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April 01, 2009

Collaborating with Friends

"I want to make a flower, but I don't know how." Suniah lamented during morning choice time. "Liliana, can you help me?"

"Uh huh." Liliana replied with a smile.

"Here, use the pink marker." Suniah offered. Liliana reached over to Suniah's paper and started drawing a flower with the pink marker. As she was working, Aaliyah came over and sat across from Suniah. She observed quietly as Liliana continued drawing and Suniah watched with rapt attention. When Liliana finished, Suniah proudly presented her paper to me.

"What did you do?" I asked, having observed the situation but curious to see how Suniah would explain it.

"I wanted to make a flower, but I didn't know how. So I asked my friend for help!" Suniah exclaimed, "Now I need to write the words!"

Aaliyah perked up and asked, "Can I do it?"

"Sure!" Suniah replied. "Write 'I.'" Suniah waited patiently as Aaliyah wrote "I" on the paper. "/m/...M!" Aaliyah dutifully wrote an "M." "Ms. Rosenbaum, what comes next?" Suniah asked.

"I don't know," I replied, "because I don't know what you're trying to write. What's the sentence that you want to write?"

"I made a flower." Suniah explained. And without missing a beat, Suniah continued, "/m/ /a/...A!" Aaliyah wrote the "A." "/m/ /a/ /d/....D!" And Aaliyah wrote the "D."

This process continued for the remainder of the sentence, with the letters "I mad a flwr" eventually written to represent the illustration. When the girls were done, they proudly showed their work to their friends and explained how they worked together. 

This seemingly simple anecdote not only reveals a great deal about my students' development, but also illustrates the profound learning that can occur when children are given the opportunity to direct their own learning.  I was truly impressed to see the leadership role that Suniah played throughout this entire anecdote.  She understood her own limitations (drawing is not her forte), and knew who to ask for help (Liliana is our resident expert artist, and she particularly loves to draw flowers).  Additionally, she voluntarily relinquished her coveted pink marker to Liliana, which showed a great deal of maturity. 
When Aaliyah asked to help, I was worried that Suniah might say no; she typically likes to be independent and can be picky about how she lets other people help her.  Suniah, however, devised a system in which Aaliyah was able to help but Suniah remained in charge by dictating the letters.  Impressive problem solving for a four-year-old! 
In addition to these social/emotional benefits, the literacy development that occurred during this episode was wonderful.  Suniah naturally executed the "Journal Writing Process" which I taught my students at the beginning of the year:
1. Think about what you want to say
2. Draw a picture
3. Write the words
Her spelling was strong, and hearing her sound out the words helped reinforce the process of "stretching out" words, as well as basic letter-sound connections, for her peers. 
This anecdote is a wonderful illustration of the progress that Suniah has made in the past year and a half of school.  The combination of teacher-led and child-led learning experiences has allowed her to both acquire new skills and apply them in meaningful contexts.  Ultimately, Suniah was able to draw upon her ability to problem solve, negotiate, take the perspective of others, and sound out words to create a detailed piece of work with her friends! 


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