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Joanna Hambidge, Head of British Primary Professional Development

Joanna's role is an outcome of realizing one of the pillars of our strategic plan is to ensure our long-term commitment to the British Primary educational philosophy. She is working with faculty and staff on regular professional development, collaborating with faculty to articulate the key tenets of our philosophy and working on a multi-year project to craft a book. Stanley is devoted to nurturing British Primary teaching and learning, and Joanna's work is key to its ongoing application in our classrooms and beyond.

Living British Primary Blog

  • The Wisdom of Reflection

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 5/19/2022 3:00:00 PM

    Whether your child ends the year exploring fractions, building bridges, performing The Phantom Tollbooth, or writing poetry, their learning doesn’t end once they finish the show, the coffeehouse, or the test. Here at Stanley, after the culminating event of a unit, it is time to reflect on what they have learned. As the 2021-22 school year comes to an end, it feels fitting to share a few thoughts on the British Primary value of reflection.

    At Stanley, reflection happens throughout your child’s day, but especially at the end of a unit, at the end of trimester, and at the end of a school year. As Stanley BPS teachers, we invite students to reflect on what they learned from the unit, not only the content, but also on the process they experienced. We support them to reflect on what they learned about themselves as a learner, and what they will take with them into future learning experiences. We provide opportunities for students to think about where they started and where they ended up, and to remember and review the steps and strategies that helped form new understandings, growth and learning. We believe that even reflection on their false starts or dead-ends is valuable. Reflection helps reinforce habits of mind and dispositions as learners.

    An interesting question we might ask our students to reflect on is, “How does this connect with other parts of your life, or other things you’re learning or thinking about?” As Nan Munger, Middle School art teacher describes, “I do final critiques with the eighth grade and reflection forms with all my students. They consider questions like, which of the school’s seven goals for learners have I built most and how? What was I most proud of? What do I want to build going forward? What will be helpful for next year?” We create opportunities for reflection that show the interconnectivity of our world. 

    A natural reflection question is “What am I still pondering about this topic? What am I still curious about?” We emphasize with our students that life-long learning means pursuing one topic at various points throughout their lives for many years! As Nan Munger says, “With final projects where it’s open-ended, I’ll push learners to consider things like, ‘What are some things I’ve enjoyed most in this block? What are some things I wish I would have gotten to?’ And that’s often how they figure out what they’re going to do for their final synthesis project.”

    While learners might first translate “What did you learn?” into concrete facts, Stanley teachers know that there’s more to learning than facts. Perhaps that’s where questions like, “What does this mean for who I want to be in this world?” come in. As Carolyn Hambidge, founder of Stanley BPS, shares, “Reflecting is important because you get to know yourself more. Each child gets to know themselves. Until they really have a knowledge of who they are and finding out what they love to do and what they are passionate about, that's how wisdom grows. You can’t have wisdom without knowing yourself a bit, and reflecting helps you. So often people do what they’re told in school but don’t reflect. I love how the children here are allowed to reflect on what they’ve done.” 

    As Carolyn so beautifully captures, reflection grows wisdom. We can have a lot of life experiences, but until we slow down and reflect, we don’t necessarily develop wisdom. These last days of school will be filled with reflection for your children, many moments for wisdom to grow! They’ll reflect about their learning, about their growth as learners, about themselves as an important part of a community, and about how what they have learned connects to their lives and the world around them. We hope that you, too, will pause and reflect on your child’s and your growth this year. 

    We wish you a beautiful summer, full of learning, growth, and joy. We wish you many moments to stop and reflect before we all return in the Fall well-rested and wiser.

     

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  • The Joy of Knowing! - Communicating our Learning

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 4/14/2022 3:00:00 PM

    At the end of a poetry unit, K-1-2 students carefully choose, revise and publish several poems in a class book, and then joyfully create a class coffee house to share them with an audience. At the end of a physical science unit focused on simple machines, 3-4-5 students demonstrate novel devices featuring levers, pulleys and inclined planes to visitors at an Invention Convention. In 6th grade, students immerse themselves in the language and stories of Shakespeare in a unit that culminates in a stage performance of one of his most well-known plays. At Stanley, learners are constantly sharing their learning and understanding with their community of peers, teachers, and parents. We know and value that there is great joy in knowing, and in sharing that knowledge with others!

     

    After a rich investigation process led by inquiry, learners feel a strong desire to express what they know.  When students create a demonstration of their learning, they synthesize and problem-solve. They show that they can use what they have learned in an original and real way. They are motivated to teach others about their new discoveries.

     

    Stanley teachers support learners to figure out what they have learned, to organize their thinking, and to envision how they are going to communicate what's essential. As Stanley teachers, we help learners frame their learning and figure out how to communicate it. We ask questions: 

    • What have you learned? 
    • How could you communicate about what you have learned? 
    • What conclusions have you reached? Why? 
    • What information can you use to support your conclusion? 
    • What’s most important? 
    • What information helped the most to answer your question? 
    • How could you show your understanding of…? 

     

    As Stanley teachers, we carefully choose a culminating project that best represents our study or investigation, or better yet, let the learners figure out the best way to express what they have learned. We aim for culmination projects that will involve deep thinking just as the investigation process did. Alongside the students, we figure out the best way to communicate – pictures, graphs, displays, music, dance, sculpture and/or writing. How can students show their thinking and learning – not just the final product, but snapshots into the beautifully messy process they just journeyed? We aim for authenticity. It is important for learners to communicate in a way that is meaningful for them and engaging for those with whom they will be sharing.

     

    Culminating projects and share times are a celebration of the learning journey. Learners gain confidence by sharing their discoveries. We develop our identities as experts, as people who know, as people who know how to “do.” As learners, when we communicate our understanding with others, our voices grow stronger, developing agency.

     

    Our interactions with our audience provide room for collaboration of ideas and new wonders. Sometimes sharing shows us what we don’t know and inspires even more questions and deeper thinking! Sharing can be the beginning of an ongoing conversation, and we initiate a special connection with the person with whom we share. To be the receiver of knowledge is a sacred space.

     

    Here’s a poem of Stanley teachers’ words about the importance of these end of unit demonstrations and sharing times:

     

    The joy of knowing

     

    Sharing discoveries

    Celebration

    Empowerment

    Affirmation

    Pride

    Connection with others

    Deeper understanding

    More questions

    Trail of our thinking

    -The Stanley Teachers

     

    As our school year comes to an end and we welcome parents back into our classrooms, we hope that you enjoy and learn from your children’s end-of-year demonstrations. We hope that you feel the special connection made in these moments, and that you embrace the sacred space you provide for your children as they invite you to share in their joy of knowing. 

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  • Love is at the Heart of Stanley

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 3/10/2022 3:00:00 PM

    Love is at the Heart of Stanley

     

    When I visited Julie Colthup and Emily Sprayregen’s K-1-2 class in February, they were writing about Love. Here are the children’s words:

     

    Love is calm and safe

    Love is peaceful and playful 

    Love is happy and kind 

    Love is mindful

    Love is easy

    Love is caring 

    Love is sharing 

    Love is including people in the play 

    Love is being with your friends and looking out for them 

    Love is good sportsmanship and helping someone up 

    Love makes other people happy and hopeful and loved 

    Love is being you

    Love is when you have a very tight connection with someone because no matter what happens in either of your lives you stick together.

