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Posts tagged ‘observation’

Good Teaching

It’s official, Chelsea Rakuc has finished her first blog post.  I couldn’t stop reading it!   We can not wait to hear from her more!  Enjoy! -Andromahi

After teaching a plethora of lessons throughout my methods courses, I have always reflected upon the question of, “Am I being the best teacher that I can be?”  I always thought good teaching depended upon the assessment of the students and the self-reflection I did about myself.  While both these concepts are equally important, good teaching is all about how you implement the lesson to and with the students.

I am currently enrolled in a course entitled History and Philosophy of Education.  I entered the course thinking it was going to be centered around popular theorists and their viewpoints on education.  Where as we have touch based on these important figures, we have also expanded into a direction that has caught my interest.  We have dove into article readings, current events, and research of various topics.

One of the first days of class, we received an article to read and reflect upon.  The article was entitled The Source of Good Teaching by Daniel A. Lindley, Jr.  The first time I read the article, I was so engulfed and intrigued that I had to keep reading even after our time was up.  It answered every question I ever had about myself as a teacher.

I think the most important characteristic a teacher should possess is that of devotion to becoming a life-long learner.  This goes beyond keeping up with current events and the newest research.  This extends to learning alongside our students.  Lindley says, “Good teaching is not done to students.  It is done with them.”  There is always something to be learned and if we have the ability to do this with our students, it could be a huge motivating factor for them.  We are working with the students in what they are learning and that has the potential for students to feel as if they have a colleague with them along for the ride.  “The source of the energy that drives good teaching – is the child in the teacher.”  Now this does not mean we have to act like a child.  I interpret it as being interested in what the students are learning, having the feeling of being a student, and joining in on the learning that is happening inside the classroom.

Children surprise us on a daily basis with their knowledge, questions, and realizations.  Just as they learn from us, we learn from them.  Lindley speaks about this in this article by saying, “A good teacher must stimulate the knowing adult in each child.”  Children are capable and absorb more than we could ever imagine.  I think this is something we, as teachers, can use as ‘teachable moments.’  One thing I see often is how the teachers are learning with the students.  If the students proposed a question that you did not know the accurate answer to, be honest with them.  This could be an answer that you and your students could look up together.

I remember one of my first times ever being in a preschool classroom.  I walked in and could not find the teachers.  I thought to myself, “There is no way the children are in here unsupervised.”  To my pleasant surprise, I walked deeper into the room and there were the teachers, fully engaged with what the children were doing.  I specifically remember one teacher who was playing restaurant with a small group of children.  The children offered her a variety of items off their menu, in which she selected chocolate cake.  One child said, “I’m going to put it in here,” while placing the cake in the oven.  The teacher took this as a teachable moment and responded by saying, “Oh. That’s an oven.  You’re going to bake my cake.”  After her cake was finished baking, she ate it and told the students how delicious it tasted.  I felt this was so crucial in the student’s learning because they were actively engaged in what they were learning, the teacher was essentially one of them, and she was providing them with vocabulary that was scaffolding what they were role-playing.

This article is a great reminder to students, teachers, and parents that we must never lose sight of our inner child, for it has the ability to motivate our students in a way that could change the learning environment in a positive way.  This really made me think about how I interact with children in all environments.  Always keep in mind that we must pretend with them, talk with them, and most importantly, learn with them.  “One of the great gifts teaching gives us is the privilege of sharing our own journey with those who are given into our care.”

Stay tuned for more,

~ Chelsea


As a lab school for the University we have students come and go. Each group of students has a different “job” when they are in our classrooms. As they get further into their studies, they begin to teach lessons and try out new materials in the classroom. This semester, we have a group of six girls who are coming in our classroom two days a week. During this time they are learning how to implement project work. For those of you who are new to project work, project work is an in-depth investigation on a topic. This topic can be uncovered for as little as six weeks and as long as months.

This group of girls has already made a web (we call an anticipatory web) of where they think the children will go which is complete with our curriculum objectives and dimensions. They then completed a knowledge web with the children. They also started and will continue to add-on to the children’s question web over the course of the next few weeks. Thus ending Phase One of the project.  We are starting Phase Two of the project which is investigation including hands on learning! Our favorite part!

We have already gathered several resources (Thanks to anyone who has already let us borrow items) but are still in need of the following items:

  • sheet music
  • music stands
  • scripts
  • stage make up
  • pictures of musicals
  • props from a musical
  • tickets/ticket stubs
  • costumes from a musical

The girls brought in their first item this week for the children to investigate which was a light from a real musical!! The children spent time sketching, predicating (and dictating to the students), and experimenting with the light.   They have also been trying to figure out how and what items are needed to change the color of the lighting when needed. We will continue to explore the light over the course of the next few days learning the names of the pieces and buttons and learning more about how it works.






The children have started to ask questions about what types of food grow on trees and what types of food grow on bushes.  They began asking questions about olives.  I shared with the children that my parents own olive trees.  A huge discussion began!  The children wanted to know what they looked like and we began to look for pictures on the computer.  We started to talk about the personal experiences the children have had with different types of Olives.

