By Nancy Jo Mannix

How can we build on the students’ successes to introduce new groups and experiences?

Behind the Scenes: Claire and Sophia continued the rest of the week with a whole group learning time every day for no more than ten minutes, making sure to use the K.I.S.S.--Keep It Short and Simple--strategy. During those whole group meetings, they demonstrated, and children practiced ‘Turn and Talk’ as a way to get more of them engaged in group conversations. They introduced the children to the places, spaces and materials that make up their Exploration Stations, or learning centers. The co-teachers made sure to use some of their favorite materials (building materials, large toy animals, etc.) that had been introduced during Morning Choice time into these areas. To continue to send positive messages that children are trusted to make decisions based on their interests, the teachers decide to implement a “What’s My Choice?” planning board. Children simply choose a clip and wear it when they are in their station and replace it with a new clip when they want to change. A timer is set for 15 minutes, and all children will choose a different area for their second station, if they haven’t already. They’ve been engaged in Exploration Stations for several days and things are running smoothly in Room 114. The teachers discuss at their lunch break:

SOPHIA: The children are really enjoying the Exploration Stations.

CLAIRE: They are. I notice though, that some of the children aren’t cleaning up when they hear the signal.

SOPHIA: I see that, too. What if we bring that up at our next whole group meeting? We could add to our list of Our Things to Do in Room 114.

CLAIRE: I think that’s a great idea! In fact, why don’t we let them write about how they can help their group clean up.

SOPHIA: This could be our first teacher-led small group. We’ll talk about it at whole group, then start learning centers.

CLAIRE: Instead of starting by asking them to come to us, why don’t we go to them? Since we’ve already introduced using markers, if we bring paper attached to clipboards, they’ll have what they need to do their writing.

SOPHIA: Love it! Let’s do it!

The first teacher-led small group was a success! In the next whole group meeting, the teachers helped the students use the docu-camera to share their writing and drawings. After, they were posted on a bulletin board titled, “How We Help During Clean-up Time.” Later that week, after role-playing and practicing how to leave your Explorer’s group during whole group, Sophia and Claire took turns calling each child by name to practice coming to the special small group table. In groups of three, children looked and talked about books, while practicing the book handling that was taught and demonstrated many times. After about five minutes, each child returned to their Exploration Station and a new group was called. The co-teachers switched monitoring the other children and leading the small group. All the children had a turn in small group.

At the end of Day 6, Sophia and Claire revisit the goals they made for the first two weeks of school. They revisited the questions they asked themselves during pre-planning and on the first day and discussed how their observations would shape what they do next, what they might change, and how they can better support each other and each child’s learning journey. Were the children becoming comfortable with their classroom and routines? Were they participating in whole and small groups and the other ways to learn, inside and outside the classroom? Were they bonding with their classmates? Did they feel safe and secure throughout the day? Are they starting to feel like they belong to this group, these teachers, these friends? Do they see themselves as explorers, readers, writers, artists, builders, scientists, dancers, and singers? And like their teachers, are they falling in love with all the joy this year’s Pre-K class brings?

What we have loved

Others will love

And we will teach them how

–William Wordsworth

Ideas for Increasing Children’s Engagement in Whole and Small Group

Small groups provide more time on task; less wait time. Children are coming from home environments where they have had to do a lot less waiting for their turn. Small groups facilitate time for active, engaged learning.

In small groups, it’s easier for teachers to focus on each child. Observing children in a variety of small groups can provide helpful information about each child’s development and progress. Even assessing a child one-on-one is more successful when the other two or three children are engaged in a meaningful experience but still close to the teacher.

Aim for child-directed groups. Once children have been introduced to the materials, routines, etc., encourage the children to work in groups while teachers plug in and out of talking with the children about their investigations and explorations. With an environment that is intentionally set up to support playful child-directed groups, the learning that occurs is as deliberate and logical as any teacher-directed lesson (Leong & Bedrova, 2012).

Support children’s sense of agency by facilitating choice and decision-making in children. Agency is linked to a child’s sense of belonging and helps them bond and build trust with adults.

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