Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Looking Closely At Our Special Talents

by Stephanie Bartlett

Transforming a program is akin to a leaf in the wind; sometimes you float gently, content with the wind to give you lift, other times you are thrown wildly somewhere you haven’t been before. My strongholds are my teaching partners and my action research in creativity in educational practice. This post is the next step in our creative journey of Looking Closely in the Kindergarten classroom.
 When we laid plans to develop the Je suis unique theme to carry us through the year, we knew how to begin.  It fit into virtually every area of the Kindergarten curriculum and tied in beautifully to the Looking Closely project.
Students were proud to bring in their five photos and proudly hang their favourite on our class tree. What came next has touched the educator in me in ways I couldn’t have predicted had I planned the entire unit early in the year.
The Olympics led us into Je suis bon/bonne en… We looked closely at the different sports and athletes.  Then, students were asked to go into their special pocket in their portfolios and choose a photo highlighting an activity that they love.  We made salt dough Olympic medals and hung them with our photos on the tree, then practiced the vocabulary for about a week.  Our medal ceremony was a celebration of each child’s source of pride.

Inspired by Georgia Heard’s heart maps in her book Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School, I gave students a large piece of paper and gave them a guided drawing lesson in the technique of drawing a large heart (you need to move your whole arm to draw it!) and let them create their own heart.  Always looking for an opportunity to develop fine motor skills, they had to cut out the heart themselves.  The next step required students to draw their favourite activity in the classroom. In my mind, if they visit a centre often, that action demonstrates intrinsic motivation and engagement.   I taught them how to add texture to a painting, and gave students a large paper to paint a background on which to glue their heart.  Each day, a quick journal lesson built on the previous, and step by step, we developed our hearts. Students were encouraged to add another activity that they loved.  This was a gentle encouragement for students to think about their work and begin to analyze.  Many revisited their hearts and added new activities with phonological writing.

This week at student-led conferences, students will proudly give their parents a tour of their “hearts” and the activities they are passionate about.  Going back to outcome unknown, I have an idea where we will go next to further develop Je suis unique, but will enjoy this moment and with the help of my students, we will collectively decide the next steps on our journey that will take us into spring.


Heard, Georgia (1999). Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry In Elementary and Middle School. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
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