The previous blog post was about my systematic steps in organizing one brief mini research activity with kindergartners. There are many professional writers who disparage the "How I done good" type of writing, but I think librarians can cut through the nonsense to see what is usable to them. I will never pretend to be an expert (meet me and you'll know!), but I will share the practicalities of how we are doing this stuff when we are really busy and actually have practical activities to complete. Hopefully then you will try something and share "how you done better." Then I can improve, also. This is one of the interactive aspects of web 2.0 tools – wiki's, blog commenting, etc. Interact. Share. Make improvements.
In fact, I hope periodically to irritate other people so they are forced to comment and interact to convey their point of view. We grow through dialogue and conflict. If we were all the same, we wouldn't need different publishers. Experts in our field may purport that all activities need to be lofty while I see the many steps along the way occuring out of sequence, randomly, repeatedly, and as needed by the child.
How many people realize kindergartners don't understand the difference between a question and a fact? I actually incorporate this teaching into a storytime early in the school year. The kindergarten teaches rave about it's usefulness. Usually I share a fiction story about a rabbit/fox/duck then I share a simple nonfiction book. I have printed and laminated big cards with the words: Question, Answer, Fiction, Nonfiction and then several questions and answers. Because I am easily bored and don't like to do just one topic, I have questions about ducks, rabbits, and foxes intermixed. I have students stand up to hold the question card on one side of me, the answer card on the other. I'll lay the cards face down on the floor and choose students to pick them up one at a time and sort themselves into Q & A. After they are sorted, I'll suggest to those still waiting that usually questions and answers go together, so I'll pick one at a time to match these and move those children into small groups. Then we'll see if we can divide the duck questions in one part, the foxes to another, etc. Sometimes we have answers that don't go with any question and we make them stand behind my chair making distracting motions so we can keep saying together "Don't get distracted. Stay on task." Sometimes we have big questions that we don't know the answer yet and we'll set those students to one area tapping their heads saying "I wonder."
Lots of motion, interaction, thinking, and participation. They don't forget the concept that questions need answers and some don't have any. Whenever we research group topics, we can repeat our chants "Don't get distracted. Stay on task." They also realize that research is active and can't be found only in one place.
Emotionally they learn to be involved and care about solving the problem. When we complete mini-topic research activities later in the year, they are eager to learn, ask questions, and practice phrasing answers to questions. We spend much of the year restating the question and the answer. Students love every opportunity to come to the library as the class expert individually or in small groups. The principal has watched them race down the hallway to the library. Not a bad thing to see excited people heading your way. After they finish an activity and they know exactly what they are going to say when they re-enter their classroom, the students are so proud of themselves. The kindergarten teachers know to pause as they re-enter and give them 15 seconds to share before they burst and every child listens carefully so they are ready for their turn.
I have even had small groups approach me afterwards and say "There's something funny about that research because the gorillas and the chimpanzees experts said they build nests everyday and only birds build nests, but not every day." This gave us the chance to "prove" our research and say, "A-HA! I learned something new today!"
These are all the baby steps that must occur before the large problem-based activities. It's like learning how to hold a pencil must come before writing. Learning how to think about research must occur before the grown-ups get overly-focused on whether this is the highest level of thinking possible. I challenge you. Thinking is occuring in our library. Look at your program. You know its happening for you, make sure that your students are cognizant of their thinking and learning process.