Friday, January 13, 2012

the dance

Several months ago I read a research article examining the differences between Norway and Finland's education systems. Finland surpasses Norway on the PISA and Norway funded this bit of research, hoping to better understand why their Nordic neighbor surpasses them educationally (at least in regard to the PISA). I apologize that I can not find this article now and the title is escaping me. Much was discovered through the research but what has stayed with me is the value teachers in Finland place on teacher child interaction. The researcher found that teachers provide more immediate, consistent, and meaningful feedback in Finland. This has powerful implications, especially for struggling students. If a student or students are struggling and teacher feedback is limited then the chance for success diminishes.

The topic of interaction and my role as a teacher has been on my mind in recent weeks, especially surrounding the puppet project. This study began months ago as we noticed children radiating pure joy when interacting with finger puppets. As time passed and we all gained experience with storytelling, retelling, and puppet exploration I invited my father to visit the class to help children build a puppet theater of our own.

Children created a blueprint for the theater and luckily my father's design bared a striking resemblance to their plan.

The immediate response was strong, with children wanting to visit the puppet theater often. As we observed children during play we noticed the inherent difficulty in delving deeper into puppetry. Children need to listen to one another, collaborate, and negotiate ideas. These are skills difficult for us all but especially difficult for young children. Ms. Anny and I responded when it seemed children needed assistance before becoming frustrated and we modeled several puppet shows. Then the unimaginable happened. Children were done with puppets, the interest disappeared.

What happened?

Frustration happened.

When working through project-based learning teacher interaction is so vital. Providing a foundation, a reservoir of skills children can tap into later is the goal but in this situation I didn't step in enough to stave off the Great Wall of Frustration.

We could give up.

Sometimes throwing in the towel is the responsive thing to do - however in this situation I feel strongly that the responsive action is to persevere. I chose a small group of 5 children who have shown great interest in puppetry over the last several months. We revisited some of our favorite stories together, talking about the characters and their traits. Then I invited children to create their own character. They drew a small sketch of their character and told a story about their character. Later I enlarged the sketches and surprised the group with larger versions of their characters to paint in creating a final puppet.

We now have five monster characters, some are grumpy and some are nice. In fact one eats dinosaur food. Our next step will be to write a shared story using these characters, perform and record the puppet show. I'm not sure what will come of it. The class may be beyond excited to watch the "movie" on the Smart Board...or the puppet craze may just be finished after this.

It's such a dance - knowing when to stand back and when to guide more directly. Luckily we can always take a step back


  1. creative excellence, i have really enjoyed every article.Teaching Feedback Form

  2. I understand where you are coming from, Merril! It is so hard to see children lose interest - the main reason for me being that it takes me so long to recognize it! I love how you took the information you had, and information from your observations and re-envisioned the project. Starting a project can be like feeling around in the dark, and then someone turns the lights on and the children are engaged and active and inquisitive...but those lights turn off again every once in a while.

    Thanks so much for sharing!



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