Sunday, October 31, 2010

Listen to Me!

One piece of the program I'm currently working on in preschools involves a twist on the standard show and tell (mostly tell) format. Traditionally, the kids sit in a circle and each gets a turn to share their story. It's an important part of the preschool curriculum. Children need to share their stories. However - it's a part of the day many preschool teachers do not particularly look forward to - although for the most part, they love hearing those stories. The problem arises when you have 15-20 three and four year-olds each waiting for a whole lot of other kids to tell their story before and or after they've already finished their own. That's a LONG time to wait, for kids that age. When our expectations exceed their developmental abilities, trouble begins.

Think to a class or group you've attended where everyone had to introduce and share a little information about themselves. This is interesting and fun for almost no-one. I want to say that your behavior, when you became frustrated and bored, was probably better than that of a preschooler, but perhaps I'm giving you more credit than is due. I had students do that for a while, myself, before I realized what a time-suck it was and that I - as the teacher - was really the only one getting anything out of it. I devised another way to collect the information I needed that didn't involve a WHOLE LOT of wait time for the entire group. (apologies to those of you who may have encountered me before that particular revelation...)

This piece of the program on which I am working acknowledges that need to share information while eliminating the LONG wait times. Children are partnered and each tells his or her story to their partner, then listens to their partner's story in turn. When I first asked my teachers to do this, they were skeptical. "The kids want everyone to hear their stories! We are doing them a disservice!" After two days, they realized that the kids didn't need everyone to hear their stories - they just needed SOMEone to hear their stories. The teachers experimented with pairings - friends with friends, kids who never played together, same gender, mixed genders - it didn't seem to matter. As long as SOMEone listened to what they had to say, they were happy.

A friend of mine recently told me about a little boy in her class who loves to raise his hand - and loves to be called on - but has a hard time speaking in front of the group, therefore freezing. Her solution? Position herself (or another adult) near him so that he can whisper the answers to them without wasting class time. He is pleased - he gets to do the talking that he wants/needs to do without the stress and pressure of having all eyes on him. It is a win/win.

This phenomena - needing to have our words be heard - is hardly exclusive to children. This weekend I did a gig serving samples at a grocery store. So many people - SO. MANY. PEOPLE. - approached my table, not so much because they were interested in what I was hawking, but because they wanted someone to hear their words - to listen to their stories. A few folks craved dialogue, and with them I engaged in a little back and forth, but the vast majority just wanted someone to talk to, not with. I was extremely indulgent - providing them with smiles for their jokes and sincere concern for their tales of woe; a mirror in which their own stories could be reflected.

And they left happy.

And I was happy. Because I wasn't the only one serving as a mirror.


Tell someone your story today. We all need to be heard. But don't forget to listen to theirs as well. It isn't just a good idea for preschoolers.


Unknown said...

That was an interesting post. I'll bet you are an awesome teacher!

Julie said...

Some day remind me to tell you about Calli and selective mutism. And how her first words to her kindergarten teacher were "yes" and "no" which were spoken in February of that year.

I LOVE your approach. As they get comfortable talking in two's you can increase the group size so they can then work on patience/talking to larger groups. Or they could take turns presenting what their partner shared. But I think you hit the nail on the head that at this age it's all about learning about the dialogue.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I love your idea; I can really see it working for preschoolers, or even older kids. Like you, I've learned about people wanting to tell their stories. I've seen it at various major events (women's issues, a cancer research fundraiser, etc.)...someone comes in who knows nobody, and that person just needs one pair of ears to listen so s/he can go home satisfied.

Cheryl said...

The simplest solutions seem to be the most elusive. Loved that you chose to try this with the kids. What a relief for all of them.

To hear and be heard is a great lesson to learn young. And be gently reminded of as we grow older.

Anonymous said...

That is a great idea. I wish more teachers would do that!! I should do that more often too. And, thank you, because I have a really hard post to write but I'm going to do it because I need to be heard.

Claudya Martinez said...

Sometimes when I'm at work and people are really really angry all I have to do is just listen. I don't even have to resolve their issues. Sometimes they just want to be heard.

Pam said...

You are so right. We ALL need to tell our stories and be heard. Your students are lucky to have you for a teacher.