    Love is integrity and respect

    Love is friendship and nice 

    Love is family and friends

    Love is warmth inside 

     

    How to spread love is: giving hugs 

    Giving stuff that you really want to someone else 

    Being nice and kind when playing with others

    Love feels good 

    Love Is You.

     

    Love is being respectful to the Earth and people. 

    Love is joy and spreading our love to the world 

    Love Is Love.

     

    Love is not typically talked about in the context of a school setting; and yet, it is a driving force for parents, teachers, and students. There are many kinds of love, the love you have for your children, the love you have for your parents, the love you have for your extended family, the love you have for friends, the love you have for your dog, the love teachers have for students. Many languages have more than one word to describe love; the Greek language has seven!

     

    Stanley teachers show their love many times every day in small ways like following up on something the student said or did, bending down to have a conversation at eye level, providing a resource about a passion or interest, supporting at a challenging moment, or sharing a new perspective. Stanley teachers listen deeply everyday. Educator, Parker Palmer, explains the value of listening, “Behind their fearful silence, our students want to find their voices, speak their voices, have their voices heard. A good teacher is one who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken-so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence.” 

     

    He goes on to list what it means to listen to a voice before it is spoken. “It means making space for the other, being aware of the other, paying attention to the other. It means not rushing to fill our students’ silences with fearful speech of our own and not trying to coerce them into saying the things we want to hear. It means entering empathically into the student’s world so that he or she perceives you as someone who has the promise of being able to hear another person’s truth.” Each of these ways of listening is love in action. As Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher and current teacher coach, says, “Small things can make a huge difference and our teachers fill their classrooms with love through small actions every day.”

     

    As witnessed in our K-1-2 classrooms in February, our youngest Stanley students understand the power of love. As Regie Routman, says in Read, Write, Lead, "It’s always all about relationships, in school and in life. When those relationships are genuine, caring, and trusting, all things are possible.” 

     

    May we all remember and experience the power of love in our lives.

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  • Meeting Learners Where They Are

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 2/17/2022 3:00:00 PM
    For middle school humanities teacher Kathy Mueller, teaching seventh graders to write feels like she’s on a journey with each of her students. One student struggles with the beginning and sits with her to get over the hurdle of idea creation. Another has a million ideas and needs help to rein them in. One student needs help with supporting details. Each middle schooler’s journey is so distinctly different in the writing process. Some students need more help and assistance on that journey and some are sprinting and need to be slowed down. 

    “I’m always exhausted when I’m done with a writing session because I’ve walked on these fifty-one writing journeys. And, at conferences, we recall that journey with them. Here’s the part where you were amazing, and here’s the part that was really hard for you. I always think, I’m walking with you on this journey. Stanley teachers are on a journey with students and when we’re meeting them where they are we’re actually standing next to them, walking next to them on that journey,” Kathy explains.

    What does it mean when Stanley teachers say, “We meet learners where they are?"
     
    As Aya Schickel, K-5 Spanish teacher, says, “Meeting a learner where they are - that’s teaching. That’s the definition of teaching to me -- seeing where a child is and then taking them to the next step, then the next. Finding what it is that they need, and helping them to take that step, that’s what teaching is.” 

    As Stanley teachers, we draw from what we know and understand about a learner’s needs and interests, the learner’s way of being, and where the learner is in his or her growth. We meet each student where he or she is – providing for a continuity of learning, creating a combination of the known and the new, building upon and appreciating what has already been learned, activating prior knowledge and using it for the current area of focus. 

    As Stanley teachers, we recognize the cusp or brink of where the learner is in their growth and then open possibilities for development. There is not one curriculum that fits every learner. We personalize the educational experience. In her book So Each May Soar: The Principles and Practices of Learner-Centered Classrooms, Carol Ann Tomlinson describes this journey as a bridge. “In a student-focused classroom, the teacher works to develop a sense of who the learner is now as well as who the learner may become. The work of teaching, then, becomes collaborating with the young person to construct a reliable bridge between ‘now’ and ‘then,’” Tomlinson says.

    Having someone meet us where we are is a powerful experience. What does it feel like, sound like, look like for someone to meet us where we are?
     
    I hear your words of encouragement each step of the way
    I feel your faith in me that I will be able to do it, that I can figure it out
    Doing it alongside me, guiding me, showing me how
    Support without taking over
    Trusting me so I learn to trust myself
    Never taking away my autonomy, you make space for my voice
    Where every question is okay
    When you speak, you give me just the information I need.
    Feeling with me: my frustration, my determination, my triumph, my pride
     
    by Stanley BPS Teachers

    How do we meet learners where they are? 
    • We see and honor each child.
    • We know our students as individuals and as a community.
    • We listen and observe; we are curious and ask questions. 
    • We build trust and a relationship.
    • We assess constantly.
    • We put the learner in the center of our planning and teaching.
    • We make the curriculum relevant and meaningful to our learners.
    • We make curriculum appropriately challenging for a learner and have knowledge of the developmental stages of children.
    • We extend what they know and understand, and provide possible next steps.

    Why is it important to meet learners where they are? 
     
    When we meet a learner where they are, a learner feels fully seen and connected. It’s when learning happens, and learning becomes deep and meaningful. When we meet learners where they are, it emphasizes the process is important -- the connections and understandings we build along the way. And, it is an honor to teach our students in this way. As Carolyn wisely knows, “You’re sharing their joy and their excitement and you’re very fortunate to be part of it.” 

    "Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. This is why we are here." 
    - Jon J. Muth, The Three Questions

    Where is and who is your child right now? How might you meet them where they are?
     
    We wish you many moments to stand in the here and now with your child. As Katie Russell advises, “Sense when to lead, when to follow, when to listen, when to speak.”
     
     
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  • Wonder

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 1/20/2022 3:00:00 PM
    We shared shark’s teeth, butterfly wings, the sound of grass growing, sunrises on the Lowry Dam…

    During the January 3rd Professional Development Day, our faculty and staff started the new year exploring the concept of Wonder in our lives and in our classrooms. Here is what a group of 345 teachers wrote when thinking about what wonder is and how it feels:

    Wonder starts with a pause
    the doorway
    the leap-off point
    To new explorations
    new totally
    or new to me
    Takes us to a different level of thinking
    Begins with trying to reason
    trying to connect the things that seem 
    to not be connected
    The blend of two things: curiosity and amazement
    Your skin tingles
    Your heart beats
    Wonder makes you feel alive
    part of the human condition
    the inherent need to understand, connect, 
    and appreciate beauty
    With a great sense of gratitude

    Together, the faculty and staff constructed a list of how we create Wonder in our classrooms. How do we inspire learners to want to learn about something? Here are some of the ideas:
    • Create a safe place
    • Share your own wonder
    • Find what brings your students wonder
    • Be open to learner’s wonders, be flexible
    • Ask questions
    • Weave wonder into the curriculum
    • Design first-hand intriguing experiences
    • Provide open-ended materials
    • Create opportunities for play and discovery
    • Take children into nature and include nature in the classroom
    • Start lessons and units with wonder
    • Be aware of aesthetic experiences and aesthetics in the classroom
    • Slow Down
    • Take the time for wonder

    Author William Martin writes, “Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives…Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself.”  

