Friday, 23 April 2021


Dan Meyer tweeted 

and Kassia tweeted:

And I have just read this in Wally's Stories: Conversations in the Kindergarten by Vivian Gussin Paley . It's a lovely example of how Paley is able to write against herself, to document her growing points as a teacher, alongside the learning of the children:


Rulers were another example of the wide gulf separating my beliefs from those the children demonstrated whenever they were allowed to follow their ideas to logical conclusions. I had not realized that "rulers are not really real." We were about to act out "Jack and the Beanstalk" when Wally and Eddie disagreed about the relative size of our two rugs.

Wally: The big rug is the giant's castle. The small one is Jack's house. 

Eddie: Both rugs are the same. 

Wally: They can't be the same.  Watch me. I'll walk around the rug. Now watch: walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk - count all these walks. Okay. Now count the other rug. Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk. See? That one has more walks. 

Eddie: No fair. You cheated. You walked faster. 

Wally: I don't have to walk. I can just look.

Eddie: I can look too. But you have to measure it. You need a ruler. About six hundred inches or feet.

Wally: We have a ruler.

Eddie: Not that one. Not the short kind. You have to use the long kind that gets curled up in a box.

Wally: Use people. People's bodies. Lying down in a row.

Eddie: That's a great idea. I never even thought of that.

Wally announces a try-out for "rug measurers." He adds one child at a time until both rugs are covered-four children end to end on one rug and three on the other. Everyone is satisfied, and the play continues with Wally as the giant on the rug henceforth known as the four-person rug. The next day Eddie measures the rugs again. He uses himself, Wally, and two other childen. But this time they do not cover the rug.

Wally: You're too short. I mean someone is too short. We need Warren. Where's Warren?

Teacher: He's not here today.

Eddie: Then we can't measure the rug.

Teacher: You can only measure the rug when Warren is here?

Jill: Because he's longer.

Deana: Turn everyone around. Then it will fit.

(Eddie rearranges the measurers so that each is now in a different position. Their total length is the same.)

Eddie: No, it won't work. We have to wait for Warren.

Deana: Let me have a turn. I can do it.

Jill: You're too big, Deana. Look at your feet sticking out. Here's a rule. Nobody bigger than Warren can measure the rug.

Fred: Wait. Just change Ellen and Deana because Ellen is shorter.

Jill: She sticks out just the same. Wait for Warren.

Fred: Now she's longer than before, that's why.

Teacher: Is there a way to measure the rug so we don't have to worry about people's sizes?

Kenny: Use short people.

Teacher: And if the short people aren't in school?

Rose: Use big people.

Eddie: Some people are too big.

Teacher: Maybe using people is a problem.

Fred: Use three-year-olds.

Teacher: There aren't any three-year-olds in our class.

Deana: Use rulers. Get all the rulers in the room. I'll get the box of rulers.

Eddie: That was my idea, you know.

Deana: This isn't enough rulers.

Eddie: Put a short, short person after the rulers - Andy.

Andy: I'm not short, short. And I'm not playing this game.

Wally: Use the dolls.

Teacher: So this rug is ten rulers and two dolls long? (Silence.) Here's something we can do. We can use one of the rulers over again, this way.

Eddie: Now you made another empty space.

Teacher: Eddie, you mentioned a tape measure before. I have one here.

(We stretch the tape along the edge of the rug, and I show the children that the rug is 156 inches long. The lesson is done. The next day Warren is back in school.)

Wally: Here's Warren. Now we can really measure the rug.

Teacher: Didn't we really measure the rug with the ruler?

Wally: Well, rulers aren't really real, are they?

I recognise this kind of thing from my own teaching: the children are thinking about things a certain way, and I'm eager to present my ready-packaged solution to all their needs. But it's not time yet. The value of a transcript like this is that it puts our teacher noses in it! Are you really wanting to replace this brilliant conversation and thinking with your pale version of progress?

It's interesting here how the children's thinking around measuring the rugs with each other is so rich - there's debate, there's problems, resolutions, ad hoc rules, modifications and concensus. The teacher's tape measure solution is relatively meagre. It may be 'right' from our adult perspective to use a tape measure, but where the children are now, 'Well, rulers aren't really real, are they?'

Young children are learning incredly fast, learning more than we adults are able to. But they don't necessary learn in the chunks of time we would like them too. And they don't necessarily learn in the 'efficient' way we would like them to. They repeat things again and again, seeming to need to do this to realise something or some things. Here they need people lined up on the carpet. That's a lot more interesting to them, a lot more what they need than any next step.

What could the teacher do here if not be the supplier of the answer, the next piece of information? I'd say, enter into the moment without itching for the next step. I'd say, take a picture of it and put it up on the wall. And, document it, to discuss what the learning and theory building is with other teachers, And of course, share it with the parents. A transcript like this is precious. Even a remembered summary of it is something that can help us to think about real learning.

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