Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Just One Small Planning Decision

I write a lot about intentional teaching, and the importance of setting up activities in a planned and thoughtful way, but there are always those “why didn’t I think of that before” moments.
One of the manipulatives I have in my classroom are “hex boards”. I don’t know what this toy is actually called, but it’s a set of boards that have rows of raised circles along with multi-colored hexagon shaped tiles that fit on top. I assume they were designed for patterning activities. Sometimes the older preschoolers use the boards this way, lining up rows of different colors, or choosing to alternate tiles in a pattern. The younger children usually just fill up the boards in a random way, with the goal being more about filling it up than about selecting colors. Sometimes they try to choose specific colors, but get frustrated digging through all the tiles trying to find just the blue or just the white ones.

Usually I set up the boards on a table with individual containers of tiles, so each child has their own materials. But one of the problems is setting up this activity so each child has enough tiles to fill their board. The boards take up a lot of space, and so do the containers. Now that we’ve reached the point in the year where they children are more comfortable sharing materials, I thought I’d try putting the tiles in a container in the middle of the table.

At first I was going to put them in a shallow basket, but then I noticed a divided container that I usually use for playdough toys or art materials. Seeing the five sections, I wondered what would happen if I sorted the tiles by color.

Of course, their play was immediately more intentional. Some of the children always showed preference for certain colors, but the tasks of simultaneously sorting and arranging were too much. Now that the tiles were neatly arranged into color groups, most of the children could concentrate on choosing the colors they wanted.

At first they each chose a single color and created relatively monochromatic designs.

But as they worked longer, they began to combine different colors. No one made patterns or representational designs, but there was a clear intention in the children’s work, as they chose materials, instead of simply picking up whatever was in reach and randomly putting it down. The arrangement and presentation of the materials matter. One small decision by a teacher to set up the materials in a slightly different way changed how the children were able to use the materials.

Just like many of us would rather choose which pen to write with than randomly reach into a drawer and take the first one we find, children also want – and need – the opportunity to choose, plan, and make decisions about their own work.

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