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December 5, 2016

Preschool Meetings: Choosing our Goals

By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K

    Many of us begin our days with a class meeting. It’s the moment for children to come together as a community before embarking on their day, a moment for the sharing of ideas and personal experiences, and for looking ahead to new experiences. It is a rich and fertile opportunity . . . or it can be.

    It is also true that orchestrating a productive preschool meeting is anything but an easy feat. Meaningful participation requires active listening, quiet problem solving, and patient waiting, and these require considerable practice and teacher support. I believe it’s well worth the effort! When children are truly able to engage with each other as a collective, it is a magical experience. 

    Choosing your meeting goals: In any early childhood classroom, meetings serve a number of different purposes. Such as:

    1.   Attendance taking (Let’s see who’s here today.)

    2.   Calendar updating (If yesterday was Monday, what day is today?)

    3.   Review of a job chart (Who is today’s line leader?)

    4.   Early literacy practice such as a shared reading of the daily message (Today is . . . )

    5.   Overview of the day (Can someone tell me what "special" we have today? Right! There’s movement this morning.)

    6.  Announcements (There is a special birthday celebration. Can someone find it on our schedule, please?)

    7.  Discussion (What did you think of yesterday’s art project?)

    8.  Conflict or problem solving (Larry and Evie both needed a long block for their buildings, but there was only one left. What could they have done?) (If I want to use green paint, but there isn’t any, how could I make it? Can you show me?)

    While these goals are not mutually exclusive, I like to have my priorities clear before I engage children. And, full disclosure, conversations and problem solving discussions (#8) are by far the most interesting in my view. For some preschoolers, these meetings are also the most challenging. We expect a lot from them; we are asking them to listen actively to their peers, some of whom may meander and mumble (as preschoolers do) or they may repeat what was just said by the child seated next to them. We’re asking them to speak to the point when their attention jumps associatively from one comment to the next. We’re asking them to consider new ideas and perspectives. And, most important of all, we’re asking them to sit quietly amidst their classmates.

    The good news is that we all have a thousand tricks up our sleeves. We begin by setting expectations that meet the abilities of our group. Respecting their short attention spans, we stretch meeting times little by little over the course of the year, and we vary their length. Some meetings can be short and sweet. That’s cool, too. We help children end their meetings feeling successful and eager for the next.

    Here are a few more specific strategies. If you enjoy a meaty meeting, as I do, you probably have your own great tips. Please share them with us! 

     

    10 Strategic Tips from Third Street Preschool Teachers:

    1. Don’t begin until everyone is seated and ready. Our implicit message is that we value every child’s participation. Let’s all be ready to take part.

    2. Be sure you can count on the support of your associate or co-teacher. S/He can be a calming influence as well as a scribe, if needed.

    3. Feel free to adjust children’s seating choices, helping them find spots next to someone who won’t distract (or be distracted by) them.

    4. When possible, start things off with an open-ended question.

    5. Ask children to raise a hand or thumb when they want to speak. Don’t worry about giving children equal air time; keep the conversation topic-directed.

    6. Occasionally, call on children who are not raising their hands. They often have something to contribute.

    7. If children stray from the point (which is a given), redirect them, or ask another child to bring them back to the topic.

    8. Pepper the conversation with more and more queries: Why do you think that is? Does that make sense to you? How else could they have done it? How many of you think …? Etcetera.

    9. Be sparing with “right answers." Let children grapple with a concept or idea for a few days. Meetings don’t have to be tied with a ribbon each time. They can end with lingering questions, inviting children to ponder them on their own. Topics can always be revisited.

    10. Transcribe and share meaningful conversations with parents.

    Elisabeth, who teaches two- and three-year-olds, often uses her meetings to advance curriculum or introduce a new concept. EiLeen and Dylan talk with these children about corn — a food and a seed.

    Conversations also flow naturally from story reading. Last week, Cathy read Happy Birthday Moon, by Frank Asch to her 3/4s class. In the story, Bear is trying to figure out how he can reach the moon. Cathy asked her class: Is it really possible to reach the moon? The consensus was that it definitely is possible.

    So, how could we do that?

    Fly
    Take a rocket ship
    Climb up on a long string

    A really, really tall ladder bigger than us
    What if a bus could fly?
    Climb up on 190 bears

    Climb a high, high tower
    An airplane
    Climb up the tallest, tallest tree
    Flying on flip-flops

    Nancy asked her Fours class what it means to measure something. Why do people measure things?  

    If you want to know how long something is

    To know if it’s small or big

    To measure the food

    Measure the liquid

     

    What tools do people use for measuring?

    A measuring cup

    A measuring tape

    A stick

    A ruler

    A scale

    Our feet

    Not only does problem-solving spark children’s imaginations, it offers us a delicious peek into their thinking. And the better we understand children’s views on how the world works, the closer we can match our program and expectations. Meetings are both the jumping off place and the glue; they consolidate what is learned and provide new directions. They highlight our differences and all that we have in common. They make us wonder: what if, how else, why do you suppose . . .. And they get us thinking, children and teachers alike.