We began with the Kalamata (Greek) Olives.  The children had the opportunity to explore the olives.  They children used rulers to measure the size of each olive.  Kara introduced an Olive Pitter and the children had an opportunity to use it.  They then began to sketch, investigate, and discuss the attributes of the pit and the olives.  Some children wanted to taste them and they had the opportunity.  None of the children liked the taste.

Several children then began to weigh olives that have pits and ones that did not.  Elisabeth (4.6) creates a graph for her information.  Each side is labeled, “heavy” and “not heavy.”  She then begins to weigh the olives.   She tells her friends that the heavy side of the scale is the one that tips and touches the base of the scale.  She then counts the olives in that tray.  She documents that answer until her paper is full of data.

The days following the Greek olive investigation the children investigated green and black olives.  The children created a Venn diagram comparing the two kinds of olives.  The children tried these as well.  Most of the children liked the black olives and only two liked the green olives.

We continue to investigate…Will you?


Making Paper

The children have been very interested in the book,  From Tree to Paper.  The book outlines how paper is made from a tree, the process it goes through, and all of the items that are made from trees or tree products.  After investigating what grows in our trees, the children began to show some interest about how the tree is used for other means.  Kara spent a week on reading the story in detail and learning more about how paper is made.
The children spent the first day  tearing paper into small pieces.  Each child had the opportunity to participate and encouraged to make the pieces as small as possible.  The children used fine motor skills to tear large pieces of paper into inch pieces.  The younger children helped by tearing their pieces and offering them to older peers to make them small enough for the mixture.  The children then began to add water and cornstarch to the mixture.  As the children put their hands in this mixture they began to share their observations which included:
  • “It is really mushy!”
  • “It feels wet and cold!”
  • “The paper doesn’t crinkle anymore!”

The following day, the children used a blender to mix the ingredients into a smaller pieces.  They added more water until the consistency of the ingredients were very watery.  Each time a new set of paper was blended it was added to the bucket.›The children used tulle that fit tightly into a circular shape.  The directions are below.

  1. ›The children dipped the tool  into the mixture.
  2.  They pull the tool out of the water.
  3. ›They then sponged off excess water.
  4. ›They added pine needles.
  5. ›Then saved it to dry.

The following day, we investigated the paper.  The children then decided they’d like to see if they could make different colors of paper.  They had determined that the reason the first paper was a brownish color was because we had used newspapers.  The children went with Kara in our storage room and picked out various colors of paper.  They began to tear one color for the mixture and were excited that their predictions were right!  If you use red recycled paper, your paper will turn red!

In your classroom:

  • don’t be afraid to start small
  • don’t be afraid to get dirty
  • invest the children’s help in clean-up
  • plan ahead!

Try an experiment and let us know how it worked!


Evergreen Trees

With any project, we immerse ourselves in the project and provide the children with as many opportunities as possible to explore items, sketch, represent, discuss, and learn new vocabulary.  The Tree project was no different.  We are fortunate to have an outdoor place space, which the children and families have named the Beehive,  be a certified Nature Explore classroom (for more information check out arborday.org).  After the holidays, we ask families to donate their evergreen trees so that we can add them to our playground.  We had the opportunity to explore these trees both in and outdoors. 

While indoors, we spent time using magnifying glasses and looking at the pine needles up close.  We created lists of our observations several days before even begin to sketch.  Some of the children added words such as:

  • prickly
  • rough
  • smelly
  • pine
  • green

We then began to sketch what we were noticing.  Since we have been spending time creating lists about the characteristics of the item we are sketching we have noticed more detailed sketches.  The first time we tried this technique, our children wanted to sketch right away.  We talked about the importance of observing and that sometimes you notice things you did not know if you continue to observe.  The second time we tried the activity, the children asked to sketch on the second day of observation.  After continuing the technique for several weeks, some of our older children are beginning to create their own lists of characteristics with friends!

You can create observation lists with the children in your classroom!  Begin with an item of interest (preferably project or nature based).  Set the item out and tell children you would like to create a list of items.  Model by making the first statement and encourage children to share.  The very first time may not turn out as anticipated but have faith!  Once you try it, share with us!   We’d love to hear your success and what we can do to help!

