Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Investigating the Meaning of Inquiry in Kindergarten

What is Inquiry Based Leaning in Kindergarten?

In simple form, inquiry-based learning is more of a student-directed way of learning rather than teacher-directed. In some cases, the teaching team may set the general framework for learning, but for the most part, the learning is based on the students questions, ideas and passions. This is similar to the emergent curriculum if that is a term you are more familiar with. Rather than working off set lesson plans that are theme-based and not necessarily developmentally appropriate for all children, your teaching is guided by the students interests thus making the learning more meaningful to them.

We know from research that children achieve optimal learning when they are given plenty of opportunities to become fully engaged in their play. Most often while children are engaged, their natural curiosity of the world around them comes forth. They take notice of everything and have a beautiful sense of wonder about people, places, objects, and nature. Through noticing and wondering, the children come up with questions and observations about their thinking. It is important that children are given the opportunity to investigate their inquiry, gather information, make observations and share their findings with others.

It is the role of the teaching team in kindergarten to act as facilitators. We use these opportunities of inquiry to help guide the children with more open-ended questions allowing them to extend and clarify their thinking and make connections, while modeling the inquiry process. We provide the children with the tools, materials and resources they need to investigate these inquiries.

What is the Inquiry Process?

The Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program clearly defines the inquiry process in the curriculum document and I have included the table for you below:
There is also an article I enjoyed named "The Plan: Building on Children's Interests" by Hilary Jo Seitz through NAEYC, that you can read here, that offers a very interesting perspective on the inquiry process. It has many similarities to the one in the Full Day Kindergarten document, but I enjoyed the way Hilary explained her four step process. I also now love the term SPARKS which refers to anything that promotes deeper thinking.

Open-Ended Questions to Promote Inquiry

The key to open-ended questions is that they promote further thinking and explanation. Questions that begin with "what, why, how, if etc." are usually open-ended questions. Anything that can be answered with yes or no are typically closed-ended questions and a lot of the time may begin with "can, do etc."
I created the sheet above to carry with me on my clipboard when I am doing observations during the day as a reminder or suggestion. Very quickly these just became natural for me and it is just part of my normal conversations throughout the day with the children.
This certainly won't be my last post on inquiry, but I hope this answers some questions for those who were wondering just what inquiry-based learning is.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Let's Look at the Full Day Kindergarten Schedule

A Typical Day in FDK!

I have noticed that a lot of people search for full day kindergarten schedules in Ontario. I am assuming this is to see how people organize their days! I have included here a condensed schedule from one of the full day kindergarten classes that I was in, because, I absolutely loved this schedule. It really seemed to work well for our students and took a lot of tweaking to get this right! We certainly did not follow this every day because, as always, things come up in a school day. For the most part though, this is the schedule we tried to stick to as closely as we could. I have made some changes to the schedule but overall it is pretty close.

Our board goes by the "Day" system which means we don't schedule based on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday but rather Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5. This makes allowances for things like professional activity days and teachers prep times because the next day bumps over and no one ever misses their prep time, gym time etc. I changed the Day titles to your typical days of the week.

We also follow a "Balanced Day" which means that there is a 100 minute instructional block at the beginning of the day, followed by a 40 minute nutritional break (20 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for recess), followed by another 100 minute instructional block, another 40 minute nutrition break and then the last 100 minute instructional block.

And lastly, I removed the teachers prep times from the schedule.

What Does the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Curriculum Say About Scheduling?

The FDELK curriculum document states on pages 35, 36 and 37 that when planning the use of time educators should :
  • offer large amounts of time to work at learning centres;
  • plan instruction and activities that are for both small and whole group, as well as individual learning;
  • ensure that there is a balance of both team and child-initiated learning activities;
  • provide a daily block of time that is solely for play and include time for the children to become immersed in the activities, as well as the tidy-up time. It is recommended that the children have no less than one hour of uninterrupted time for play;
  • plan for daily literacy and numeracy instruction (this can be done in a large or small group, or at learning centres);
  • be sure to include time for "free exploration, focused exploration and guided activity."
The document also recommends that when you are planning your time, to take into consideration the:
  • attention span of your students;
  • the amount of time the children have been going to school;
  • the "strengths, needs and interests' of the students;
  • group dynamic of your class.
(You can view the full Ontario kindergarten document here.)

How Have We Incorporated These Suggestions in Our Schedule?
  • Wherever you see the word "freeplay" means that the children are free to play at the learning centres, and with both table top and carpet toys. We try to offer this every block with the largest chunk of time being in the morning and this is also the child-initiated time because they are free to choose;
  • After every recess we try to have a gathering time on the carpet. This allows the opportunity to discuss any issues that may have come up over recess and, as well, the children can share anything they may have from the previous block of instructional time. We also try to do our mini math or literacy lesson as a whole group during this time;
  • Typically after the gathering time we do "bins". The class is divided into five groups and we have five bins for both the literacy block and math block. The children only complete one bin activity per day and we rotate them over five days (five bins, one for each day.) There may be an activity related to the lesson and one educator may work in a small group with them, the other educator will move about the other activities assisting with individual needs and instruction. This only usually lasts about ten minutes and the children are then free to play. We usually offer table top toys with a literacy focus (or math depending on the block) and most centres;
  • If we have a more focused lesson or guided reading, we will most often pull small groups at a time to work with during freeplay;
  • On Thursday and Friday during the last half of the second block, we divide the class in two and the teacher may do a more focused or individualized lesson with certain students while the ECE takes the other half to computers, outside or to the gym.
I will be going into more detail in other blog posts about how we do certain things during the day but I hope this post gives you some general insight into how these days looked for us and what the curriculum is looking for when planning your day!

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