For the last few weeks the staff has been taking a workshop about “Learning Stories”, an alternative way of going about assessment from our Early Childhood friends in New Zealand. It is very similar to the way I already think about and practice my own assessments in the classroom. Coming from learning environments such as The Evergreen State College and Sarah Lawrence College, I have had much practice at writing narratives about my students, my teachers and myself as a learner.

The “Learning Stories” we’ve been studying have a bit of a different style and it was interesting to learn about and practice the technique. Of course, I detoured slightly from the rules and had many players scattered in the story but I had to go with this particular incident because it held such a powerful message about the philosophy of this classroom of ours and the coming transition in the Autumn.

I love to study and be engaged in learning. Part of learning, is to take new ideas and concepts and meld them into what already exists for you. As a fervent documentarian of my classroom and life in general, this just fuels my fire even more. Enjoy the little vignette below – “A Learning Story” about cooperation, growth and the taking on of new responsibilities.

Alex, Charlie, Beck, Georgia and Cosmo Explore Writing Games Together

A Learning Story

May 7, 2009

Today, as we prepared for group focus time, one of the preschool kids, Cosmo, who often visits our class, came up to me, hugged my leg, and then just stood looking at me and looking into the classroom. I knew he wanted to join the group, so I asked him if he would like to come in. He nodded vigorously.

Charlie, a kindergartener, and Cosmo sat down at the table. Then Beck, another preschooler, who will be in our class next year, approached me and wanted to join in as well. I set the table with alphabet game books that use dry erase markers. One of the first grader’s, Alex, was still at the table working on his math when we came in.

Cosmo and Beck, the preschool students, and Charlie, the kindergartener, sat down in front of the books. Charlie announced, with much pride, that he knew how to play a specific game in the book and I encouraged him to teach the preschool kids. They all turned to the page he was on and he explained the game.

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They played for a while, flipping a coin, if it was heads, advancing to an upper-case letter, if it was tails, advancing to a lower-case letter and practicing writing them in. They were all cheering as they progressed, commenting on who was getting ahead.

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All the while, they played, Alex, the first grader watched and gave suggestions about how to maneuver faster through the maze.

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Cosmo decided to move on to another page in the book and Beck reached over and helped him figure out what to do.

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Alex finished the page in his math book just as Georgia, another kindergartener came in from the studio and took his spot with one of the alphabet books. She turned to a game page and asks if anyone would play with her and Alex jumped in and they played a game of alphabet tick-tack-toe.

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When they finish their game, Georgia wanted to play another game. Beck wanted to play too, so she moved her chair around the table to play. They ask me to read the rules, so I did. They then proceed to play a similar upper-case, lower-case game.

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As they flipped the coin and advance, they talk about their advancing pieces. Georgia: Beck if you get tails you are going to be on top of me.” Beck: I hope we can finish at the same time.” Georgia: Yeah, you are on the same spot as me. Georgia: “I win but that’s okay.” Beck: “I want to play Sorry.” Everyone at the table wants to play too, so they move to another table, set up the game and play together.

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What It Means

Alex, Charlie, Georgia, Back and Cosmo, even though you had never worked together in this way before, you were all so helpful, cooperative and encouraging to each other. Looking to each other for help is a fun way to learn. When you help each other and encourage each other to finish instead of trying to “win” the game, we are all winning as a community. Inviting students in from other classes and including them in your games shows that we are all working together to learn new things. Helping each other figure out the difference between upper and lower case letters is an important step toward learning to read and write. Sharing your pens, erasers and books builds a sense of cooperation and creates an atmosphere of caring and kindness. After focused time, all of you decided to play a game together. Figuring out who would be what color took some negotiation but when we give-and-take and talk through our feelings, the games we play in the classroom are even more fun.

Opportunities and Possibilities

When Cosmo hugged me and looked toward the classroom, I know he was asking to be included in our group – staying open to cues such as these are an important part of the power of awareness and inclusion. The Inclusion of Beck in the group was also helpful for the transition into our class next year.

The instruction coming from the students in the group gives them all a sense of autonomy from the teachers. This was a perfect example of how a mixed-age classroom provides opportunities for teaching within the group. We know that when you teach someone something, it in turn, reinforces what you already know and helps to build relationships.

This mixed age (4-7) group was helpful and encouraging even though the games were competitive type games. However, because the nature of our classroom is based on group and cooperative learning, instead of playing “against” each other, they used strategies, guesstimation, and encouragement so that they all finished the games without needing the reinforcement of the winning/losing aspect. It also set in motion the basis of our cooperative learning style.

In addition, because these students had not worked together in this way before, the work they did together today helped to build a foundation for further exploration together in a cooperative learning way. The fact that after helping each other with “individual” work, that they then chose to move on and play a game together shows the beginnings of this community building. We are all feeling even more excited about the new students joining our classroom in the coming September.

The very fact that this type of cross classroom/cross age learning is possible and encouraged in our school, builds a stronger community and love of learning.

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