Our second year of school as ended, and our practices are getting more defined. At the end of last school year, I didn’t provide much by way of documentation for each student. I hadn’t yet had time and space to really think about what I’ve decided to call “responsible documentation.”
I believe that by simply being an observer, one can change what they see in front of them. We look for things to make our brains “right.” I want to document what the kids do, but I don’t want to change what I see because I’m “looking” for something. I feel that responsibly documenting includes sharing observations of the kids, but without value judgments placed on what is seen. I feel it also includes sharing goals, interests, ideas they have and any accomplishments they make related to those. As each year goes by, I hope to better my practice here and provide each child with documentation to mark and celebrate who they were in the past year. As they get older, I believe that responsible documentation happens with each student so we can match it to their future goals – especially in high school if they have clear plans to either find a job, go to college, or a vocational training program. I want them to leave prepared with enough documentation to pursue their next path with ease.
This blog post serves to mark the end of year documentation Charlotte and I chose to create for this year. During our ALF Summer program, I’ll plan on sharing this with other adults who have experience working with children in the Alternative Ed scene or in ALCs and parents of kids in our ALC so I can reflect and build on this practice for next year. I already see some things I’d like to change up for next year in this regard, which I’ll describe further down.
End Of Year Documentation Process for 2014-15 @ Mosaic (older campus, called Branches)
Charlotte and I decided to build out a webpage on each child’s blog to document their school year. We split up the kids in the school, each of us taking responsibility to do this for about half of the full time students.
In each of my student webpages, I included the following sections:
- Observations from me. I tried to simply make observations and connections that I felt meaningful. Some examples include:
- “You’ve loved to sell things to others. You like to count money and do it a lot. You figure out how many items you need to sell in order to make a certain amount of money. You are calculating and exploring math in this way. For example, one time you came to school with the goal of selling $5 worth of onions. You decided to sell 5 onions for a dollar, and figured out that you needed 25 onions to do this. You’ve also done this with fans and other crafts.”
- “Without being able to tell time or read fluently, you’ve mastered the ability to figure out how to get to offerings that you know you want to do. You ask those involved in an offering to find you before it starts, and sometimes ask for an early reminder.”
- “You love to play board/card games with your friends, like Life, Apples to Apples, Monopoly, etc. These games help you practice all kinds of skills, from math with money, cooperating & taking turns with friends, expanding your vocabulary, and more.”
- Notes from both Dan and Charlotte. These include a short reflection for the other daily facilitators in the school.
- Notes from their parents. I asked parents to include a reflection too.
- Personal Reflection from the kids. Since most of our kids are elementary age, I wasn’t asking for an in-depth essay…If I did I’d get a lot of “I don’t know’s.” Instead I engaged the kids in a fun end of year reflective activity that I will describe very fully in the next section.
- Pictures from the school year. I do my best to document via pictures activities of the kids every week. On Fridays I upload all the pictures to our monthly Facebook Albums. I went through each monthly album and looked for photos of the kids for a picture reflection of the year.
Individual Student Reflections
During the last three weeks of school, I led an activity during several of our Spawn Points that helped the kids support each other in thinking about what each student has engaged in this year.
One day, when they came into morning Spawn Point, there were three giant Kanbans laying out on the tables. They each had a child’s face pictured at the top and 3 sections below: “What I’ve Explored A LOT / What I’ve Explored SOME / What I STILL Want to Explore.”
I started by explaining to the kids that “exploring,” in the context I was using it, included skills and topics. For example, they may have explored the skill of cutting a lot. This is a fine motor skill many young children explore. Or they gained the skill of learning how to kayak, swim, dance, play baseball, write, read, etc. For topics, this means that they learned about some area of interest they had: space, dogs, starting a business, the underground railroad, etc.
Sometimes it’s hard to get started on a personal reflection. I was sensitive to this. That’s why I had the kids help each other. I also started off by timing the activity to give it a “fun” factor.
Excitedly, I told the kids:
“Okay guys, for the next 5 minutes, all of you will help your three friends remember the skills or topics you’ve seen them explore at school. There are sticky notes and brand new markers out on the tables. Are you ready? On your mark, get set, go!”
