Assessing the Silence

It’s report card time again and I’m filled with that familiar feeling of excitement and dread that seems to accompany this season every year.  This year, I’m finding myself particularly challenged.  Partly, this comes from having a bigger class than I’ve had before and struggling to know the children well enough to write what is essentially a personal essay about each of them.  Partly, however, it’s a familiar discomfort as I try to put wordless learning into words.   How do you assess a student who rarely speaks, who is shy, who seems uncomfortable with the adult attention of documentation?  When an adult arrives and the play stops… how do you write a report card?

Here’s an example:

KN is playing with magnets in a bin of sand.  When he notices me watching him as he plays with the magnets, he gets up to leave.

Me: No, KN, don’t leave, Madame wants to know what you were working on.

KN: I was just magneting stuff together

Me: and what did you notice?

KN doesn’t respond, he goes back to working in the magnet bin

LH and SN join him – KN almost leaves but decides to stay.

LH – Madame, look! She shows me magnets stacked up on a magnet wand.

KN, LH, and SN continue running sand through their fingers and playing with the magnets.  LH and SN have an imaginary scenario developing using the magnets as characters but I’m trying to stay focused on KN.

TN arrives at the table and KN leaves, followed by TN, who takes KN’s hand and tries to engage him in play. They wind up together in the nature centre (where we have a tent set up – a hiding place?), KN’s body language isn’t encouraging but TN persists, KN has a fixed but polite smile.  They both go to the cloakroom to get their lunch bags, KN waits to eat until TN joins him at the snack table.  (At this point I’m observing from a distance, hoping that I’ll get something more concrete if I stay farther away)

I went over to KN because I was interested in what he was learning or experimenting with.  I was hoping that he’d let me observe and ask some questions but my presence alone was a deterrent to his play and to his learning.  Maybe he’s not ready to share, maybe he just wanted to be alone, or maybe there’s something else going on.  It’s really hard to know for sure.

There are also those time when my teacherly questions seem – in hindsight – pretty ridiculous.

hands tyeing scraps of fabric around a plastic block tower

Last week PB and CM were building a tower with Magnatiles.  Then they started to tie scraps of fabric around the tower.  I thought this was pretty interesting.  I’d never seen anyone use those two materials in that way.   I asked them why they were wrapping fabric around their tower.   They looked at me, then at each other, shrugged, and PB replied: “We just wanted to decorate it.”

Of course.

Report card writing, especially in Kindergarten, is as much art as it is science, as much inference as data analysis.  With some children, it’s like trying to capture a shadow in a jar.  I don’t think I’ve quite got it figured out.

Qualities and Quantities

The supplies have started to arrive; it’s like a big birthday party.  We don’t often have new supplies arriving en masse in public education so when it happens we (and I’m referring to the adults here) get a little silly.  I performed a memorable happy dance in the hallway; I may never live it down.

I’m always amazed by novelty and the impact it has on children (adults too) – you would think it would get old, but it really doesn’t. When our carpet first arrived, all the children, as a collective, lay down on the floor and rubbed their cheeks against the nubby surface. They just soaked it in, loving the feeling and enjoying the warmth after 2 weeks of sitting on cold tiles. Simple thing, big impact on our lives.

Another piece of equipment that arrived at the same time was an instant favourite, as it has been every year. This toy seems to lend itself to sophisticated mathematical thinking; the relationships between 2-D and 3-D shapes, which shapes tessellate well and which do not, how to use one shape to build another. All of these things I had anticipated because I’ve seen them before. What I’ve never seen is the impact of having so many of a material on the quality of children’s play. This year we ordered double the number of tiles. Just look at what they’ve been able to accomplish!

Covering the surface of the light table with tiles and using that as a building surface makes the whole project glow.
Covering the surface of the light table with tiles and using that as a building surface makes the whole project glow.
I just love the glowing effect of the light table.
I just love the glowing effect of the light table.
Their sense of how the pieces can fit together becomes more sophisticated the longer they play.
Their sense of how the pieces can fit together becomes more sophisticated the longer they play.
We had just talked about building stable structures using bigger pieces at the bottom and smaller pieces at the top.  I think they're trying to prove me wrong!  I was impressed at how they were investigating volume here by using the wooden blocks to fill their cube.
We had just talked about building stable structures using bigger pieces at the bottom and smaller pieces at the top. I think they’re trying to prove me wrong! I was impressed at how they were investigating volume here by using the wooden blocks to fill their cube.
Next stop... the School of Architecture.
Next stop… the School of Architecture.

One of the best thing about having so many of these tiles is that while one group of students is using them on the light table, another group can be using them on the floor or on a table (or a couch in this case).  That’s what BG was doing last week.

And then this happened...
And then this happened…

BG called me over to show me what he had made.  He had used the equilateral triangles to create two hexagons which he had linked together, nearly making three hexagons.  We discussed what he had made and I introduced the name of his new shape.

Which led to this...
Which led to this…

DW had been watching us as we had this conversation and came over to show me that he could use two triangles to make a square.

BG then tried to make a square using his triangles but came up with a diamond instead.

DSCF0171

Why do some triangles make squares when you put them together while others don’t… what’s the difference? You can see in this photo that BG has completed his third hexagon.

The next day, I kept noticing more and more students using shapes (both tiles and wooden blocks) to make new shapes and experimenting with tessellation.  I’m intrigued at how these ideas spread.  DW was listening to my conversation with BG… did other students notice?  Were they observing on the sidelines without me noticing or is there some other process at work here?  This week we’re going to share these observations with the whole group – I’m excited to see where it goes from here!