A week ago today, I woke up refreshed from 2 packed days of learning at state-wide conference NCTIES. But racing through my mind, even more than all of the amazing takeaways I was ready to bring into my classroom, was the discovery of an audience I didn’t know existed. This year, NCTIES was different for me, because it was my very first time presenting alongside 2 wonderful educators and friends, Chris Tuttell (ITF-left) and Kelsey Clarke (K Teacher-center).
The information we shared is near and dear to my heart, because it is something that I experience each day as a Kindergarten educator: the fact that #kindersCAN can do infinitely more than we may believe to be possible. So this audience that I discovered and referred to above, is the audience that rushed through the doors of our session that morning, leaving standing room only and wiping us clean of 2 days’ worth of handouts we had prepared. These were educators of young learners, like myself, who also believe that these littles can handle almost anything we challenge them with, given the right level of support. I believe in my kinders, but what I did not know is how many other educators in our state do too.
— wcpssitlms (@wcpssitlms) March 2, 2017
As Kelsey and I shared about the flexibility of our classrooms and how we incorporate technology throughout the day, I could tell from the start that we didn’t have to convince our audience that #kindersCAN…they already knew and believed that, which allowed us to connect with this audience from the start. They were here to gather ideas that would raise the bar for their young learners. And these educators didn’t stop spreading the love when our presentation ended. For the next 2 days, we continued to hear personal accounts of excitement about what we had shared, have since connected with many of these teachers to expand our PLNs, and are excited to welcome some of these very educators into our own classrooms so that they can see our kinders in action! My 2nd year at NCTIES taught me so much, giving me the inspiration to even start this reflection process through blogging; but more than anything, I still can’t shake the excitement of this inspiring audience on fire for their littles.
— Lisa Poirier NBCT (@mrspoirierk) March 3, 2017
Did I mention that #kindersCAN also be the teachers? Seeing them showcase their work and the work of their peers was probably the highlight of the whole NCTIES experience.
My own journey with #kindersCAN has been in the works for almost 4 years now, since I started my student teaching in Kindergarten. The teacher that I learned from showed me what high expectations in a K classroom look like. She taught me that when you set the expectations high, accepting nothing less, they will meet you there or exceed your expectations. When I began teaching my first year in a STEM school, I took baby steps with technology, each time questioning whether such young learners could meet the challenge. If you’ve ever had a Kindergartener on a computer, logging in through multiple platforms, you also know the difficulties and frustrations that are involved (on the teacher’s end AND the student’s end). But each time I’d challenge them, they kept proving to me that THEY COULD DO IT! So why not keep raising the bar?
When I began at Washington GT Magnet the following year, our ITF Chris gave me the support I needed to grow in my confidence and belief that #kindersCAN! We would visit the ilab, a collaborative space for creating and critical thinking, to work on technology projects using different tools on the ipads and using Google. This was the year that I feel like I truly discovered what young learners are capable of, alongside my teammate Kelsey. And finally, this year, my 3rd year of teaching, is the year that all of the same tools I began using with my kinders last year have now become part of my daily instruction and my independent literacy and math centers. Something that I questioned they’d ever be able to do is now in a 15-20 minute independent center, and that concept honestly still blows my mind! This year I’ve also transformed my learning space to allow for flexibility and student choice; and they’ve proved to me that they can handle that too. The more that I have come to believe in them, the more that I have turned the control over to my little learners, giving them a more effective and authentic learning experience.
If you’re curious about what they can do, check out our presentation from NCTIES.
But I want to close with the “how”……HOW can they do it? Of course we now live in a digital world, where many of these young children have been exposed to things I probably never could’ve imagined experiencing as a little girl. But still, they are young, and for this kind of instruction to be effective, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learned first-hand that will help them be successful:
1. Let them play with the app before tying it to a specific academic objective. This will build confidence and allow them to click around, without fear of messing up a specific “assignment” you’re asking them to do.
2. Provide different levels of support. They should practice a new tool multiple times in an environment with support before sending them out on their own to do it independently. When we’re first learning the app, some students may need a kid friendly, step-by-step “cheat sheet” to remind them what to do. Some may need a buddy to help. Some may need a modified assignment within the app to reach success.
3. Allow and encourage students to be leaders. Train them to turn to one another for help before coming to you. Teach the tool to a group of leaders who model first, and then have each leader work with a group trying it out for the first time. In an independent center, some students may need the support of a student leader for a while before they’re comfortable doing it alone. Using students as teachers has probably been most key to our success.
4. Have them reflect. What was difficult/easy? How can we use this app in other ways? How could we use it better next time? These questions hold them accountable and make them aware of their own success.
Ultimately, it’s not just about kinders. They may be the youngest, so in some ways, the most challenging. But teachers of all grade levels can take something away from our message, because if #kindersCAN, all kids can. So let’s keep learning so that we can let them.