Every morning at 7:30 A.M., the doors to our "one-room school" open. Children, aged three years to six years (prekindergarten and kindergarten) exchange greetings, deliver backpacks and jackets to cubbyholes in one of the four classroom areas, and return to the front of the school, where they visit with adults and with each other until breakfast is served. Waiting, or during breakfast, seated around tables, students dive into the day's initial "negotiations."
Approximately eighty students continue their interactive involvement with each other, with their teachers, and with their learning environment as they flow through the day, enjoying a "circle time" in the individual classroom area that is "home base" to each of them, and working in large groups, small groups, and individually on activities that ebb and flow from self-chosen and self-directed to teacherdirected. Twice a day, students choose "center tags," cardboard tags that are attached to a string that they wear around their necks. They have each "read" the color of the tag or the written word on the tag to select math, science, art, blocks (construction), loft (writing center), computer, or dramatic play, and are dismissed to begin work in one of their chosen areas.
One of my favorite parts of the day occurs when students return from the morning center time to our home classroom. During this time, students select their own reading material for Drop Everything and Read (DEAR). Everyone in the center - adults and children - enjoys a time exclusively designated for reading. While I sit in my rocking chair and read the calming, centering words of Zen Flesh Zen Bones, noisy enthusiastic novice "readers" are at my feet, at my elbows, and spread across our large rug involved in dynamic self-directed engagement with a variety of texts. It is one of the best opportunities for me to learn about my students as - I have discovered they often seem skilled and effective at supporting each other's learning and at choosing friends who encourage their work. At one elbow, several students have opened the big book on the easel and "read" in chorus the rhythmic text as one of the students tracks the print with a pointer. At the other elbow, another student reads and sings from a flip chart which contains rhymes, rhyme games, and singing games that the children have learned when playing the games together on our rug. "What does this say, Ms. Gambill?" "It's my time to read my own book, Kesha. I'll bet Tameika could help you." Tameika or another student, overhearing the conversation, jumps up, proud that she is able to recall the melody and the words to the singing game. The two students work their way through several rhymes and songs, pointing to the text or the musical notation as they sing and speak.
As the fifteen- to twenty-minute DEAR time draws to a close, Kesha is seated on the rug, and a couple of students sit near her, listening while she "reads" to them. When reviewing my anecdotal records, and when constructing the graphic for a sociogram that contained information about students' choices for someone whom they liked to play with, to read with, and to write with, I noticed that Kesha was one of the students most often selected as "my favorite person to read with." While I take in Zen thoughts from my reading, I enjoy the background noise of Kesha's proficient and delightful story-telling/reading. I hear her expressive inflection, her improvisation of rhythmic, repetitive text, and I notice that she is using phrases and words that mimic or are the actual text of the book from which she is reading. Kesha has had periods in which explosive angry outbursts, including throwing chairs, have disrupted her day and our classroom. Her scores on the informal assessments that involve alphabet recognition and alphabet formation indicate that Kesha is the lowest-performing kindergarten student in our class in these areas. The students' openness to seeing into Kesha's gifts - in spite of her dramatic difficulties - is a lesson to me, and identifying this area of expertise and proficiency heightens my positive expectations for her as a learner. …