you're reading...
Learning at its Best

Incidental Learning

I shared a lesson in Kindergarten on Sept. 17th which happened to be the 17th day of school for us. As I was walking down to the class, I realized that and that I taught Kindergarten for 17 years before moving on to other grade levels. Who cares about those 17s?

Well, I do, because looking for patterns and relationships between and among events and what I already know is part of who I am–I do that all the time. Now those three facts don’t really mean anything– it’s simply an interesting coincidence. But, it started me reflecting a bit…

My K lesson is actually one in a series of lessons on “graphs” as math stories.  I teach the little ones how to read graphs as a story picture–I show them graphs and ask what story this tells us. I use books and comparisons of stories in them to help kids understand they can tell stories in school and understand them to deep levels. This week we were actually making a line graph–one I found on a New Zealand website several yeas ago.

17 years in K builds a lot of expertise. I watched–and worked with– these kids who have been in school for 17 days and was sort of monitoring my own behavior as I was doing it, thinking about what the classroom teacher was seeing. I was actually remembering my days in K and feeling quite nostalgic–that’s my favorite grade to teach and I have always said I want to go back in the classroom before I retire. So I was really being metacognitive about my behaviors and seeing if I really enjoyed it as much as I remember I did.

One of the things I love about Kindergarten is building a sense of community and watching the kids be kind to one another.  It is absolutely so cool to be amazed at how they treat each other–kids alway astound me by the depth of their caring and empathy when set up to show and share that safely. Another thing I loved is how quickly you can teach something–almost like osmosis–because the kids watch everything that goes on–they are very aware of how adults interact with other kids.

As I was watching these kids, I realized that 17 days means these kids have already been in school for over ONE HUNDRED hours…  and I was wondering what they are learning and what incidental lessons I was going to teach them.

I hate that schools (as we know them, and as most of us experienced them) assume incompetence. Teachers supposedly assume students need to have their heads opened and the information poured in. Kids are taught that the teachers (adults) know it all and will share that knowledge with them as they deem fit. What a sick system.

I’m hoping these K kids aren’t being indoctrinated into those beliefs.  I’m hoping I can help them see their brilliance and learn to follow their passions.  I’m hoping they can see clearly that I honor their competence and what they bring to the group.

So I go into this K class and am going to read a book–or two–in readiness for the math lesson.  I start the book, not having everyone’s attention–but I don’t sweat that–I know I’ll have it in a couple of seconds, because I know how to get kids’ attention.  Sure enough, my changing voice, my silly questions, my  goofing off all draw the kids in and by the second page I have them in the palm of my hand.

Are they talking to each other some?  Yep. Are they laughing and giggling together?  Yep.  Are they calling out as I ask my questions?  Yep.  And that’s all okay with me, because it shows they are engaged.

When I ask a question I want to discuss, do I single out a response?  Yep–and the class quiets and listens because kids come to school wanting to learn–I’ve found that Kindergarten kids (heck most kids) want to hear what I am talking to one child about because they don’t want to miss anything!

Okay, now you’re probably saying, “She can’t get every kid to come to every story–or every whole group lesson–that easily.”  And you’re right, I miss pulling in some kids sometimes. Like yesterday, when two kids kept talking as I began the intro to the second book by looking at the front and back of the book with the class. I initially ignored them, hoping they’d join in–but what they were doing was more engaging to them than what I was doing with the rest of the class. So I asked the class to help me with their names, then called on them and said, “Hey, you two–if you don’t want to hear the story, that’s okay with me–you can go to another part of the room and continue playing together quietly.” The whole class is watching now–waiting to see what this visiting teacher is going to do to the two kids who were misbehaving. Those two are silent- looking at me, now, with solemn faces and great wide eyes, waiting for me to fuss at them. I deliberately smile and say, “You won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to hear me read this book.  You can just go somewhere else and continue your conversation. I don’t mind. But you can’t stay on the rug and keep talking and giggling about something else, because there are people behind you who DO want to hear-and you’re bothering them. So you can go to your seats and keep talking if you want, or stay–you decide.” I then return to the book and keep going.  They stay and begin to contribute to the group experience.

So what did they learn?

I hope they got a clear message it’s NOT okay to disturb other people who are trying to learn.

