At Wildwood, words and relationships matter, and that’s clear even when you drop in on the K-1 Whale Pod and spend some time with our youngest students.
I arrived before class started and most students were already in the room, anticipating their day. Some set up chairs at the four small, kid-sized tables. Others check the day’s schedule to see when they’ll have science and time on the big yard. Others were checking in with each other as a few parents lingered in the room, socializing and giving good-bye hugs.
Everyday, the Whale Pod begins the school day with morning meeting. Sitting on the floor rug, the eighteen students eagerly await the start. Jeremy F. is the meeting leader, which involves a lot of responsibility. First and foremost he gets to sit in the leader chair. “Who has news?” Jeremy asks his classmate: eighteen hands go up.
“Morning meeting helps kids transition into the school day,” says Whale Pod head teacher, Sara Lev. “It’s structured so that every student is recognized and, if he or she wants, allows every student’s voice to be heard.”
The news shared today includes; loose teeth, updates on grandparents who are on the mend, and casual invitations. One student, Max A., explains a new game that he’d like his classmates to try with him today on big yard.
Jeremy then chooses a green dinosaur-tipped pointer and leads the class through the morning message that Sara has written on the board; a message purposely embedded with grammar and punctuation mistakes for students to find and fix. “Developing literacy skills is extremely important for emergent readers at this age,” Sara explains.
After Jeremy leads the class through attendance and the day’s schedule, Sara thanks him and finishes morning meeting with a fun round of freeze dance; the students have been sitting patiently for nearly twenty minutes after all. Then, the Whale Pod is ready for Reading Workshop.
Today, Ryan Grant will lead the workshop. Ryan, a student teacher from Antioch University, Los Angeles, has been with the Whale Pod since early January, being mentored by Sara Lev and the pod’s associate teacher, Alli Newell. Today, Ryan will lead the class in a lesson on poetry; specifically the power of poetic imagery.
Ryan reads a haiku aloud and asks the students to visualize the images that come to mind. With all eyes shut, he shares a translation of a famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Bashō:
An old silent pond…
A frog jumps in the pond
Splash! All is silent again
Smiles emerge the students’ faces and Ryan sets their work in motion, asking them to illustrate on paper, any images that the poem elicited for them. Working at tables and on the floor, the students fill their papers with all manner of blue ponds, green frogs, and turbulent and peaceful waters. When it’s time to come together in a circle and share, all students are eager to jump in and make a splash with their images.
Nita K., was very pleased with her picture’s simplicity as she shared with the class. “It’s right when the frog jumps in,” she says, “right after it’s really loud and it’s about to get quiet again.” Looking at Ryan, I can see the satisfaction on his face. Nita had captured the power of poetic imagery- when words freeze a moment in time and the mind creates meaning, which can be conveyed and shared with others.
Connections start to grow here, and the Whale Pod day is structured to obliquely emphasize that what we say matters, and what we hear matters. At Wildwood, we believe understanding each other, and ideas, depends on close reading and strong relationships.