I think of myself and how I learn even as an adult. If I'm being instructed on a new computer program, I'll sit through the training, pay attention, take notes--you can tell me step by step what to do; but I'll tell you what, let me "play" around with it for a few hours and I will learn to navigate it much more quickly and in a way I can apply it to fit my needs.
It scares me how data-driven education has become, but particularly because it's seeping down to even the early childhood grades. We start our standardized testing in Kindergarten and believe me, there's pressure for the students to do well. Our school is compared to other schools, teachers compared to other teachers. I try very hard to keep the kids upbeat and not anxious about it, but also am required to "practice" with them to make sure they can use strategies for the format. How sad is it that we did autobiographies this month-the kids wrote about their lives from birth to the present and several of them wrote about taking a BIG test. Are those the memories of school we want our kiddos to have?
Anyway, I truly believe in letting kids use their imaginations whenever possible. Some ways I try to incorporate this into daily activities:
1) Workstations-teachers are against this because of the noise level or having to manage the kids. But I love using them. Not only are they able to work on their academic level, but I love to watch what they come up. We were using magnets last year to match to the picture magnets for beginning sounds. One of my kids asked me if they could do something else with them, absolutely!
Just made up their own game with the materials-are they still working on reading skills? But now it's their own version of it and therefore more fun!
2) Let them create their own science experiments. Sure we have objectives we have to cover. But if they ask a question, let them figure out the answer. We were watching a Brain Pop on ramps and 2 students were debating how you could make it roll faster. The next day during their ancillary, I let them figure it out using any classroom materials they wanted.
3) Give them a bunch of materials and see who can build the tallest or create the one that floats-it's problem solving, it's collaborative thinking. We've used straws and chenille wands, paperclips. Once we made kites-each group had a different choice of materials-wrapping paper, newspaper, construction paper and we predicted which would fly, then tested them-great Spring activity.
4) Incorporate art. I know what you are going to say-there's no time. Make time. If you do it regularly, art projects take 10-20 mins. Use those products to have them write a story or a poem. Incorporate it into a Social Studies lesson. I can't believe it when I get kids in Kinder who have never held a paint brush ( I had some that literally tried to paint with it upside down). And if they don't do it now they will less and less opportunity as they advance to the higher grades. How many times seen faces light up when I say that's what they are going to do. There have been several times you can hear them say: this is the best day of my life!
And I refuse to tell them what color to make something. My mentor teacher my first year walked in while we were making turkeys and started to tell my kids that did it wrong, turkeys were supposed to be brown. That just infuriated me. Artists are supposed to create the visions in their heads-if they see purple turkeys, then they can make purple turkeys! My kids learn the first week not to ask me what color to use-my response is always "you're the artist".
5) Let them just play at recess. I just love listening to them play and the games they make up. One year I had a class that walked around playing "Zombies" (obviously the Romero zombies, not the fast-moving ones of cinema today). A colleague said "you're going to let them play that?". Of course I am. They took the time to create the game and hey, they're saving the world here! :) How much you can discover about others by just playing with them.
So that's my rant for this month. I just feel so badly for kids that have to sit in their seats and complete workbook pages and worksheets all day. I know I couldn't learn like that. It may not prepare them for the test in typical way-however, I truly believe any time you are encouraging children to think for themselves that you are preparing them for their tests. And even more importantly for life.