    May 2022 be full of moments of wonder for you and your child.

    Have a wonder-ful year!
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  • The Importance of Play in our Lives and in our Classrooms

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 11/17/2021 1:20:00 PM

    During a “Choice Time” in a K-1-2 classroom, Carolyn Hambidge noticed two first grade boys being superheroes in cloaks. One said to the other, “Let’s say that we start as flowers with cloaks over our heads and someone waters us with yucky water and we turn into superheroes.” This imaginary, fantasy play repeated itself many times. Carolyn remarked, “When children preface a play situation with, ‘Let’s say…’ it gives them such power to imagine anything!” 

    Friedrich Froebel writes, “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul…Play is the work of childhood.” At Stanley, this belief is felt and expressed wholeheartedly in everything we do. Julie Miles, K-1-2 teacher, says, “For a child, play means their time to do all they’re meant to be doing. It’s their everything. It’s where they explore the world on their own terms. They make sense of the world through play. When I think of play, it’s when everything is how it should be for a child. With play there are earnest, joyful connections. Play is children doing life.”  

     

    At Stanley we recognize the importance of play in our lives. 

     

    We see that play inspires creativity and imagination. 

    With play, the possibilities are endless and time disappears. As Emily Sprayregen, K-1-2 teacher, describes, “When we play, there is no boundary to where our mind can go using our imagination.” We make connections with materials, with others, and in our mind. For children, play is hard work but it’s hard work that is joyfully hard.

     

    Through play we think, we learn and we come to understand.

    As Stuart Brown, in his book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, writes,“The genius of play is that, in playing, we create new imaginative cognitive combinations...Play is nature’s greatest tool for creating new neural networks...The abilities to make new patterns, find the unusual among the common, and spark curiosity and alert observation are all fostered by being in a state of play.” And as Albert Einstein says, “Play is the highest form of research.” 

     

    Play promotes the development of the whole person. 

    Play fosters positive habits of mind and heart, such as flexibility, curiosity, connection, engagement, stamina, and rigor. Children learn to take risks, make mistakes and problem solve. They learn to get along with others. They practice negotiating and compromising, taking turns, resolving conflicts, and listening to others.They learn the value of compassion and sensitivity. They learn to regulate their emotions. As Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson write in The Yes Brain, “They try out roles and conquer fears and feelings of helplessness. They build emotional balance and resilience, and they develop the ability to tolerate frustration when they don’t get their way. All because they are allowed to play.” Play is active, rather than passive, and builds healthy minds and bodies. It all happens in play! 

     

    In play learners figure out who they are and what they value.

    Play gives children the freedom to pursue their own strong agendas and to actively engage in the process of defining themselves. They decide what they want to do, and just as importantly, what they don’t want to do. Children are given many opportunities to make decisions and think for themselves. It is through freedom and responsibility that children develop a strong sense of who they are, what they care about and where they find joy. In classrooms where students play, trust is built. Students know that their teacher believes in their ability to choose a meaningful path of learning and sees them as agents of their own learning. 

     

    We are alive when we play

    Play engages us, enlivens us, and perhaps it is when we are most alive! In play we can be fully human. Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher and teacher coach, says, “Play just lights up our lives.” And, play allows us to transition into other parts of our lives stronger. As Carolyn Hambidge says, “When children have had the time to play, then they are much more willing and amenable to engage in more teacher directed learning.”                               

     

    Here are a few ways Stanley teachers encourage play:

     

    We prioritize time for the magic of play.

    In our K-1-2 classrooms, children engage in Choice Time every day. As Julie Miles shares, “I love that at Stanley we say Choice because learners are choosing their play. Students are choosing what they want to engage in. I love hearing the children talk about Choice and they unanimously say we get to choose what we want to do. When children are choosing what they want to play and are learning social, emotional and academic skills at the same time, it truly is magical.” 

    We also understand the importance of play for all ages and in all curriculum areas. As Katie Russell describes, “We can get lost in playing with language and words or delight in a story or become intrigued with solving a math problem or finding flow during writing - all those things seem like play to me - the joy of going deep for an extended period of time. Aiming for that feeling of play and joy seems very British Primary to me.” Play occurs as teachers provide the space for freedom of individual and joyful expression in all subjects.

     

    We provide engaging materials and allow freedom within the safe parameters created.

    In planning for play we create a child’s world full of interesting materials readily accessible and attractively displayed: marbles, blocks, scales, water tables, clay, paint, cardboard boxes, paper towel tubes, writing utensils, graph paper, pipe cleaners, scraps of material...even plants and animals – lizards, fish, guinea pigs, hermit crabs. We create dramatic play areas that encourage imagination and socialization (and math and writing skills), and that change as interests change. Hat shops become grocery stores; post offices become the family kitchen. We choose materials that are purposefully open-ended and that can be used in a variety of ways, as our goal is for children to think for themselves and to expand their minds and senses. Engaged in “open-ended” inquiry, our learners become truly invested in what they are doing because it comes from within.  

    To honor the importance of play in our learners’ development and well-being, we allow for independence and space within these safe parameters we have created. We let children explore, ask questions and act, and then, as Julie Miles shares, “We trust. We get out of the way!” 

     

    We set the environment and create the tone for play to ignite and evolve.

    Katie Russell shares, “I want the students to be intrigued, excited and sometimes awed as well as feeling comfortable with how to begin. Often, I begin with, ‘Today we’re going to be scientists and observe…’ or ‘Today we can be artists and create…’ I usually demonstrate a few ways to use the materials. If time allows during the demonstration, I ask, ‘Now what are you wondering?’” As Katie Boston, 3-4-5 teacher, describes, “Often we tell stories that help build a world that they’re going to play in. That’s our role as a teacher. Not necessarily to know where they’re going or what they’re going to do, but help create opportunities and ask questions to see where they’re going to take it. Our job is to build that space for them whether it’s with resources or with our words.” 

     

    We facilitate play by observing and asking questions.

    As children play, Stanley teachers absorb the scope and pulse of the classroom and move about the room. We observe children following their interests, initiating their own learning, interacting with others, and making decisions. In doing so, we come to better understand each child. We thoughtfully respond and provide for each child’s needs and extend each child’s learning when “the time is right.” As Carolyn Hambidge says, “We strive to spend time with individual students. We listen more and the student talks more. It is wonderful observing each child, how they think and how they function. It’s always new. Each child is different. That is why you can’t have a prescribed education. It’s not a methodology. It’s a philosophy – of caring and making sure each child is honored and supported.” 

