learning. creating. sharing.

April 11, 2016
by Kylie Gardner

Who We Are… making inquiry global

the best teachers are those who tell you where to look but don't tell you what to see{buy this print – not sponsored}

Last week we continued our inquiry into Who We Are by adding a global perspective. After finding out about who we are and who our friends are, it was time for this class of five year olds to find out about children from around the world. That’s a pretty big concept for these kiddos!

We used a beautiful photography book called “Where Children Sleep” by James Mollison to hook into what we notice and what we wonder. For our first try we went through this thinking routine as a whole class, then we split up into groups.

Previously I have used the ‘See, Think, Wonder‘ thinking routine with 5 year olds. This time I decided to stick to ‘What do you notice?’ and ‘What do you wonder?’. This really helped to focus children’s thinking on each question. In my experience ‘think’ and ‘wonder’ can be too similar for children who are still learning to share their thinking. But what do I know?

Notice and Wonder Thinking Routine

Here is my version of the notice and wonder thinking routine, adapted from my dabbling with Making Thinking Visible from personal reading and sharing (pinching) ideas with/from my PLN. I really hope to study the MTV program soon – I’ll let you know if I achieve that goal, I’m working on it! *wink wink, nudge nudge to leadership*

  • Show the image (or object/artefact/artwork).
  • Ask: what do you notice? Record children’s thinking.
  • Ask: what do you wonder? Record children’s thinking.
  • Stop and add more information. In this case it was the notes from the photographer about the child and where they sleep.
  • Ask: what do you wonder? Record children’s thinking.
  • Share: share the noticing and wondering as a class.
  • Add more: add more noticing and wondering as a group.

Another thing that this reflection has prompted me to add to this routine for next time…

  • Keep coming back: Display the photographs in the classroom for children to continue to look at and discuss. Add more noticing and wondering as it comes up.

Here’s a little video of the thinking we made visible on our first attempt at this thinking routine:

I have a class of 27 and it’s pretty tricky trying to get all their thinking recorded. The fact is, we can’t all have a turn when we’re doing whole class activities – their attention span just isn’t up for it. One way I make sure that there is always a range of children participating is using pop sticks rather than ‘hands up’ (props to Dylan Wiliam).

When I want to get small groups or individuals recording I make good use of our awesome Year 7 (12 year old) big buddies! They are da bomb when it comes to prompting our new Receptions to share their thinking and recording the younger children’s ideas.

Read some of the student’s thinking as recorded by their big buddies:

Who We Are Making Inquiry Global Who We Are Making Inquiry Global Who We Are Making Inquiry Global Who We Are Making Inquiry Global

If we weren’t lucky enough to have big buddies we could use our Seesaw Learning Journal (the newest love of my life – we’ve been going steady for about a year now). Students could take photos of the photos (!) and then leave an audio comment of their noticing and wondering. I will write about Seesaw one of these days too…


And check it, yo! … this task has built in creative thinking for intellectual stretch! It:

  • has an ungoogleable answer
  • requires sharing and collaboration
  • makes thinking visible
  • lets student’s do the thinking
  • allows students to jump in at their level
  • allows students to stretch their thinking
  • encourages students to stop and think

I wonder… does it have a ‘what if’ factor? Does it have productive failure? What do you think? I think kinda sorta…

Tell me about how your student’s inquiries are global. I dare ya.

April 6, 2016
by Kylie Gardner

Stop, collaborate and listen

Stop Collaborate and Listen

You’re singing along to Vanilla Ice now, right? My bad.

Three things that I have tried hard to focus on since our Partnership’s professional development with Martin Westwell are trying to Stop, Collaborate and Listen. Or otherwise referred to as slow it down, collaborate and become noticers.

For the five year olds learning in my classroom these strategies seem especially important and relevant.

