Monday, January 4, 2016

Experiencing Joy in the Classroom

....tidings of comfort and joy

A familiar refrain from a seasonal song.  As we enter the new year I have been thinking about what the words 'comfort' and 'joy' might mean in our classrooms. 

Comfort:  What does this mean to you?  Where do you do your best work and play?  Does the first photo work for you, or the second?  What do you need?  We'll wait while you think.

Now think about whether we provide these same things to children at home or at school. Hmmm.

We want to create comforting and caring spaces for young children.  For many this means thinking carefully about the environment and offering soft spaces, natural and low level lighting, neutral calming colors and uncluttered space. In the new year, how can you create such spaces at home or in classrooms?   Somerville teachers can reach out to the early childhood department for help with this and we will come and help think about the classroom environment.

But now onto something that is a bit more abstract.

Joy:  What brings you joy in your work, in your daily life?   Ponder that for a moment.

How are your children, at home or at school, experiencing joy? I began thinking about this as some teachers in Somerville began using a Vivian Paley inspired movement called Story Telling Story Acting. This very short, inspirational video of Vivian Paley talking about the importance of establishing relationships with children highlights the value in connecting with children. Children first dictate a story to an adult, then the group acts out the story without props or rehearsal. Story Telling Story Acting is a simple yet powerful way for children to express narratives, develop language and expression, and to see their stories acted out quickly and effectively.   I will post more about Story Telling Story Acting in the new year as preschool teachers in Somerville try it out in their classrooms.

Aside from all of the obvious links to the literacy standards, teachers and administrators also noticed something else happening while children acted out each other's stories.  Children were unusually well-regulated, sitting at rapt attention as the teacher read the narrative and watching their friends act out a story or waiting for a turn to be an actor. 

Part of the children's interest and attention was something less quantifiable - the light in children's eyes, laughter, glee of being an actor and being on stage.  It made me think about the "joy ratio" in our teaching.  Are we erring on the side of activities that don't necessarily bring joy and delight to the learning process?  I know I learn something better when there is motivation to enjoy the process and I feel involved and personally connected.

A teacher in Somerville recently asked her children what joy meant.   Here are their responses in the form of a poem. 

Now things get a bit less abstract!  Here is a very concrete list from a group of 4 year olds.  While we can't make everyday be a birthday, we can help children to feel a sense of pride, to sing, feel calm, develop a sense of anticipation about learning, and be held both literally and metaphorically within the classroom.

Commit to comfort and joy in the learning experiences you offer this year!