    As Stanley teachers, we use non-judgemental, open-ended language, and ask questions. As Julie Miles shares, “My most powerful language in the classroom is, ‘Well, what do you think?’ I feel like that opens up so much for learners. All of a sudden they’re talking and talking. They’ve got so much to say.” In play, a frequent question asked by students and teachers is, "What if...?" As Katie Boston shares, “When I think about play, I think about when I was playing, I was able to take healthy risks and try things like, ‘I wonder what will happen if I do this. I wonder if I hang this rope here, will it hold my weight? I wonder if we go over to this space, will it work for a fort?’ When I think back to playing there were a lot of ‘what ifs’ and being able to try things in a safe way.” As Stanley teachers, we are responsive to the questions that the students have, listening carefully and facilitating their investigations whenever possible. We leave room for where student questions might go, and often one child’s interest spreads to those around them!

     

    We are playful ourselves.

    There’s a playful way Stanley teachers interact with children and each other. In classrooms filled with play, there is a willingness not to take ourselves too seriously. Katie Boston, 3-4-5 teacher, shares, “I think playing ourselves and sharing our experiences and being authentic with the children allows them to feel that if you’re being vulnerable and you’re trying, then they’re going to do the same.”

     

    In conclusion

    During a “Choice Time” in a kindergarten, first, and second grade classroom, Carolyn Hambidge paused for a moment and noticed all that was going on around her: “Three girls made a magic fairyland using fabrics and popsicle sticks and other materials. They built a barbecue table and bench, and even a fruit bowl with bananas and raspberries. The girls were writing a book about their fairyland. A group was building in many dimensions using toothpicks and marshmallows to create geometric and mathematical models. Three boys and two girls decided to combine their creations and continue to build together. Some children added up numbers, with calculators or in their heads, from an alphabet code for their names. Some children set up their own special work area with chairs, clip boards, and a basket of markers in the meeting area and proceeded to write and draw. Two boys were looking at dinosaur books. A teacher had set up an experiment with mirrors, water and flashlights to make rainbows. After listening to some children read, I joined the group working with flashlights and mirrors. We had no success until we worked out the angle we needed for the mirrors. We tried the sun outside instead of flashlights. Everyone was thrilled when we eventually caught rainbows!”

     

    May you see and honor the importance of your child’s play.

    May you find moments to play yourself and honor the importance of that play.

    May you discover rainbows.

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  • Observing a Child

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 10/21/2021 3:00:00 PM
    “Didn’t you know I was saving these for elves and leprechauns?” said a kindergartener, holding up two plastic containers that she had pulled out of the recycling box in the classroom. By listening to what a child says, Stanley teachers gain insights into a child’s thinking and understanding. We see where they are in their development. We observe who they are and what they value. 
     
    As Stanley teachers, we not only listen to what a learner says, we watch the smiles, the stillness, the energy, the gestures, the tilt of the head and the facial expressions. The nuanced ways children’s bodies move communicate so much! As Deb Curtis and Margie Carter write in their book The Art of Awareness, “When you take even their smallest actions seriously you will be astounded at children’s deep engagement with the simple wonders around them. You will notice they are studying and speculating, engrossed in each moment.”
     
    Listening and observing in these moments are the primary ways in which we gain more information and insight into a learner. Yet these simple actions take time, patience and a willingness to become students ourselves, allowing the learners to teach us who they are.  As Alex Meallet, K-1-2 teacher resident, shares, “You learn more the longer you watch the child. It’s not like you can watch a child for five minutes and you have a real understanding of their complete identity. First you see the surface level of their actions and interactions and maybe some of the motivations behind those decisions they’re making. But the longer you watch them, the more slowly they reveal themselves over time. It’s a different way of knowing the child without actually interacting with them, but taking a step back and actually observing them.”
     
    As Stanley teachers, we observe the learner alone and with others, both other children and adults. We observe the learner with a variety of materials and in a variety of environments.  As Simone Brackett, Head of K-1-2, says, “One of the biggest things is that students, when you observe them, show you how they identify and how they name themselves and who they think they are in different spaces. You look at them in Choice Time and they are in the block area and they say, “I’m a builder”; or if they let another child come up with the blueprints and they say, “Yeah! What part should I do?”. Then, as you observe them, further and further, you might see some of those things shift. Are they the person who asks to play? Are they the person who joins something already going or are they the person who stands back and watches and then they join in? I think of the beauty of children being able to name themselves, and watching them progress through the different names and different identities that they find depending on what they’re working on and what resonates with them.” Nan Munger, 6-7-8 Art Teaching Fellow, adds, “Observing makes you realize what aspects of a student’s identity are getting brought to what spaces. You can then think about whether the learners are feeling like there’s room for their whole identities in certain contexts, why that is, and in what ways we can create room for more of students’ identities in our classrooms by welcoming different kinds of identity.” 
     
    As Stanley teachers, we observe the social, the emotional, the creative and the physical, as well as the academic. We value observing across classes and subjects. Different children are focused and engaged in different areas and seeing them across the curriculum, one comes to understand them better as a whole person. There’s also the importance of observing in the in-between spaces of learning – the transition times too can be so rich and full. And, we continually share our observations with each other as a team of teachers who seek to understand our students.
     
    As Stanley teachers, we observe to discover what matters to each learner. As Carolyn Hambidge, founder of our school, says, “What are they doing that’s important to them?” As Stanley teachers, we work hard to understand the learner’s interests, joys, culture, way of being and seeing. We observe and listen as they explore open-ended experiences and answer open-ended questions. As Angie Martyn, former K-8 dance teacher, says, “I think about Choice Time and observing children through that experience and how much you can learn from that. Over time. Not just one Choice Time. Over time seeing where they gravitate. How long they are doing something, how they do something.”  

     

    As Stanley teachers, we listen with open eyes and ears, as well as an open mind and an open heart. As Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher and teacher coach, shares, “Observing takes a lot of self awareness and restraint to be aware of what we bring to the situation – our wants, biases, beliefs, etc. and a willingness to remain clear and open and not to jump to conclusions.” Alex Meallet shares, “We need to have awareness of the lens we have as well as our individual identities and how that affects how we perceive our individual students. Checking those assumptions at the door and seeing just how open you can be and just seeing the child for who they are, taking away what you are bringing.” We realize and appreciate that the learner’s way of seeing and being may be different from our own.  
     
    Stanley teachers continually gather evidence of each learner’s style, strengths and challenges, and where learners are in their development. We look for patterns and figure out how a learner learns best and where they are in their development, in all aspects of development. When we listen, when we observe, we are mindful to distinguish between observations and judgments, making sure that we do not jump too quickly to conclusions. As Nan Munger shares, “It’s important to tease apart the difference between what I see and what I think I know. Instead of looking at a learner and saying, “They’re doing this because of this,” I think, “They’re doing this and maybe it’s because of this or maybe it’s not.” 
     
    As Stanley teachers, we begin with seeing a child’s strengths and what they bring to any given situation. We notice the details that help us evolve in our interpretations and to see the dynamic beauty of each learner. At times if we want to dig deeper or tease out our interpretations, we choose a lens for observing. As Katie Russell shares, “We can go into observing children in a very open way, attempting to capture all we can about a child. We can also enter an observation with a focus or question in mind like watching body language or questioning or language or how they enter tasks, interact with peers, interact with adults, how they approach problems, physical play, resilience.” 
     
