I always find myself at this time of year, in the small quiet moments of the day, reflecting on and evaluating what has or has not happened this year. I evaluate myself, my choices, think about the students and the path we took together; where we came from and where we have ended up.
Some questions I wonder about:
What have we learned?
What does that learning mean for us as individuals, and as a group?
What does that learning mean beyond us, beyond these 28 students?
I have come to notice growth in three main areas with children at this stage of development.
The learning I am thinking about happens in terms of:
Knowledge of self
Knowledge and support of other
Ways of seeing and interacting with the wider world
After a year of studying bugs and interdependence, becoming bug characters and working as a community to write a play together I wonder what we will take from our work together. I am finding growth and learning revealed in stories shared, in happenings of surprise and wonder, in noticings, in the small moments. I find myself wondering about what that means – does it convey something about the depth or the breadth of the learning?
It is not quantitative data, for sure, but noticing connections and relationships, noticing questions and new thinking patterns in these students feels like something important…
I want to share some of these stories and moments with you, remember – these are just a few…
S. K. came back from the weekend and had a story to share with me. She had been with two of her friends at their house playing outside and they had found a snail. The friends were going to throw the snail in the middle of the street. Their whole family, she told me with surprise and sadness, said to throw the snail in the middle of the street. S. K. didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want the snail thrown in the middle of the street. She felt confused and sad and upset. She told me that it felt like they were throwing A.A. (another student from our class) into the street. She said, “If A had been there, she would have stopped them.”
My refection – S.K. had gained a strong sense of appreciation of the small creatures of this Earth. Even though many of them do some frustrating things like eating things in our garden, she knows they also play a part in this world – in the web of interdependence and she feels that their lives are significant. Another piece that stands out to me is her immediate association with this other student (A), who she is not actually good friends with. This other child who has studied snails this year and has taken on the character of a snail immediately played into her thoughts. She felt empathy not only for the snail, but for her classmate who has grown so fond of snails through her studies and experiences this year. This classmate has made snails visible to her class. And through her personality as her snail, she has created the powerful possibility that snails are individuals and could have personalities. This type of thinking brings a sense of humanity to other living things we do not usually offer that respect.
One day in class, we were practicing our lines for our play. (We worked together for many hours to write a play together to offer a message about our thoughts and learning about bugs. Each child had to write in their own character. The play is called The Great Bug Rescue.) On this day, we were playing a game where one student would throw out one of their lines (say it aloud) to the class and the rest of us would throw it back imitating as closely as possible their voice, tone and gestures. This way, students could hear their lines, get feedback on how it sounded and decide if they liked it or wanted to try it a different way. Some of our shyer students were struggling to say their lines slow enough to be heard and understood. I asked one student, M. R. to share her line with us. It took her awhile and she said it superfast with all the words running together. We repeated it back to her and it was clear she wasn’t happy with the way it sounded. I asked her if she wanted some suggestions. She said yes and tons of hands shot up around the room (We were sitting in a circle all around the room so we would need to talk loudly to be heard). She called on a few of her good friends, which is often what children will do, and they said her line in a new way, but she clearly was not inspired yet. Then, she looked all the way across the circle and called on a classmate who she does not often have much interaction with. She called him by his bug name, Waspy, not his human name – which made me smile because she did not do that with anyone else. When he said her line, we all knew that was it – he had captured the voice and feeling of her baby millipede perfectly. Her face lit up with a smile. “That’s it!” she cried and she tried it out. We all repeated it back to her. It was perfect.
My reflection – Connections I don’t even see, and maybe they don’t even fully realize are being made through our work together. Students depend on each other in this work. Two students who typically have very little to do with each other on a regular basis in class, knew each other as their bugs in a very strong way. The moment they connected in that circle was full of energy. O.D., a child who does not speak up all that often in class, put himself out there because he knew he had a great idea for her and somehow she knew too – all the way across the room – because she called on him. It was electrifying. He has since continued to support her, when she has to say her line and is feeling a little shy, Waspy is called on to help.
On a weekend trip to the Oregon coast, a girl in our class, N.F., found a caterpillar. It was fuzzy and she thought it was a woolly bear – the same type of caterpillar she was studying in class and becoming as a character in our bug world and for the play. She made the decision to bring the caterpillar back with her because in researching woollys she knew that they eat weeds and so, even though she took some beach grass, she thought it would be easy to find it food so it could eat and grow and prosper. At home, upon returning from the coast, I learned from her mom that she carried this bug around her house in her palm singing to it all day. This bug is so dear to her heart. At school on Monday, I helped her to make it a home and every day or two she collected different weeds for it to eat, but it never ate. At first it seemed OK, but within a week, it was clear that the caterpillar was getting smaller and smaller every day which we all know is not what is supposed to happen to a caterpillar. Every day she brought that caterpillar over to me in her hand her eyes pleading for me to make it OK. “Look it is a little smaller today,” she would say, “I know it is still alive because if I put it on its back it will turn over.” We both knew the caterpillar was not going to make it and we talked about how we learned something about removing a creature from its natural habitat when we cannot recreate that habitat for it. The caterpillar finally one morning did not move any more. N.F. planned a ceremony for our class on the last day of school to honor this small life, and others from the year, gone by.
My reflection – There are big lessons being learned here. Lessons of love and life and death, of caring for another creature and of making mistakes without meaning to – mistakes that have challenging consequences. What implications are there for her and for the world, to be working on these lessons now, at this age?
It is the day to try on costumes for our play. I am amazed at the creativeness I see in front of me. Afterschool I see a mom and comment to her on how fun it was to see her child – S.L. – in his costume and how creative it was. She tells me the story of the costume. She says this was a whole family effort – involving everyone in their family. They were all working together trying to think of how in the world to create a costume to transform their 8 year old into a painted lady caterpillar (this from a mom who I don’t think will mind me saying that she REALLY does not like bugs!). The whole family made an outing to Michaels and walked through the aisles together searching for what could work for S. What they found and created was perfect and he, wearing it, was beaming.
My reflection – I love this image and want to hold onto it forever – this image of S’s family together walking through the aisles of Michaels looking for a way to create this costume for their youngest member. And then, the image of him with his huge smile – with all the love from that costume surrounding him.
These are the moments that make this work meaningful and it is because the work IS meaningful to the students and to me that these moments happen. What stories do you have? What small moments have you noticed that area a testament to the learning that has happened this year? What possibilities do these moments suggest to you?