My exact words on the way home last Monday were ‘Who needs units of work anyway?’ After 30 years of teaching I still get excited when special things happen with my Year Ones! If I were to share one of the most important things I have learned, it would be the value of providing children with as many opportunities as possible to make sense of their worlds.
A frog, a snake and a pink leather bag
Damien arrives at the door Monday morning with a white-lipped green tree frog carefully cupped between his hands. Following behind is his Mum carrying a jar containing a dead black tree snake. Either of these items would have provided more than enough for us to work with today, but the exciting bounty of items of interest and ‘real life’ experiences continue as others tell us about pierced ears, riding without training wheels and a pink leather bag from Florence. It wasn’t just the quantity of items and experiences that excited me, it was also the variety.
Talk, write, read
The children clamour to see the white-lipped green tree frog in the large plastic container. Others volunteer to get a lid of water, green, shiny leaves and small branches to provide a more hospitable environment for the frog. It was a good thing they did because there was such interest that we kept him for an extra day, before releasing him happy (we hoped) and well cared for on Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, other children examine the snake in a jar and ask, “Is it dead? Where did you find it?”
Shared writing…unwrapping the bounty of real-life items and experiences
Children talk again as they compose sentences that I scribe on the whiteboard in front of them:
Damien found a white-lipped green tree frog at school this morning.
Damien also brought a black tree snake that he found on his road.
Ursula got her ears pierced for her birthday.
Margit rode her bike without training wheels.
Misty got a mask and a pink leather bag from Florence in Italy.
This is the power of shared writing. As all the children talk, write and read about the frog, snake, pierced ears, training wheels, mask and pink leather bag, the items and experiences become more ‘real’ for everyone. Writing is the key. By slowing the talking down, by writing it down and then reading the sentences, the children simultaneously see, say and hear the words. The children have time to connect with their own worlds—they become more interested and their learning experiences intensifiy.
Children take turns at the whiteboard, pointing to each word (sense of touch) as the class reads. The sentences stay on the whiteboard until Wednesday for re-reading (repetition). Several children point out ‘ee’ in green and tree – and our word study for the day, and next day, is launched. Others announce that ‘this morning’ does not make sense on Tuesday, so the words change to ‘yesterday’. Who says children have no sense of time?
I go to the library for information on frogs.
We talk about what the frog needs to live. We read from information books. One book said frogs don’t drink water – instead, they absorb water through their soft, smooth skin. How did I get through so many years and not have that information tucked away? That’s okay – the children know that I am learning too.
I read two versions of Tiddalik, one of my favourite Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime stories… and the children draw their pictures of the giant frog.
After lunch I ask the children, “What did you learn about the white-lipped green tree frog?” Immediately they come up with four things they learned—and they revise the life cycle of a frog.
Units of work, or…
There is no question that children learn from planned units of work… but it’s also effective teaching to ‘go with the flow’!
Whatever the method, we owe it to our children, to give them as many opportunities as possible to write about items of interest and ’real-life’ experiences, so they can put their thoughts in order and make sense of their worlds.