    We further understand a learner’s identity by having conversations with other people in their lives who also observe and know parts of them. We look at their work – writing samples, math samples, visual representations -- their creations. We observe the process and the product. We recognize the learning is what happens in the experience and to the students, not just the end resulting project, paper, or score. During learning, we confer with learners asking them questions about their thinking and feelings. At times we utilize anecdotal records, rubrics and checklists to provide a structure and to keep track of learning. At times, we layer in nationally normed benchmark assessments and when necessary progress monitoring; we view these assessments in light of the child’s work and interactions in the classroom as a whole. We believe that nationally normed assessments may capture progress on the basics of reading, writing, and math, but these assessments do not shed insights into cooperation, compassion, curiosity, and creative thinking. 
     
    As Friedrich Froebel wrote, “Watch the child; he’ll show you what to do. Educational experiences should only be judged as a result of unending observation of what the learner is doing; only through the detailed observation of persons can the teacher reflect, evaluate and take appropriate action.” Observing is how we at Stanley teach children authentically. To know a child is to watch a child and the most authentic way to teach is to see who the child is, what they need to learn and how they need to learn it. The coming together of everything that we know about a child – what they need, how they learn, who they are – with the curriculum that is being uncovered at that moment is the heart of Stanley teaching. 
     
    As Stanley teachers, there is magic in allowing our students to bring their own unique qualities to every situation and show us not only who they are, but who they are becoming. Each learner is unique and deserving of appreciation and understanding. By listening deeply and observing openly, we honor each learner as somebody who matters. And, we build trust with the child as they feel seen and they feel known. Through observing children we witness the joy and value of childhood and remind ourselves why we are teaching. We can learn from children to be open, to be observant, to be curious, and to engage with the world around us. We experience first hand what Deb Curtis writes in The Art of Awareness, “Becoming a careful observer of children reminds us that what might seem ordinary at a superficial glance is actually quite extraordinary.”
     
    During the upcoming conferences, the Stanley teachers look forward to hearing your observations and stories about your child and to sharing what we have noticed and are learning about your child. Conferences will also be a time to hear your child’s self-reflections on who they are and who they are becoming as a learner and a person.

     

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  • Why is Choice Important in Our Lives and in Classrooms?

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 9/9/2021 3:00:00 PM

    Why is Choice Important in Our Lives and in Classrooms?

    Oftentimes in the classroom, all the decisions involved in learning have been made before the students enter the room. This leaves little room for alternatives, for diversity and inclusivity of ideas, for possibility. And yet, this is not how the real world works – we are asked to make countless choices, large and small, every day; balance our choices with ones made by those around us; and reflect on the results of these choices.   

    Providing learners with choice is at the core of the BP philosophy. The goal of providing authentic choice to our students guides how we observe and interact with learners and the curriculum we design. BP teachers give learners the power to make decisions about their learning. We give choice in process and product, in what and how to learn. When given choices, students direct their own learning with teachers as their guide. Ultimately, children learn how to make positive choices for themselves, in their learning and eventually in their lives. 

    Within a BP classroom, the importance of immersing young children in an environment of choice is so great that it is scheduled as its own subject. BP teachers honor early childhood development and young learners’ need to play by providing Choice Time as an integral part of the daily schedule through age eight. When given the opportunity and time, older learners also relish this type of open-ended experience. 

    At our full faculty and staff retreat in August, we started our school year with Choice Time, choosing between a walk, a music exploration, creating a gratitude journal, and several art projects. We engaged. We connected. We enjoyed. Then we reflected on why choice, and in particular Choice Time, is important in our lives and in our classrooms. Here are the ideas that the faculty and staff shared: 

     

    Identity 

    Choice is a time to honor ourselves and give ourselves the permission and freedom to discover our passions, and explore and expand our authentic identities. Through Choice we discover ourselves and what brings us joy (and what doesn’t). Choice allows us to listen to ourselves, know ourselves, and accept ourselves. It allows us to choose to do what we feel or need in the moment. Choice is the freedom to be present with ourselves and our current needs and wants. Choice helps us to feel seen, trusted, honored, and respected. Who can I become today?

     

    Agency

    Choice allows us to Become. Choice empowers. Our decisions matter and are valued. Choice enables development of independence and decision making skills. Children learn how to make positive choices for themselves in their learning and eventually in their lives. Choice allows/helps us to see our impact on the world.

     

    Discovery

    Choice gives us the chance to explore and play. Choice is freedom to experience without pressure. Choice lets us sometimes engage in a fun, easy activity, and sometimes pushes us to try something scary and hard. It’s important to do both! Choice inspires creativity.

     

    Community

    Through Choice we make connections. Choice brings people together. Through Choice, we learn about hidden identities. We learn about each other. Collaboration and laughing together creates a deeper connection. Choice builds community.

     

    Internal Motivation

    Choice motivates enthusiasm and generates excitement. Choice inspires intrinsic learning.

    Choice Time provides the space to cultivate the innate curiosity and motivation in learning. Choice sparks a desire to do more, know more, be more.

     

    Healthy Risks

    Choice can be a balance of comfort zone/flow and pushing ourselves to try new things.

    Choice allows for productive mess-ups and frustration. Choice enables us to make mistakes in a safe environment.

     

    Joy

    With Choice, joy and learning occur simultaneously. We play and there is joy. Choice is fun! Choice honors learners’ individualities and joyful spirits.

     

    Positivity

    Choice allows us to enter a space with a positive mindset. Choice is a mood changer!

     

    Diversity

    Choice builds a community of beautiful diversity and true acceptance of that diversity. Choice is respect. 

     

    Freedom

    Choice allows us to meet the moment. Choice is freeing.

     

    Skills

    Choice is a skill. Learning to make a choice is an important life skill! Making choices is not easy!!! Perhaps it is one of the most important skills we learn! Practice in low risk to give confidence in high risk situations.

     

    Other thoughts on Choice:

    Everything is about choices. Choice is relevant in all stages of life, whether it’s a K-1-2 student choosing between blocks or art, a middle schooler choosing an elective class or an adult choosing what to make for dinner. Making choices is truly a lifelong experience. Choice gives learners the opportunity to get comfortable, discover things about themselves, explore independence, problem solve, develop confidence in making their own decisions and play while all these experiences are happening - it’s magic!

    Choice brings to life the key British Primary Concepts of Identity, Agency, Discovery and Community, as well as, Creativity, Joy, Positivity and Intrinsic Motivation. As an 8th grade student shared in his graduation speech, “Because it’s Stanley, there are choices and a willingness to try. There are opportunities. There are possibilities. This is the attitude and atmosphere that Stanley has offered me, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.”

    I hope you and your child have a year full of choice and play! 

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  • Social Identities

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 5/24/2021 8:15:00 AM

    Recently, Alex Meallet and a crew of K-1-2 children constructed a community arch in the middle of the Stanley campus. From the arch hangs ribbons and cards with words and drawings sharing the communities to which the children belong - the soccer team, the basketball team, the religious studies group, the book club, and of course, the Stanley community!