    Many of us begin our days with a class meeting. It’s the moment for children to come together as a community before embarking on their day, a moment for the sharing of ideas and personal experiences, and for looking ahead to new experiences. It is a rich and fertile opportunity . . . or it can be.

    It is also true that orchestrating a productive preschool meeting is anything but an easy feat. Meaningful participation requires active listening, quiet problem solving, and patient waiting, and these require considerable practice and teacher support. I believe it’s well worth the effort! When children are truly able to engage with each other as a collective, it is a magical experience. 

    Choosing your meeting goals: In any early childhood classroom, meetings serve a number of different purposes. Such as:

    1.   Attendance taking (Let’s see who’s here today.)

    2.   Calendar updating (If yesterday was Monday, what day is today?)

    3.   Review of a job chart (Who is today’s line leader?)

    4.   Early literacy practice such as a shared reading of the daily message (Today is . . . )

    5.   Overview of the day (Can someone tell me what "special" we have today? Right! There’s movement this morning.)

    6.  Announcements (There is a special birthday celebration. Can someone find it on our schedule, please?)

    7.  Discussion (What did you think of yesterday’s art project?)

    8.  Conflict or problem solving (Larry and Evie both needed a long block for their buildings, but there was only one left. What could they have done?) (If I want to use green paint, but there isn’t any, how could I make it? Can you show me?)

    While these goals are not mutually exclusive, I like to have my priorities clear before I engage children. And, full disclosure, conversations and problem solving discussions (#8) are by far the most interesting in my view. For some preschoolers, these meetings are also the most challenging. We expect a lot from them; we are asking them to listen actively to their peers, some of whom may meander and mumble (as preschoolers do) or they may repeat what was just said by the child seated next to them. We’re asking them to speak to the point when their attention jumps associatively from one comment to the next. We’re asking them to consider new ideas and perspectives. And, most important of all, we’re asking them to sit quietly amidst their classmates.

    The good news is that we all have a thousand tricks up our sleeves. We begin by setting expectations that meet the abilities of our group. Respecting their short attention spans, we stretch meeting times little by little over the course of the year, and we vary their length. Some meetings can be short and sweet. That’s cool, too. We help children end their meetings feeling successful and eager for the next.

    Here are a few more specific strategies. If you enjoy a meaty meeting, as I do, you probably have your own great tips. Please share them with us! 

     

    10 Strategic Tips from Third Street Preschool Teachers:

    1. Don’t begin until everyone is seated and ready. Our implicit message is that we value every child’s participation. Let’s all be ready to take part.

    2. Be sure you can count on the support of your associate or co-teacher. S/He can be a calming influence as well as a scribe, if needed.

    3. Feel free to adjust children’s seating choices, helping them find spots next to someone who won’t distract (or be distracted by) them.

    4. When possible, start things off with an open-ended question.

    5. Ask children to raise a hand or thumb when they want to speak. Don’t worry about giving children equal air time; keep the conversation topic-directed.

    6. Occasionally, call on children who are not raising their hands. They often have something to contribute.

    7. If children stray from the point (which is a given), redirect them, or ask another child to bring them back to the topic.

    8. Pepper the conversation with more and more queries: Why do you think that is? Does that make sense to you? How else could they have done it? How many of you think …? Etcetera.

    9. Be sparing with “right answers." Let children grapple with a concept or idea for a few days. Meetings don’t have to be tied with a ribbon each time. They can end with lingering questions, inviting children to ponder them on their own. Topics can always be revisited.

    10. Transcribe and share meaningful conversations with parents.

    Elisabeth, who teaches two- and three-year-olds, often uses her meetings to advance curriculum or introduce a new concept. EiLeen and Dylan talk with these children about corn — a food and a seed.

    Conversations also flow naturally from story reading. Last week, Cathy read Happy Birthday Moon, by Frank Asch to her 3/4s class. In the story, Bear is trying to figure out how he can reach the moon. Cathy asked her class: Is it really possible to reach the moon? The consensus was that it definitely is possible.

    So, how could we do that?

    Fly
    Take a rocket ship
    Climb up on a long string

    A really, really tall ladder bigger than us
    What if a bus could fly?
    Climb up on 190 bears

    Climb a high, high tower
    An airplane
    Climb up the tallest, tallest tree
    Flying on flip-flops

    Nancy asked her Fours class what it means to measure something. Why do people measure things?  

    If you want to know how long something is

    To know if it’s small or big

    To measure the food

    Measure the liquid

     

    What tools do people use for measuring?

    A measuring cup

    A measuring tape

    A stick

    A ruler

    A scale

    Our feet

    Not only does problem-solving spark children’s imaginations, it offers us a delicious peek into their thinking. And the better we understand children’s views on how the world works, the closer we can match our program and expectations. Meetings are both the jumping off place and the glue; they consolidate what is learned and provide new directions. They highlight our differences and all that we have in common. They make us wonder: what if, how else, why do you suppose . . .. And they get us thinking, children and teachers alike.

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