The kids were really helpful to one another. They would point out things they saw their friends doing and each person was so excited to add to their own Kanban. It appeared to really be helpful having them help each other. Once a person heard several examples of things they explored at school, then you could see the wheels grease in their minds as they remembered more and more on their own.
We did this activity over two weeks, each day featuring different students to help. Many times, at the end of the timer, the kids would shout, “No!!” or “Can I keep working on this?” They loved seeing and thinking about the things they explored. I was kicking myself for not thinking to do this more regularly throughout the school year!
One day, as one of the students was working on her Kanban, she said, “Nancy, this is such a great idea! Now I’m remembering things that I wanted to do but didn’t get to! Like making a Warrior Cats board game.” She and her friend then spent the next few hours working on a board game for their favorite book series.
The kids were reminded and encouraged to, on their own, add to the last section of the Kanban, “What do you STILL want to explore?” I framed this for them by asking them, “Is there anything you aren’t learning how to do/exploring at school that you hoped to do this year? Have you found something over this year that you maybe learned about a little but really want to learn more about?”
I sent these Kanbans home with them so they could also think over the summer about any interests they have to add onto this.
What did I learn from doing this?
- With a powerful morning reflective process, kids can get sparked to “get in the flow” embarking on a personal interest or inquiry. I saw this happen with the girls and their board game. Once they got into this in the morning Spawn Point, nothing could stop them from continuing to work on it throughout the day – it didn’t matter if the school was loud or if a marching band went through the hallway. They were in the zone.
- I want to incorporate more game or activity-like reflections like this in my Spawn Points periodically throughout the year. I want us to all check in as a group on where we are as individuals – and see if we need any support from the group. Are we exploring all the things we want to be exploring? Are we in a rut and not sure how to spend our time each day? Do we want to see what other people are up to? Are there new things we want to be exploring at school?
- Kids enjoy check-ins and want to know how they are doing. I liked that this activity wasn’t about if what they were up to was good or bad, but more about “What have they been up to?” The kids were excited remembering the things they have explored and liked seeing it displayed visually. I think everyone likes some kind of feedback and I think this was a fun way to do it. I want to give the kids more feedback regularly throughout next school year.
What are practices I hope to implement next year based on this experience?
- Longer morning Spawn Points, with artful facilitation. This means engaging the kids in some fun manner to think about their goals and interests and to start embarking on an interest early in the day, while still having lots of room for spontaneity, games, or cultural check-ins – is there something happening between kids that needs to be addressed? If we are upset, hurt, or angry, it’s hard to really pursue our passions and interest. Artful facilitation also means being super responsive to the needs of the kids in front of you. This means you must know them, you must have a relationship with them. You know when to push, when to back off. You listen to your intuition and do the dance as best you can.
- Regular individual check-ins with kids – a one on one either weekly or bi-weekly to see if they have new interests or goals, or if they need support to figure out what they really want to explore.
- Regular group reflective activities (like the one described above). Maybe 4 times a year.
- Starting the build out the student webpages earlier in the year. I’d like to add notes and pictures quarterly. This way my reflections will be in checkpoints throughout the year, rather than me in June trying to remember everything I saw the child doing.
- Upgrading the use of Trello and blogging practice– this is each child’s primary way to document what they are up to from their perspective. I think we can better store this information by teaching the children to use the trello tools to write comments on something they want to document, and to be choosier about what items they want to store for their portfolio. Items from Trello that are really exciting to an individual can be marked as “blog post worthy.” At the end of the week, many kids aren’t sure what to blog about. If they are tagging items throughout the week, they will have some choices to write about something that was really meaningful to them, with reminders of what they wanted to say about it.
- Upgrading my level of support to give visible feedback to kids in an engaging way. In the NYC school, the kids are consistently using physical Kanbans. Ours don’t, and perhaps they really need this consistent push to do so. Or if it’s not a Kanban, I need to develop another visual way for kids to see what they’ve been up to at school. They seemed to really like seeing this.
Over ALF Summer, I hope to develop a clear starting plan with other ALFs and parents that can grow from the reflections I share here!