     

    Our lives are influenced by the groups to which we belong. Some of these groups we can choose, others we belong to by birth or by the society in which we live. The Stanley faculty and staff have been exploring the concept of identity this year and recently have focused on how the groups to which we belong are often an integral part of our identity. 

     

    As a faculty and staff we have in particular focused on our social identity groups including our race/ethnicity, gender, social class/socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, religion/religious beliefs, language and age.  Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education, “Our social identities refer to the signifiant group categorizations assigned to us by the society in which we grow up and live and which we share with many others.” Here is an overview of what we discovered and shared about our social identities and the implications for the learners in our classrooms:

     

    Our Social Identities

    • Some of our social identities we think about everyday and first thing when we step out the door in the morning. Other identities we do not think about very often. 
    • An identity that we ignore may be significant for someone else. 
    • The identities that are most significant and least significant for us may change over time. 
    • Some of our social identities are visible, some are not. 
    • Some of our social identities feel “normal” when that identity is shared by many people around us. 
    • Some of our identities give us privileges and can make life easier or give us access to opportunities or resources. 
    • Our social identities can play a role in how others see us and treat us.
    • Social identities may bring a range of emotions depending on which identity we are thinking about; for example, some of our identities can give us confidence and some can cause anxiety and worry. 
    • Identities are simply identities. It's the value judgments we place on them and assumptions we make about them that affect us and others.
    • When we recognize where we have insecurities or worries, or do not feel as confident, we may need support to lean in and own these identities. Our vulnerabilities can become our strengths.
    • We can choose who we are now.

     

    A central goal for Stanley faculty and staff is to create environments where learners of every age feel welcome and accepted for who they are as a unique individual, which includes all of their identities.  With that goal in mind we asked, "How do we create school experiences and environments that facilitate our students seeing, understanding and valuing their social identities?”

     

    Understand our own social identities

    We bring who we are to our teaching. As Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education, “Understanding our own lives, and the social groups to which we belong, will strengthen our awareness of, sensitivity to, and empathy for the personal and social identity development of the children and families we serve.” As Brittany McKenna says, “If we haven’t done the work ourselves, identity work in the classroom lacks authenticity. We need to (figure out who we are) and keep figuring out where our blind spots are.”  

     

    Highlight all children and their families in the classroom

    When children see themselves and their families reflected in their classroom, they feel affirmed. As Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education, “Messages of invisibility and visibility also communicate who matters and who does not. When children look at the books or posters in a classroom and find only two-parent families, they may learn that this is the ‘right’ kind of family and that all other kinds of families are wrong. When the dolls in the classroom are all White, or the pictures on the classroom walls show only White children, children may learn that White is ‘normal’ and other colors of human skin are ‘less than’ or bad.” We want all children to feel like they belong.

     

    Support learners to feel positive about Social Identities

    As teachers we work to be proactive so children feel involved and good about their lives and positive about their identities. Carolyn Hambidge says, “We need to let children be proud of who they are. Everyone is a marvel.” Katie Russell adds, “We convey respect for all beings. You are welcome here because you are a human being. You are part of life. You are essential to our world. You make it richer. Helping people feel seen and heard and like they aren’t alone with what they’re experiencing is key.”

    Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education, “Some children need support to resist social messages of racial or cultural inferiority, which undercut their positive identity; others need guidance to develop a positive self-concept without absorbing social messages of superiority...Our goal is for each child to demonstrate self-awareness, confidence, family pride, and positive social identities.”  

     

    Create a safe place where learners feel seen and heard

    As Katie Russell shares, “We often have conversations about community and safe places at the beginning of the year – How do we make this a safe place for everyone to share? Revisiting these agreements often seems important as we discuss exploring identity. When we notice the atmosphere of safety has slipped we can recognize it, acknowledge it and move closer to safety again. 

     

    Part of growth is stretching and taking risks. It seems important to give learners language to express when they don’t feel safe, seen or heard so that they can influence the space directly, as well as return to a place of internal safety where they feel empowered to impact their experience and the world around them. 

     

    Awareness and communication are essential in navigating how to honor each others’ journey of exploring who we are and what it means to be human right now. And, communicating that not all actions and words are welcome here. 

     

    Withholding judgment is also important. Can I listen deeply, empathize, and be sensitive to others’ experiences and, at the same time, remember that I don’t have the full story, even for myself? I can serve best by being present and responding authentically.” 

     

    Be inclusive

    As Grace Reilly shares, “I’m thinking about hidden identities and how essential it is to provide inclusive spaces. We don’t always know who is in the room; someone’s identity may not be visible to us. We need to create space for all identities so students can fill that space. It’s important that all identities feel honored, valued and affirmed to allow students to share now or later.” 

     

    Kathy Mueller adds, “I think that goes with things like grouping – like boys and girls. Then someone who doesn’t think in a binary way is like, ‘I don’t want to go to one of these groups.’ Make groups in a cool authentic way, ‘Who likes hamburgers? Who likes hot dogs? Who likes veggie burgers?’ It is important to think in different ways, so that all learners feel safe and included.” And as Valentina Reilling adds, “The actions we take as teachers can be impactful for years to come. We’re creating spaces where students see us affirm all identities. They will do the same for others.”  

     

    Be patient

    As Sumant Bhat says, “As an educator I can accept who learners are at any given moment in their journeys. Be patient. It doesn’t mean the mirror isn’t impactful if we don’t see evidence at the moment. Our work or modeling might pay forward later, which is part of the journey at Stanley. A student might be more willing to share in second grade because of what happened in kindergarten.”

     

    Model sharing and normalize what’s under the iceberg

    Valentina Reiling says, “When I became a teacher, I became braver about looking at my identities and sharing them with students. I modeled the hard parts and vulnerabilities, which empowered them, as well as me, to talk about those hard things. My sharing gave them voice and space to share.”  

     

    Aya Schickel adds, “We can normalize challenges kids are feeling. For example, dyslexia. At first when I was teaching we didn’t talk about dyslexia. Now I talk about my brain glitches. When I share that my daughters have dyslexia, kids wake up. Now it’s like it's just a part of you – a part we work with. We can allow what’s under the water in the iceberg to be spoken about, which normalizes it. It allows the kids to talk about what’s there for them.”

     

    Modeling can be complex. As Grace Reilly shares, “I’m thinking about sharing my identity as a teacher and wanting to be clear that my experience doesn’t make me an expert. How do I, with my authority in the room, share my voice without becoming the dominant, monolithic voice and story of my identities?” Valentina Reiling adds, “We are on journeys of identity – this idea that identity isn’t static or straightforward, that there can be conflict and celebration within identity. Maybe ‘identity is complicated’ is what we model and we value awareness of that complexity.”

     

    Provide a myriad of ways for learners to share who they are

    Valentina reflects, “Play and choice are all opportunities for kids to reveal themselves and show us who they are. We can create opportunities where it is a natural thing to share who we are and understand who we are. We want kids to experience glimpses of what it feels like to be seen as their authentic selves. To take that in. Sense it. This is who you are now. Stanley encourages authentic identity.” We work to normalize self-reflection by having learners constantly think about who they are in different ways. We invite students to lean in and share.