I recently adapted a learning task for our new inquiry into Who We Are to incorporate some of the creative thinking for intellectual stretch strategies that I learned. Here’s what changed:

Original task: 

Stop, collaborate and listen

Students were asked, in one lesson, to:

  • Draw a picture of themselves
  • Write their name
  • Draw/write things that they can do
  • Draw/write things that they like

Modified task

Stop, collaborate and listen

Students were asked, over several lessons to:

  • Find a partner
  • Write their partner’s name at the top of the page
  • Write their own name at the bottom of the page
  • Draw a picture of their partner, taking notice of the details that make them unique, which involved:
    • Observing a modelled lesson of stopping and noticing details, then drawing them
    • Having a go at drawing their partner
    • Stopping for a classroom ‘gallery walk’ to notice the details of each others drawings
    • Continuing the drawing of their partner
    • Stopping to share what we noticed when we were drawing

Here’s what that looked like:

Stop, collaborate and listen

I was blown away by how much detail showed in the student’s drawings.

Then, students:

  • Talked with their partner about what their partner can do. Recorded their answers in drawings and writing*
    • stopped and shared with people nearby. What do you notice? What do you wonder?
  • Talked with their partner about what they like. Recorded their answers in drawings and writing*
    • stopped and shared with people nearby. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

*most students are early-emergent, emergent and transitional writers, so need lots of support via scribing, however they are encouraged to have a go.

I learned so much from my students!

Firstly, they needed more modelling of how to ask each other about their likes and what they can do, before being sent off to do it. I will confess that despite trying to s-l-o-w down I was feeling anxious about the time this was taking (three ‘lessons’ for something that previously took one ‘lesson’) and didn’t spend enough time on this. Damn that school pressure! That modelling would have made a huge different to their recording and learning.

Stop, collaborate and listen

Secondly, we really needed to do this learning and recording on one piece of paper between two, not two separate pieces of paper. This was made very clear when two children took the initiative to do just that! I love it.

Stop, collaborate and listen

Thirdly, collaboration and listening to each other across groups was so helpful. As they showed each other their work and talked about it, they would say “oh, I like dogs too!” and add more to their page.

Next time…

I will repeat this learning task, however next time there will be no template. Just an A3 sheet of paper, lots of role modelling and lots of stopping, collaborating and listening.

I’ll let you know how that goes with next years Receptions! If I am lucky enough to teach them again.

How would you transform this task? 

March 30, 2016
by Kylie Gardner

Executive Function in the Early Years

Executive Function in the Early Years(original image source)

Executive function is a pretty rad set of skills that help us all to control our impulses, make use of working memory, stay focussed and pay attention, make a plan, stick to a plan, make decisions, prioritise and more. You can see how any deficit in this skill set is going to create big issues in the young people in our classrooms, right? That’s why we need some strategies to help support this precious brain development in students.

The great news is that executive functioning skills can be developed at any age. It’s never too late! Yay for our fantastic, plastic brains! p.s. if you’re looking for an awesome book to read with kids about their brains, check this out.

I don’t know about you, but I have students who:

  • can’t find their hat/book/bag/shoe (!)
  • lose their train of thought mid sentence
  • have difficulty staying focussed on tasks
  • have trouble making a decision (grapes or apple? so hard!)
  • physically hurt others when frustrated
  • scream, shout and yell during conflict
  • … and so much more.

So when the Mitcham Hills partnership schools got together to learn more about executive function, I was ready to learn. Boy was I ready! Below are my take aways from the session which focussed on the Early Years, as well as from further reading I’ve done since the session. You’ll find links at the bottom of this article.

Executive Function Strategies in the Early Years

Make Your Intent Clear

Y’all probably know this already, but the intent of learning experiences needs to be clear. What is the purpose of this learning? This links directly with work by Dr Martin Westwell on creative thinking and creative thinking for intellectual stretch.

Plan for Play and Learning

Early years teachers know all about the importance of play to support children’s learning. However I’ll admit that many days we’re so focussed on {insert All The Teacher Jobs here} that planning for play gets neglected. The growth mindset embracing teacher in me can stand up and say, yes, in my classroom this needs work. During our session with Sharyn Lockett of Morphett Vale Kindergarten she shared a fabulous resource for assessing and scaffolding make believe play that my team and I will be making good use of. I’d love to know how you plan for play too. Leave a comment :)

Sing Songs and Play Games

There are some old favourite games and songs that are fab for helping children develop executive functioning skills. A few examples are:

  • Sing ‘Open Shut Them‘ with actions, then sing it again with opposite actions, working on shifting attention and working memory.
  • Play musical statues, practicing shifting attention and inhibiting impulses. Or try ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf‘ and ‘Duck duck goose‘.
  • Sing songs that add on more and more as you sing, for example ‘Johnny works with one hammer‘, practicing working memory.
  • Sing songs that require children to skip parts of the song as they sing, for example, ‘BINGO‘, practicing working memory and impulse control.

