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Student-Led Kindergarten Classes at Charles E. Webster PS

As you look around the kindergarten classrooms you will see: some students making decisions about what their drama centre should become, some are reading self-published books to their peers and others are sorting through leaves and acorns they have just found during their nature walk. It may not be obvious to many, but there has been a big shift in the Kindergarten classrooms at Charles E. Webster and the students are embracing it.

The shift was subtle in many ways, but definitely intentional. It has changed the way staff teaches and interacts with the students and it has changed the way students participate and learn, for the better. The classrooms – three in total – were like most traditional Kindergartens: vibrant, full of primary colours, plastic learning materials and traditional centres for play-based learning. Instruction included simple worksheets and the students typically learned as a group.

But in the fall of 2016, the question was asked: Is our teaching reflective of the experiences of our learners and their families? The Early Years team sat down with their administration and really thought about what changes they could make to better support their students. They considered the way the students interacted with the materials they were offered, whether students saw themselves reflected in their work, and how staffs’ understanding of their students’ social and physical barriers could change their approach to teaching.

They first determined that culturally relevant and responsive teaching – using student’s culture and experiences to create positive attitudes towards learning – would really get students excited and engaged. With that as a foundation, the classrooms really began to transform.

Students began to feel a greater sense of belonging as they saw themselves reflected in their learning environment not only through books but through hands-on activities. For example, instead of having a plastic toy house where children could play with dolls, they were provided with loose parts and construction materials so the students could build their own structures. This simple change invited children to be more creative, conversational and connected their activities back to their own lives.

Student voice and choice was important in the types of activities the classes might explore and the path the learning took. Students in one class, for example, were excited about an eye doctor centre in one of the other Kindergarten classrooms and responded by creating an animal clinic in their own. The clinic was the stage for authentic literacy and math activities and student engagement soared. Muted colours and items found in nature became learning tools. Calming spaces were created for students to self-regulate and reflect.

As the year went on, the educators participated in more professional learning and considered even more ways they could engage their learners. It was exciting to see the shift and to know that it required no additional financial resources; only a more intentional approach to what was being used and how it appealed to the learner’s interests and experiences.

Moving forward, the staff will continue to explore ways to make changes in other grades and classes to support similar engagement and better serve all of the learners at Charles E. Webster.

Some examples of how the classroom has changed:

Before... Teachers were instructing the whole class on the carpet for extended periods of time. Now... The learning environment has expanded. One FDK class, for example, went to a farm, picked vegetables and brought them back to the school and made soup!

Before... Centres lacked open-ended questions to invite learners to play and explore. Now... Students have endless possibilties for creativity, problem solving and open-ended learning. Student voice and choice is important! One class responded by creating an animal clinic.

Before... Work was mainly worksheets that students completed at tables with staff. Now... Students are writing letters and books and they have the opportunity to read each other's stories!

Before... Staff chose which work to display. Now... Students choose which work to display so students can celebrate their work.

Today's Classroom:


Our Mission
To enable all students to reach high levels of achievement and well-being
and to acquire the knowledge, skills
and values they need to become responsible, contributing members of
a democratic and sustainable society.
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