     

    Use teachable moments 

    As Angie Martyn shares, “There are things that come up in casual conversations like at recess, lunch and play. You can hear what kids are talking about when you're on the playground or just having a conversation in those in-between moments and that can be when you hear things and you realize, okay, this could be affecting other children or the child they are talking to and you have to find a way to facilitate in the moment. It can be really tricky finding those safe, kind and creative ways to jump in and facilitate in those little moments. Those moments, I think, can often make a big difference. It can be the difference between causing harm and helping and anywhere in between.” As Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education, “Children’s questions, comments, and behaviors are a vital source of anti-bias curriculum. They spark teachable moments as well as longer-term projects.”

     

    Plan Curriculum

    Valentina Reiling says, “First we might start with what students show us already about their perceived social identities and then facilitate ways for them to see and understand more. The identity piece is tender but read alouds and characters in books and movies are ways to access these places in a less vulnerable way, and to bring in realities and initiate conversations that aren’t about ourselves.” Kathy Mueller adds, “We can show different identities through stories. We can also cover ones that we might not have within our space but are important identities to have and to know.” 

     

    As Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education,“Teacher-initiated activities are also necessary, be they intentionally putting materials in the environment to broaden children’s awareness or planning specific learning experiences around issues or areas that matter to families and the community. Teacher-initiated activity opens up opportunities to uncover and help children explore ideas.”

     

    In conclusion

    As Louise Derman-Sparks writes in Anti-Bias Education, “Families and educators who understand the role of both personal and social identities in children’s development (as well as their own lives) are better prepared to support children’s healthy development and to teach children how to resist bias that may undermine any aspect of their ability to thrive.” At Stanley we begin in K-1-2 to talk about the groups to which we belong and our social identities. We also talk about what it means to be part of a community. Alex Meallet describes the K-1-2 children’s definition of a community: a group of people who care about each other and feel they belong together. At Stanley, our community values diversity of all kinds. We recognize that we are each unique and belong to different groups within and outside of Stanley. We strive to be a community where we can share of ourselves, feel safe and provide safety, and keep growing in understanding of ourselves and others. 

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  • What Do You Wonder?

    Posted by Stanley Communications on 4/8/2021 8:00:00 AM

    When a fourth grader found frogs in the storm drain at the local park and brought the frogs into the classroom, the critters generated a lot of excitement and interest; the children asked more than 100 questions about the frogs! The teachers and students grouped the questions into categories and overarching questions, then discussed the most intriguing ideas and the ones that were most relevant. For example, What do frogs eat? How will we keep them alive? How and when might we release them back into the wild?  

     

    Inspired by our universe, and the beings and their creations within it, curiosity ignites. Questions tumble forth. How come…? Why? What if…? How? This past month, Stanley British Primary School’s faculty and staff focused on the importance of asking questions in our lives and in our classrooms and how we facilitate learners asking questions. Here is what we shared and uncovered combined with a few thoughts from some of our favorite educational writers and psychologists:

     

    Why is asking questions in our lives and in our classrooms important?

     

    Asking questions motivates us. Asking questions gives purpose to what we are experiencing. If it is a meaningful question, we will be excited to start investigating. It makes us alive! As Katie Russell, former K-1-2 teacher, says, “Questions are what guide my learning as an adult. They are what give my life meaning. I love the freedom to explore my own questions at whatever depth is right in that moment. Some questions are fleeting and some questions are a lifelong pursuit. But my questions really are guiding where I put my focus and energy.” Questions launch us into learning more. As Sumant Bhat says, “Questions can serve as invitations to exploration and learning. They can provide choice versus a singular approach.” A good question inspires us to learn more.

     

    We ask questions to learn more about a person and connect. Through asking questions we deepen our understanding of each other and of what it means to be human.  As Samantha Boggs, Director of Community Engagement, shares, “Sometimes I feel hesitant to ask someone a question because I feel like I should already know something about someone. But I think people like to be asked questions so I’m leaning into asking questions is okay. It's nice to hear the answer from that person.” Kathy Mueller, 7th grade language arts teacher, adds, “It’s an invitation. Our questions can invite someone into conversation.” Mona Akabari, front desk administrator and greeter, shares, “When you’re genuinely interested to know the person, the questions just keep flowing like a river.” Through asking questions we learn more about others. When we take the time to listen to their answers and their stories, we understand and connect with them, and we can learn more about ourselves, too!

     

    Asking questions broadens our perspectives. Sydney Oswald, middle school Teaching Fellow, says, “Questioning can challenge assumptions and help us gain perspective.” Sumant Bhat adds, “Observation and questions are both tools to safeguard us against rushing to conclusions. They pump the breaks and avoid the trap of becoming an expert too quickly and oversimplifying something. They keep things divergent, allowing a broader understanding of something.” Grace Reilly, 8th grade science teacher, shares, “Asking questions is important because it’s how we are able to disrupt the systems that are in place and challenge what is going on in the world and all the systems of aggression that exist and why they exist.” 

     

    We ask questions to find out information and for clarification. When we do not understand, asking questions can illuminate the issue or situation. We ask questions to gain more facts and details, and to understand more fully. As Cris Tovani writes in Questioning for Learning in Educational Leadership, “Learners who ask questions are able to isolate their confusion. Questions force them to articulate what their confusion is instead of merely saying, ‘What? I don't get this!’ Learners can then work to repair their confusion by seeking more information.”

     

    Questioning deepens understanding. Donna Meallet, middle school PE teacher, says, “Asking questions allows you to go deeper into the subject. It leads to deeper understanding.” As John Muir Laws explains in The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, “By asking a rich question, you engage your brain to explore more deeply and to focus on a chosen topic…Asking questions deepens your engagement with the subject and broadens your focus to stretch beyond what you already know. This helps develop your curiosity and your ability to seek out the edges of your understanding.” Ultimately, questioning allows us to grapple with complex situations.   

     

    Questioning is lifelong learning. Questioning is unending: “Now that you’ve learned this, what questions do you have?” There are more and more! Often the more we know about a topic, the more sophisticated and abundant our questions become. Questioning leads to learning, leads to more questioning; we are lifelong learners when we feel compelled to question. As Simone Bracket, Head of K-1-2 shares, “It feels like it lightens my load as an adult when I don’t feel like I need to know everything just in general in my life. Instead, when I can approach the world as though there’s always something more to learn and even something I know well there’s always something to round it out. So I never have to feel like I’m failing by not knowing everything. I can always ask questions and in doing so round out my world more. In doing so, I have more to impart and there’s always more to find out. That’s a more exciting way to view the world rather than, ‘You’ve reached this point and you should know everything and there’s nothing else to learn.’”

     

    How do we facilitate learners asking questions?

     

    Make time and space for questions. We provide opportunities for children to do what comes very naturally to them – wonder about the world around them and ask questions. As Harvey Daniels writes in The Curious Classroom:

    • Actively and regularly solicit kids’ wonders                                         
    • Make time for children to pursue their questions                                  
    • Allow ourselves to be interrupted                  

    As Valentina Reiling, 3-4-5 teacher says, “I feel like younger kids are really good at asking questions and if you gave them time, they would never stop. So take that time to honor those questions!” What are learners wondering about?