I hope they got a clear message that I understand not everybody is interested in the same things at the same time–and that’s okay.

I hope they heard that I was NOT angry or punitive and they had choices to make about their own learning.

And, I hope ALL the kids learned those three things about me by seeing how I dealt with the two who were not paying attention.

I cross posted this on and Incidental Learning #2 is here.


About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


9 thoughts on “Incidental Learning

  1. Paula, You are a gift to this blog! and honestly to this nation! Every time I hear or read someone say that education is in the state it is now, because of bad teachers, I want to yell! I mean how many Great teachers are getting demonized and how many great teachers are not choosing teaching as a career because of this misguided and misinformed discussion.

    if we are being honest, a handful at most, unmindful, mis-taught, bored, or bad teachers are working in each school. I really hate that we have made teachers into a faceless nameless storyless mass and even more that the students that they teach are disregarded and often dehumanized to the point of being mere ideas.

    We need to change the conversation or even open the conversation. My goal for the next year is to make a point to question the idea of bad teachers as ruining education. The act of demonizing teacher will do nothing but harm learning and growth in this country.

    One way I see to do this is the next time someone tells you or me that bad teachers need to be fired or are ruining the system….

    Ask them “What is a bad teacher?” “How would you define it? ” and then actually have a conversation about what that means?

    Do we truly believe that teachers or even some teachers are working in schools to hurt children or make sure they don’t learn…. I mean really, If we look back at our own experience…. the problem was not merely that they were bad but instead had to do with use of authority, disrespect, lack of passion, lack of understanding of the different ways we learn, lack of love of learning…..and of all the teachers I had over the years, I could name my a handful or two who were really bad teachers.

    Could a lot of my teachers have improved or grown in their craft, sure….but most of the big reformers today or the conversation in general is not about helping teachers improve their craft, it is about firing them…. and replacing them with some kind of “Superman” who knows what he or she is doing and is perfect. But this superman is often not someone who is truly a great teacher, but someone who has mastered the art of schooling, they figured out how to make the current system of transmission work for them, to get the best grades and pass the Standardized test and tell the supposedly good teachers what they want to hear…..but as Paula has so easily point out…. you need more than good schooled teachers, you need reflective, mindful, flexible teachers.

    We need the type of Teachers who do not see learning as something to “do” to children or a skill to be learned, but instead see learning as the act of living and that children “come to school wanting to learn” and that we are in schools to help harvest that energy and passion not control it to get this or that outcome.

    Teaching is an Art! Learning is the act of living and we are all in it together.

    Please help me fight the habit of mind that encourages people to generalize about what truly can not be generalized, the relationship of People! and then as a act of positivity send them to Paula White’s blog or other great teachers blogs, (or any teacher’s blog) because she is a great teacher and showcasing teachers that are models of excellence will only help to change the conversation! Or better yet, ask them to volunteer in a classroom, or visit a school or talk to teachers…. Or even better yet, Have them ask a teacher what they can do to better their craft and how they might be able to help. Transformation happens not just by naming or demonizing the problems but by acting on and being the change!

    Please Paula continue to share your stories and your reflections … I can not think of a more transformational act than that!

    Posted by dloitz | September 18, 2010, 4:08 pm
  2. David, you are way too kind. . . but wait until my next installment of this story–I think you’ll like it even more! LOL

    Posted by Paula White | September 18, 2010, 5:08 pm
  3. Can’t wait!

    Posted by dloitz | September 18, 2010, 5:21 pm
  4. Okay, David, here’s Incidental Learning #2–about race and shaping behavior in the classroom!

    Posted by Paula White | September 18, 2010, 8:19 pm
  5. Love it!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by dloitz | September 18, 2010, 10:08 pm
  6. Paula, I really agree here with David. You are a gift to this blog, and beyond. This is all so vivid and fresh and true.

    I love your teacher eye and confidence in children. They just are brilliant and fun. Kindda like you, lady?


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 20, 2010, 3:40 pm


  1. Pingback: Incidental Learning #2 | Reflections of the TZSTeacher - September 18, 2010

  2. Pingback: links for 2010-09-18 | MYAM's Blog - September 18, 2010

  3. Pingback: Making our Teaching Public! « Cooperative Catalyst - October 1, 2010

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,096 other subscribers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: