Homecorner Conversations: Ali, 1st Grade Teacher

Homecorner Conversations: Ali, 1st Grade Teacher

What do you see as being the strongest benefit of knowing children deeply?
Ali: When you know them, you know what they're capable of and how to challenge them.

And how do you get to know your students as individuals?
We do a lot of talking. I think that one of the nice things about our school is that we have conversations with the previous year's teacher, and we do it at the beginning of the year. The before-school conferencing is also a great time to get to know parents' points of view on who their children are. In the classroom, we do show-and-tell and conversational journals. I also think it's important as a teacher to be on recess duty, because then we can see our students in that social-emotional arena, as well. 

How do you bridge knowing children deeply with the academic piece?
I don't see there being a gap between the academic and the social-emotional pieces. Especially in 1st grade, the social-emotional component strongly informs the academic component. Because this is the time when we really start to identify academic issues if they exist, I have to have really good data. I have to know the kids really well and have done both authentic and formal assessments to back that up.

Again thinking about the academic piece, are there assignments or projects that you've done with your students that have allowed you to feel like you learned something new about them afterwards?
When I go over a student's work, I do it with them, right next to them; I don't just sit with a pile of workbooks, correct them, and hand them back. I circle around and check in with each kid. As I'm doing that on every assignment, I don't say, "This is wrong"; I might say, "How did you get this answer? Talk me through it." That kind of conversation, which is what we call our authentic assessment, is what really helps me understand how a kid's mind is working. One of the things about knowing kids well is that you start to get a sense of what kind of learner they are. There are kids who love paper and pencil tasks and really respond well to that, and there are kids who are able to show what they know much more dependably with a project. For example, when we're doing the money unit and we use our post office and cash register, we work with real money. Most 1st graders, because they're more concrete, get a much better sense of how money works and what each coin represents through that than through worksheets with pictures. 

Knowing children's interests also seems to inform the assignments and projects you work on in class. Are there any examples of things that you've done with your class that have opened the door to a new part of who a child is? 
Usually, that happens around our thematic units. With our migration unit, I almost always do a migration map with the kids to assess their knowledge, but this group just wasn't really that into mapping. But I had all of these little toy animals that I noticed that the kids were playing with at choice time, so I said, "Hey, we just learned about wildebeest migration. I wonder, if we got some wildebeests, could we could show their migration?" And they said, "Yeah! Get some wildebeests and some crocodiles, and we'll act out the part where they cross the river!" So they started playing the scene, and I would every once and a while provide guiding questions and say, "Wait, do they migrate with any other animals? Would any one else be in the scene? What are they looking for again?" That definitely helped me to know this group and what speaks to them, makes sense to them, and appeals to them. They're perfect Green Acres students—they learn through play. ❖