     

    Create a safe place. Learners need to feel like they can trust their teacher and peers in order to share and question. As Katie Russell says, “I’m thinking about teaching as hosting a gathering and facilitating conversations and experiences. Teachers are facilitators who create safe environments where students can take risks, find their edge and stretch and grow. Questions help guide their journey and reflection helps students transfer their experiences to other settings.” Learners need to feel that asking questions is the norm in the classroom. 

     

    Provide rich curricula and materials, so that questions are generated. Questions are not formulated in a vacuum, or in nothingness. As Grace Reilly, 8th grade science teacher, says, “I have found that it is important if you’re aiming for the student to create questions that they may have to have something very rich to create questions about, whether it’s a picture, or a story, or an artwork, or a fact. Whatever it is that you’re looking at needs to be very rich and have many questions that are able to be made about it so there are many possibilities for students.” Learners need to feel inspired and interested in the curriculum and world around them in order to have something about which to ask questions. 

     

    Help learners see connections. Grace Reilly reflects, “We work in my class having students develop the skills to ask higher level thinking questions. For me questions are all about connections you’re able to make and wondering and pondering and troubling those connections. So helping them as a class come up with a list of different things you could connect what you’re talking about, can help get at the root of those questions and then they can go from there and how to build those connections and make questions between them.” Valentina Reiling adds, “When we observe, we hold our new understanding against our old understanding and the place where those two meet is a place of questioning.”  

     

    Let their questions provide the framework for learning. When learners pursue the questions that they have generated and are excited about pursuing, there is an energy and focus in the classroom.  As Jacky Marino and Devin Burkhart, former 3-4-5 teachers, share, “As we launched our biography research unit, it was one of those days when the lesson flowed. My, oh my, was there a load of connecting, questioning and synthesizing that took place. The kids were eager, and learning potential reached its peak! We started with a mini lesson centered around researchers and asked, ‘What is the job of a researcher?’ and ‘How does a researcher start researching?’ From these questions, we discussed the spark of all research which is...CURIOSITY! What then comes from curiosity? QUESTIONS! The kids came up with lists and lists of questions to guide their research and to give them purpose while synthesizing information in their books.” 

     

    As John Muir Laws writes in Observation and Intentional Curiosity, “A question provides structure within which to organize observations and related thoughts, and it prompts you to look for other details that are germane.”  Leslie Maniotes writes in Guided Inquiry Design, “Identifying an important focused question is essential for personal learning and deep understanding to take place in the inquiry process. For students, a meaningful question is, what do I care about and want to learn about?” 

     

    Design lessons that have questions as the objective. As Sydney Oswold, 6th grade Teaching Fellow, says, “Asking questions is a skill that you can practice. I ask students to come up with an open-ended question. I say the question can’t be answered by a single word, a number, or ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ and that if you asked three different people the question you would get a different answer from each person. Learners need modeling and practice asking questions.” Susan Engel in The Hungry Mind writes, “Question asking can become the goal of an educational activity, rather than a happy by-product. Teachers can develop activities that invite or require students to figure out what they want to know and then seek answers.” When launching curriculum units, teachers can ask what questions learners have about the concept being uncovered.

     

    Create a place to honor their questions. Valentina Reiling shares, “Design a place to hold their questions and put them and use them to continue the lesson or unit. I think that is going to empower them to keep asking questions too – when their questions facilitate the learning that’s going to happen.” And Harvey Daniels in The Curious Classroom writes, “Create a keeping place for kids’ questions, return to it often, and keep it fresh.” 

     

    Model asking questions. We model asking questions and embrace our own natural curiosity - I wonder how…? I wonder why…? I wonder if…?  Katie Russell says, “Consistent modeling of genuine questions seems like a powerful way to inspire others to ask genuine questions – modeling uncertainty, not knowing...Asking questions is contagious. Especially with consistent questions that apply to various situations like ‘Why do you think that?’ and ‘How did you do that?’ Eventually students will internalize the questions and ponder them on their own, and perhaps, ask others the same or similar questions. Hearing the same question for three years in the same class, and nine years at Stanley, helps those questions become a habit of mind for students.” And as Harvey Daniels says in The Curious Classroom, “Be open to being amazed!”

     

    Teach about the different types of questions. Not all questions are the same. We not only allow questions to surface, but also teach children how to ask really good ones. We model and explicitly teach children about the different types of questions, the questions that are related to different depths/levels of thinking. Is it a basic question, getting at facts and recall? Who was it that…? How many…? Or are the questions accessing higher levels of thinking, delving deeper and perhaps having more than one answer? Do you agree with...? What are the pros and cons of...? How many ways can you...? What would happen if? Can you create a …to do…? 

     

    As 8th grade language arts teacher David Marais writes, “Eighth graders were beginning their study of the Holocaust and its lessons, based on curriculum from Facing History and Ourselves. To help prepare for the work ahead, students learned about asking various levels of questions. Eighth graders used Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street as an example text. They discussed the first level, Factual Questions, focusing on information that could be gleaned directly from the story – who, what, when, where. 

     

    Next, students practiced asking Inferential Questions about the text, such as, ‘Why does the author feel scared of other neighborhoods?’ These questions draw on context and background knowledge and rarely have definitive answers. 

     

    The final category, Universal Questions, requires students to think about the big issues we face in our world, such as ‘Why do people in the world today still stereotype and judge others?’ With an understanding of all three kinds of questions, eighth graders set forth to critically analyze the complex and challenging material – and it prepares them to do the same for the world around them.”

     

    Valentina Reiling shares, “I think in some ways learners need to go through the process of starting with basic questions and kind of grounding them in the context and then, from the basic, more simple, questions, the questions can grow deeper and deeper.”

     

    Create opportunities to share questions. Share questions at the beginning of class, during class, and to wrap up a lesson. Share questions at the beginning of a unit of study, during a unit of study, and at the end of a unit of study. And as Harvey Daniels writes in The Curious Classroom, “Create sharing opportunities within and beyond the class.”                               - 

     

    In conclusion

    After observing the frogs that a student found in a storm drain, and generating a list of more than 100 questions about the critters, we discussed how to investigate and find answers to our questions. We had to figure out what kind of frogs we had and what they would eat, and if and when we could release them back into the wild. We accessed books in the library and online resources, and we called the local amphibian expert at the local zoo, who was very helpful, and told us that we would have to wait until the spring to release our temporary class pets back into the storm drain. We fed our frogs crickets and observed and enjoyed them in the classroom for several months. We eventually even got to observe tadpoles! From observing this new phase of a frog’s life, we generated many more questions! As we notice, it is often in the next moment that we ask questions, search for answers and strive to make sense of the world. 

     

    What do you wonder? 

    As Cris Tovani writes in Educational Leadership, “If you must be the question asker, I challenge you to pose this single, simple, beautiful question to your students—no matter the content, no matter the learning goal — ‘What are you wondering?’"

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