Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Flow of the Day: Reflecting on Yearly Changes

One of our most popular posts was when we shared our Flow of the Day about 3 years ago. Since then, we have made small adjustments and tweaks to our schedule each year. This year we made a couple of bigger changes and now that we are starting to settle into our routine, we wanted to share our reflections.

A key message, one that was stressed by our board is to provide the "maximum message, in the minimum time". We still strongly believe that this is important, especially considering that age and development of the children in our classroom. 

What we know developmentally about children is that sitting for long periods of time in a whole group is not best practice. Some studies suggest that children are able to focus for the same amount of time as their age (e.g., 4 minutes for 4 year old). 

“But I have seen a teacher do a 30 minute lesson and all of the children were listening”. Interestingly, many children will comply and sit quietly. But are they truly listening, benefiting and taking in what is being shared? 

Focused Learning:
We have shifted to meeting only ONE time as a whole group. We call this time Focused Learning. We plan our Focused Learning time weekly. We think carefully about what the children need and what we they are learning about in the context of their play.

Some things that we do during focused learning include:
-Music and Movement
-Games (focusing on phonemic awareness, early mathematics, or literacy)
-Knowledge Building Circles (to discuss projects or learning happening in the room)
-Shared Reading or Read Alouds (with an intentionally planned purpose)
-Planned Sharing (sharing documentation, learning stories, writing)
-Oral Language Development (discussion about a picture or image - with many focuses)
-Focus on Emotional and Social Development


Learning Centres (Indoors):
We used to have 2 blocks of indoor learning centres, but we found last year that by the time we came in from our outdoor learning block the kids were rushing and did not have a long enough time to get deep into their play.

This year, we lengthened the outdoor play block and also lengthened their indoor play block so that there was more time for the children to investigate and explore in depth.

During this time so many things are happening: planned and unplanned small groups, one on one interactions with educators and children, open and free choice in play, and project work. 

Outdoor Learning Centres:
We begin and end our days outside and we love it. Starting the day outside provides so many benefits for children’s well being. They are able to connect with peers and educators both socially and emotionally right away. It provides them with more open space to play and explore. Fresh air provides the children with time to invigorate and awaken their senses before heading indoors.

Having Outdoor Learning Centres at the beginning and end of the day is also a natural transition for the children. They come to school dressed in their outdoor clothing and they need to get dressed at the end of the day before going home. This avoids the unnecessary transition midday of changing their clothing.

Guided Reading (Small Group Instruction):
One educator will bring in 8-10 children 10 minutes before the rest of the group. This provides time for the children to focus on getting changed, organizing their belongings and then reading in a small group. It is quiet and provides an optimal environment for short, small group reading instruction.

Small Group Instruction:
One big reflection for us was when to do small group instruction in the day. We found that children would get upset and struggle to focus in their small group when we asked them to leave what they were doing during Learning Centres (and rightly so!). It also sends an interesting message to children, leave what you are “playing” and come spend time “learning” with me. We want to show children that we VALUE and RESPECT their time in play. 

So how do we fit it in and make it work? We tried something new last year and after the success we have continued and expanded it this year.

We have a small group instruction time twice a day. During this time, we intentionally plan and structure small group learning experiences for all of the children. In the morning, our focus is on demonstrating literacy behaviours and in the afternoon our focus is on demonstrating mathematics behaviours.

Now, we want to be VERY clear that these are not MUST DO jobs. These are NOT centres that the children rotate through. We are very intentional and thoughtful about what each child needs extra time to practice and develop. Further to that, we take into consideration the developmental needs of each child (e.g., are they a sensory learner, do they need more space to move during this time?). 

IMPORTANT to note… we do NOT believe that this is when math or literacy happens. We know with confidence that children demonstrate mathematics and literacy behaviour throughout the ENTIRE day. We capture this learning outdoors, during learning centres, over lunch, and during transitions. 

We have seen already that the skills practiced and learned during small group instruction are TRANSFERRING into play. It is amazing! We are able to support them in scaffolding these skills in a genuine context. And in turn, when we observe needs in play we make note and design opportunities for the children to practice and strengthen those needs in small groups.

What does it look like? The students go to a designated activity (chosen by educators) for about 10-15 minutes. They stay at this activity until we slowly transition for lunch. 

During this time, one educator supports a small group (e.g., teaching a math small group, reading aloud to children, small group reading instruction) and the other educator floats and supports the other student small groups. 

As you will see below, the small groups are NOT worksheets or closed tasks. We also understand and try to plan for all of the activities to capture all four frames (not “just literacy”). The small groups provide a time for the children to communicate and connect with different peers in different contexts.

Supporting Literacy Behaviours (Small Group) Examples from Beginning of the Year:
-whiteboards (practicing their name, letters)
-playdough (developing fine motor, adding name tags for letter formation)
-book nook (opportunity to handle, engage with different books of interest)
-puzzles (spatial awareness, developing communication skills)

Supporting Mathematics Behaviours (Small Group) Examples from Beginning of the Year:
-magnetic building materials (exploring 2D and 3D, communication, spatial awareness)

-lego (fine motor development, spatial reasoning, communication)
-math games (support turn taking, early mathematics skills such as subitizing, number sense, matching)
-simple math provocations (magnetic numbers, playing cards, gems)
-measurement in sand or water (measuring tools - cups, spoons)

Gym and Project Work:
We have gym three times a week. We do not take the whole class, instead we usually split 1/2 and 1/2. We choose students who need to practice specific skills (e.g., gross motor developing, following rules to a game, exerting energy). We have 2 long blocks of outdoor learning so all children have opportunities to engage in organized gross motor games outdoors daily as well. 

When 1/2 of the class is in the gym, the educator who stays back has a smaller group to focus on project work or smaller play groups with. Depending on what is happening in our classroom, we use this time based on that.

Nutrition Break:
During Nutrition Break, we spend the full 40 minutes in the classroom instead of half indoors and half outdoors. Students bring their backpack into the classroom and put it on the back of their chair to ensure all of their belongings stay organized. We wait until all students are seated before students open their lunch, this ensures that they all begin eating together. 

Lunch provides an opportunity to teach real life skills (e.g., if you were at a restaurants, you wait for everyone to have their food to start eating). We also coach students and invite older students as lunch helpers to teach conversational skills (e.g., asking and answering questions).

Students eat for approximately 20-25 minutes. After a 5 minute transitional warning, students tidy their space and pack up their lunch. We then put on quiet, calming music and spend 5-10 minutes relaxing (e.g., sometimes guided breathing exercises, sometimes just quiet time to relax).

Students are tapped 1 at a time to transition. In the morning, they put away their backpack and start in Learning Centres and in the afternoon they go to the hallway to get ready.

Transitions through the Day:
We always transition students together. We know that transitions are a challenging time for some students and in order to best support them we approach them as a team. After our small group learning, we slowly transition students to Nutrition Break. We prompt groups one at a time to wash their hands. This provides students with more time to practice hand washing and less students lining up at the sink.


It is important to be mindful that every school has different expectations and guidelines. Somethings may be out of our control as educators (e.g., when our planning time falls). Think carefully about what things can be controlled and changed. You may need to have courageous conversations with team mates and/or administration.

Looking for an opportunity to connect with other like minded educators to look closely at the practice of documentation and assessment of student learning. Join us on Saturday, November 5th - limited spaces available!