As the school community studied the concept of emergent curriculum, we began to shift to a model where teachers observe and document the childrens interests and experiences and build the learning on their ideas and questions. Children and teachers began to work as partners in research, asking questions, investigating, and inspiring each other, and it became clear that the traditional monthly curriculum calendar was not supporting this new way of teaching and learning.
How would we keep families well informed about the day to day curriculum when we didnt know what it would be in advance? I was looking for a communication vehicle that supported this new way of teaching. Initially, my goal was simple. I wanted an easy way for families to learn what was going on at school.
I realized a blog would allow us to capitalize on the power of photos, be a way to share information in a timely manner, and free us from a curriculum dictated by the communication method. After a survey of families comfort level with blogs and individualized training for teachers, the blog was launched.
Each day, a teacher from each classroom posted a blog entry focusing on a learning moment from that day. I expected parents to love the window into their childs world and appreciate the new ability to talk with their child about the events of the day and they did. What I didnt expect was the profound effect the blog would have on the teachers and the learning that was happening within the classrooms. Free from a curriculum dictated by a pre-planned calendar, the teachers quickly found the blog to be a tool for documenting learning. The teachers daily reflections were rich with insights on the developmental milestones of the children, their relationships with each other, and their discoveries.
As the teachers reflection skills developed, the teaching began to change. Teachers started to think more carefully about the provocations they set up in the classroom for the children to explore. What materials would allow the children to deepen their understandings? What groupings might inspire children to form new connections with each other? The role of assistant teachers in particular went through a drastic transformation. Newly responsible for describing a learning moment each day, they were empowered to invite this learning in the classroom. Rather than just following the head teachers lead, they became educators in their own right, and another voice sharing insights on learning. This required strengthening their own knowledge of child development and they began to ask questions and request reading materials.
And there were more surprises. Families began to participate in the school in new ways. A parent who works as an architect posted a comment on the blog wondering why there were so many postings about boys building with blocks, and very few about girls. This sparked an intense conversation about gender roles and how they relate to play, first on the blog, and then in the classroom, where the teachers invited parents to come and observe a block play session. Teachers then worked to capture girls during block play and report their discoveries on the blog. The blog allows us to share learning moments in a professional, time efficient, timely way. The documentation we used to showcase only within the classrooms suddenly became part of the home lives of families. By focusing on the regular, daily happenings, we end up sharing and documenting significantly more of the growth and learning that occurs at school than we otherwise would have.
Not only is the blog a way for parents to gain insight into their childs educational experience, it is also a community builder for both current and prospective families. The blog has been an effective way for parents to learn about all the classes in the school, and to learn how the curriculum changes as the children grow. Prospective parents, particularly those who live out of town gain a sense of the school culture, the way learning happens, and the quality of the teachers in a more authentic way than I could convey before. Some of our regular readers are future parents. Grandparents are also among our most loyal readers, and are able to start phone conversations with their grandchildren with a specific question about school happenings from earlier that day.
In addition to the classroom reflections, blog postings include links to Jewish resources, URJ articles, parenting information, details about how young children learn and develop, videos of classroom events, and slide shows chronicling school happenings. The easy access to Jewish resources near and far through links on the blog made families more aware of the richness of Jewish learning and enabled them to continue their own Jewish journey. By posting recordings of the synagogue rabbi singing the songs the children are learning at school, parents were able to sing along and the children were thrilled to have the rabbi singing at my house.
As the power of the blog in sharing the curriculum and promoting the professional growth of teachers became clear, I realized the need to support that growth with related professional development opportunities. This led to a year long study of reflection and documentation: writing from various perspectives (the childs, the teachers, a developmental perspective), coaching children to learn about learning, titling, connecting reflections to developmental milestones, and seeking the childs point of view, which has continued to help improve the quality of both the teaching and the blog itself.
(Because this blog features photos of young children, it is password protected and not accessible to the public. If you are interested in viewing the blog, please e-mail us at email@example.com, and we will ask Temple Beth Shalom to grant you access.)
What are your goals in using this technology?
To enhance the school community through in depth storytelling about the daily curriculum of the school, to connect far away family members to the child's school experience, to promote Jewish learning and living at a level accessible to all, and to cultivate reflective practice among the educators.
What kind of success have you achieved in using this technology so far?
A parent recently commented:
"Thanks so much for inviting me to be a part of this Blog. I usually get the news from my wife, and I didn't realize until I was invited in directly that this method of learning news in my son's life in preschool made me feel one step removed from what is happening. Thanks for connecting me directly. That says it all- families who feel deeply involved in their child's Jewish education, connected to the synagogue, and are working as partners in their child's Jewish education. The shift of documentation of learning from the bulletin boards and walls of the school to a more easily accessible (right in your home!) version on the internet has transformed our interactions with children and their families."