Friday, April 18, 2008


Day 131, April 18, 2008

I had a few free minutes this morning, so I walked down to the Mitchell Building to see what was happening. Luckily, in the gym I came upon a group of pre-schoolers working with Judy, so I leaned up against the stage to watch. The children were following specific directions from Judy as they hopped and skipped around. "I see people blowing balloons," Judy would say, and the children would do their best to mimic that activity. I could tell by the big smiles that the kids were having a great time, but I could also see that they were working very hard. (Note: Hard work and smiles seem to be a familiar combination at our school.) They were listening carefully to Judy's instructions, thinking deeply about her instructions, and then making their young bodies mimic the designated activity. It was not easy for them. Judy was challenging them to do difficult tasks -- pushing them, making them reach a little. What seemed to make it easier for the kids was that it was an organized and methodical routine. It was a well-structured activity with specific rules and goals, which made it more comfortable for the students to take risks and try their best.

After a few minutes there was an interruption as a few older boys came to collect some equipment from beneath the stage. This is the kind of thing that might have thrown a class or a teacher off target for a bit, but not this class or this teacher. Judy kept teaching and the children (remarkably, I thought) kept listening and following her instructions. The controlled and systematic routine continued without a hitch.

The next activity was just as well-organized, a type of "baseball" featuring foam bats and balls. To me, this looked to be a very challenging activity for these 3-4 year olds, but again, they had a wonderful time because Judy explained exactly what to do, where to go, and what the goals were. She made it challenging but, because of the routine-like organization, it was a doable task for the kids.

Here's what I learned that can help my own teaching:

1) Make every activity challenging. Make kids stretch.

2) Be sure every lesson is carefully and precisely structured. Good structure makes it safe for kids to take risks.

3) Continually encourage the students to ignore distractions and interruptions.

4) Be in charge. (Judy definitely was.) Kids need to know that the teacher is the leader.

Thanks to the young children and their teacher for just the inspiration I needed.

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