Continue observing…


Question Web

After creating our Knowledge Web, we begin to create our Question Web.  This is an opportunity for the children to feel empowered.  We are able to listen to their questions and by doing this we are telling them that their feelings are important to us, spend some one on one time as we write the question together, and begin to think of ways we could find our answer.  When the child asks a question, we ask if we can add it to the web.  The child and the teacher then walk over to the web and document their questions right away.  Our web’s are positioned at the height of the child and in group so that we can continue to reference it.  We spend time sounding out and identifying the letters in the question.  We often times talk about the grammatical structure of our question (the children are motivated during this time and exposure during motivation is so important!).  Sometimes during the creation of our Knowledge Web and during our personal stories that the children share, we begin to think of questions as well.  Even the youngest children can have questions about the project, but may not be able to pose in a question format.  For example, a young child may be very interested in a bird they see in a tree every day when they go outside.  One day the child may ask the teacher to look at the bird.  This may then produce some dialogue between the child and the teacher.  The teacher may say, based on her observations and the dialogue she/he may have shared with the child during this time period, “You were really interested in that bird!  Maybe you want to find out if birds live in trees? What birds eat?”  If the child is verbal enough to answer yes and no, they will tell you if you are on the right track!  If not, continue to observe and restate another question based on these observations.   In our classroom and with this project, we added our questions to our Weeping Willow Tree. 

We do set time aside for the children to ask the pressing questions that they have days after working on the knowledge web, but the question web will become the children’s working document.  They, with practice and modeling, will begin to ask to add questions on during play.  This will happen days and weeks after the initial creation.  As teachers, we have questions, too!  We add our questions on there as well. 

How can you start one in your classroom?

  • Start with a large piece of paper
  • Start small
  • Model the behavior
  • Use terminology during their play such as, “I wonder how the leaves fall off trees…”  or “I see squirrels in trees, but I wonder if they live there.”
  • As you write the question, as the child for help!
  • Encourage the children to document their own questions

As you begin your own webs, feel free to post questions here!  Don’t be shy!  I am sure someone out there has the same question or has been through the situation and is willingly to give you insight!  We are a team here! 

Everyone, everything, everyone has potential. -Claire Warden

Until next time-


Catalytic Event

We had our catalytic event for our new project: Trees.

The children created the Trees for our Tree Project!

My assistant and I had just finished reading a book that was given to us by our director called Inspiring Spaces for Young Children.  During the early morning, several children started to decorate the poles that are in our classroom.  As they used paper to tape around the pole, Kara (my assistant) shared that it looked like the book we had been reading where the classroom used the poles in their classroom to construct trees.  One of the children asked Kara if she could bring the book into the classroom so the children could see it.  As they were creating, the rest of the children were with me at snack.  We began talking about what we knew was on trees.  The children created a long list of items which included: bark, branches, leaves, snow, birds, birds nests, and bird houses.  The children then created a list of materials for me to get when I took snack back.  These items included pipe cleaners, model magic, string, and “whatever looked tree like.”

Once the materials were brought to the children, Kara and I stood back encouraging the children to tell us what to do.  The children broke out in work sessions.   The children broke into groups including: wrapping the pole, coloring leaves, cutting tape and adding it to leaves, adding leaves to the trees, wrapping twine around the pole, making birds, birds nests, bird houses, covering paper towel rolls, and adding the rolls to the tree as branches.

Each child spent time creating something for the tree.  Some children spent thirty minutes in this process while others spent as much as two hours!!  As parents came in for pick-up, the children were so excited to share their hard work. 

How you can find the beginning of a project in your room…

  • begin documenting common threads on children’s play
  • share your ideas and thoughts with the teachers in your classroom
  • once you believe you have determined the common thread; bring in an item that would support that

Stay tuned for our next adventure!


Teaching Emails 1: Observation

Sit back and think of a time when someone acknowledge your hard work, how did that make you feel?  Close your eyes and put yourself in that position.  You worked so hard on a presentation for a meeting or for a class and after presenting you received the grade you wanted, inspired one person in the group, or conveyed the message perfectly.  It’s a great feeling isn’t it?!  Then, to top of this great feeling that you have someone acknowledges your work!  They understand how hard you have worked. 
This above feeling that I am talking about is a scenario we can create for children.  When we help children feel like this, like us they want to try again, work harder, and succeed.  We need to help create this feeling for every child in your classroom.  Now, this is a task that will not happen overnight but it can happen!  Our job as a teacher is to motivate every single child.  This upcoming week, find one child to touch base with, begin to create a bond with them.  As you create this bond and begin thoroughly observing them add tracking statements so that the child understands you acknowledge their work.  During these observations, feel free to take notes!  You will then be able to use this for future reference!
As your getting to know this child (or on a deeper level), try these techniques:
  • find out their favorite thing to do in the classroom
  • what motivates them
  • what makes them excited
  • track their behaviors/movements (more or less depending on age)
  • begin to engage in this activity with them daily or ask them about it if unable to engage

When I tried this I found out on a deeper level more about a child who had been in my classroom about four months and has a strong relationship with my assistant.  I knew he enjoyed working in block center but he truly enjoys combing blocks and family living.  He is motivated by gross motor movements and acting out roles of various jobs/people/animals.  He gets excited when he works hard on something for many minutes and is able to accomplish the task (he worked repeatedly on creating a boat and when pieces fell over became frustrated.  I encouraged him verbally and he was able to do it after several tries!).  I plan on continuing creating this boat next week.

For more information about the Teaching Emails, please read the post: Welcome!


“When a person feels encouraged, he can face the impossible and overcome incredible adversity.”  John Maxwell

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