection
Posted on 26 March 2011
Reflection 1 Barb Gerst March 25
‘The challenge of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes’. Marcel Proust
Kendall, I am delighted to hear you questioning the value of an inquiry based pedagogical approach. It is integral to a teacher’s role to constantly reflect upon what approaches work best to augment students’ engagement and learning.
For well over a decade, I have been exploring lengthy nature based inquiry projects with kindergarten students. Doing so has been a rich and wonderful experience, for me, for my students and for their families. Connections we have created with the community outside our classroom walls have enriched many a project. One year, my students wrote a class in Singapore and suggested they study bats, as we were doing. What unfolded was an wonderful exchange of information which culminated in each class creating a book for the other, containing artwork, questions, and reflections about this animal, the smallest of the flying mammals. Another year, we made a link with a kindergarten class in Africa. We sent parcels of class made books and art to each other over the course of the year. I invited my parent group to make dvds showcasing our way of living and our particular climate, animals, and vegetation. I asked the African teacher to invite her students to do the same. When our respective parcels arrived, the excitement in our classes was palpable! A zoology professor, a conservationist, and a naturalist have delivered interactive and age appropriate presentations to my students in recent years to augment our understanding of various other animals. Their sessions have been shaped by questions which bubbled up from the students,
‘Nothing is ever achieved without enthusiasm.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Your reflections and your work in the classroom are convincing me you are discovering that educators have an obligation to make learning exciting! How can you possibly expect students to be motivated learners if you are not? March 22 when you shared beautiful photographs of butterflies from a library book you brought to enrich our knowledge of butterflies, your fascination about being a co-learner was visible to me, the students and the parent volunteers in our classroom
Kendall, you supported our students this week as they began to learn about the monarch butterfly’s amazing 2000 mile migration from the Rockies to California via a variety of resources including books, appropriate websites, and mimio board activities. In the remaining 3 weeks you are completing your practicum, you will continue to “uncover” rich information about this topic as you help students, diverse in a multitude of ways, grasp necessary kindergarten level concepts. I know you are preparing literacy and math activities to suit all learners, including those who you are aware require enrichment and resource opportunities.
You may have noticed I do not reward young students with stickers. They are available for crafts, but not as prizes from me. Alfie Kohn is my inspiration. He comments “Regardless of what we do about it, though, one of the most thoroughly researched findings in social psychology is that the more you reward someone for doing something, the less interest that person will tend to have in whatever he or she was rewarded to do.”
I feel that students engaged in inquiry projects find the fascinating work their reward, as do their teachers! Providing a stimulating curriculum and a caring classroom climate sets the stage for this to be so. Providing several ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge and become involved in purposeful activities is good teaching.
On this topic, Kohn also adds “In classrooms where students can make choices about learning and have tasks of worth to explore, the need for punishments or rewards declines sharply.
As you are witnessing, balancing generative and required curriculum takes a lot of organizing, planning and demonstrating. Creating this balance is essential to good teaching.
During the first week of your practicum, I asked you to spend time with many small groups of students while sharing resources centering upon butterflies. The goal was to help the students generate their own questions and hypotheses about this graceful creature and for you to discover children’s individual natures and ways of learning as they began to be involved in our inquiry. I asked you to create detailed paragraphs about each group’s conversation and discoveries. Adding them to the students’ required math and literacy booklets showcases the value of critical thinking to their families. Additionally, it provides you with a framework to build an inquiry with young children. Classrooms and bulletin boards outside them are filled with students’ artwork, which is a good thing. It matters. But, documenting young children’s thinking is also crucial. It is another valuable way to make learning visible.
Teaching well requires self-discipline, intelligence, empathy, patience, and a keen desire to support each child’s abilities. You have these qualities in abundance.