Allow Time for Learning

Slow it down and allow children to come back and revisit the same experience over and over again. Sarah Quihampton from Eden Hills Kindergarten shared some amazing learning about counting using silk worms that took place over five hours or more. How often do we allow children this kind of time for learning? Kathleen White from Old Noarlunga Primary school shared how she allows children as long as they need to answer questions. When she prompts children during inquiry circles or play sessions she gives them the opportunity to go away and think. She has been amazed that children will return to her much later in the day to share their thinking.

Create a Learning Community

Of course the reason children are coming back to share their thinking is because they feel respected and listened to. In Kathleen’s Reception/Year 1 classroom they practice a community of inquiry, where students learn to listen to others and respond respectfully, not just waiting their turn to talk but sharing points they agree or disagree on and asking the speaker questions about their ideas.

Executive function in the early years

What has this got to do with executive function? Through these interactions students are learning to manage their impulses and wait their turn to speak, to use working memory to remember what the speaker has said and plan a suitable response, use planning skills to put their thinking into order, make decisions about what they want to say, and maintain attention on the discussion.

Journal Student Learning

Each teacher at our session shared how they keep records of student thinking for the learning community to refer back to, supporting their executive functioning skills. Some used large scrapbooks and visual journals, others used the wall space in their classrooms.

Executive Function in the Early Years

My notes from Kathleen’s session on community of inquiry

Make Thinking Visible and Accessible

Sharyn Lockett shared some inspiring video of her kindergarten students speaking articulately about their thinking and feelings. Educators and students practice talking about their thinking being in control or their feelings – Sharyn’s students are taught an analogy of an elephant and an elephant rider. The language is used again and again during play and learning until students begin to use it themselves.

The children in my class have just completed Road Safety training on bikes and most have bikes that they ride at home. I’m planning a bike riding analogy to help them with their thinking about thinking. I’ll let you know how that goes!

Tell me about your students

Do you teach your students executive functioning skills? I’d love to know about it. Do you have some executive functioning deficits yourself? *cough* My husband would likely say that I do … if I lose my keys/phone/earrings one. more. time…

Executive Function resources:

March 23, 2016
by Kylie Gardner

Get Comfortable with Not Knowing

get comfortable with not knowing

I got down and dirty in the classroom today. I tried changing how I teach. And it was HARD. Change is hard. I felt myself wanting to retreat back into my comfortable old teaching practices. The ones that I knew would be ‘successful’ or easy. Instead of doing that, I did what I ask my students to do every day. I pushed through the discomfort and I kept trying.

Don’t get me wrong. I change my teaching practice A LOT. I love learning new ways of doing things and giving them a go. Some things stick and somethings don’t. Sometimes change and learning comes easily and sometimes it means diving deep into the learning pit.

the learning pit

I reflected with a co-worker later in the day, someone who I often bounce ideas off and get a lot of inspiration from. As she walked away at the end of our chat she threw her arms in the air and said “get comfortable with not knowing!”.


After all, unless we are comfortable with not knowing, how will we ever begin to question? Don’t we need to give in to vulnerability if we’re going to grow, learn, change?

And that’s exactly what this blog is. Me, not knowing, and getting damn comfortable with it.

Do you embrace not knowing? Tell me about it. 

March 22, 2016
by Kylie Gardner

Creative Thinking Planning Tool

While planning over the weekend I kept flicking back to my learning about creating thinking and intellectual stretch. To make this job easier I made a sweet little graphic to support my planning.  I hope it’s helpful to you to. It’s also available as a PDF.

Planning for Intellectual Stretch

I’ll be trying out an adapted learning experience in the classroom this week, I look forward to sharing the results.