Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Role-Playing Classroom Guidelines While Re-Presenting Handwashing

Yesterday, my morning assistant, Jill, and I had wonderful success role playing and therefore reinforcing one of the classroom guidelines regarding a child's commitment to completing chosen and initiated work. We allow children to put their name tags on their work when they either need to use the bathroom, are breaking to have snack after a period of focused work, if I ask them to join me for a large group presentation or if the bell has been rung announcing the end of the day and the child has asked if she could leave her work out till the next day. However, it has been observed by both myself and my assistant that a few children are simply putting out their name tags so as to get work out in another area. They are abandoning one work and engaging another.

There are several issues that have arisen regarding this misuse of name tag placement. One of the most obvious is when work with the student's name tag is left out on a table, the table is not available for another child to use. As we have a limited number of tables in my classroom, this has become a significant issue. Additionally, it is not only the table that is occupied and unavailable, the materials abandoned are also not available for another child to use. Both the table and the materials are in a state of limbo.

In regards to the child remaining committed to the work, the moving from one incomplete work to another does not reinforce and maintain the cycle of activity needed to be completed with all of the work in the classroom. Let me define cycle of activity - a child takes work from the shelf, the child does the work, the child returns the work to the shelf. There is a beginning, a middle and an end. A child moving quickly from one incomplete work to another is demonstrating a lack of focus, concentration and understanding of the work/s purpose. In TV lingo - they keep changing the channel not interested in any particular show. The child is using their name tag to escape finishing the initial work they took from the shelf. It is a misuse of their freedom to choose work and their freedom of movement. The children's independence in the classroom is sustained by a framework of guidelines presented during the first few months, ex. work is returned to the shelf exactly as it is taken and therefore immediately available for the next student to use.

Commitment to work is a must. Without that commitment from the child, they will either spend all day puttering at it - never engaging and understanding its purpose or they will be thinking about exit strategies. They know that it is a rare moment when I answer "yes" to a child asking if they can return work to the shelf that they have not completed. To get around that, they instead put out their name tags and walk away.

My assistant Jill and I decided that a little role playing was needed. I had already planned on re-presenting hand washing to the entire class. A few moments before I rang the bell and invited the children to finish/clean up their work so as to come to the rug, the two of us came up with a short script that we would act out shortly after I started to give the hand washing lesson.

After I had all of the materials on my table, and had returned the tray to the shelf, I began the lesson. I got water with the pitcher and poured it into the matching bowl. I dipped my finger tips into the water, then my hands and said to my on-looking class, "Actually, I don't want to do this work anymore. I think I will make myself a name tag and put it out." The children's mouths dropped open. They were absolutely quiet. I saw some very puzzled looking faces.

I made eye contact with my assistant who then asked me,"Ms. Dyer, why don't you want to finish your work ? Do you want to have snack?" "No, I already had snack," I answered. "Do you need to use the bathroom?" was her next question. "No. I don't need to use the bathroom. I just want to do jam work now and finish this later," I answered. All of the children sitting in the circle watching me had a look like "I can't believe my eyes. Ms. Dyer doesn't want to finish giving the lesson."

"So, would it be ok if I just put out my name tag and finished this later?"
I continued.

"Ms. Dyer, you know that you have to finish one work before starting another. I think you should continue giving the hand washing lesson and have jam later,"
my skilled assistant stated.

"Well, you are right. I should finish giving the hand washing lesson first," I said drawing the role-playing to an end. I completed the lesson. The children walked away with two lessons instead of one - commitment to work and hand washing. The role-playing was so effective because Jill and I had verbally sketched it out prior to the lesson. This allowed her to follow my every move and direction. It was really a wonderful moment of synchronized effort between the adults in the classroom. Now we will observe the children to see if they continue to walk away from their work. That will ultimately serve to show how successful the lesson really was.

To view the hand washing

exercise as a slide show go to:

and, in upper right hand corner, click "slide show."

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