Folding Paper, Constructing Meaning, and Following a Child’s Lead

October 20, 2009 at 7:02 pm Leave a comment

posted by Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school

alisanephew“We know only what we do, what we make, what we construct; and all that we make, all that we construct, are realities.”
~ Naum Gabo, constructivist artist, 1890-1977

Folding and flying paper airplanes has got to be one of the greatest things about being a kid.  You can take the simple, traditional five-fold approach; you can follow instructions from paper airplane books; you can even design your own.  During the past few weeks in the Upstairs (that’s what we call the place/program where the kindergarten through 4th grade groups are at my school), paper airplane folding has been HOT.  In the morning, I often walk up the stairs and find someone standing at a table, a piece of paper already creased and on its way to becoming airborne.  There are test flights – for distance, tricks, turns.  There is artistry (with scissors especially).   And there is collaboration.  This is the kind of work and play that inspires younger and older kids to work together.  Last week, Jordan came into the 2-1-K room looking for Liam so that he could teach him a new design.  And then Liam passed it on to someone else.

Last Thursday, I was lucky to spend an hour or so with the K-2nd grade group after lunch.  We came in from Outdoors Time and they explained to me that this is the time they usually read or draw quietly.  I know that after-lunch-time-of-the-day well — it’s a time to engage in activities that help us slow ourselves down, do some quiet work, feel ready for the rest of the afternoon.  Some of the 3rd and 4th graders had been flying planes outside.  As soon as we arrived in the room, one of the 1st graders immediately began folding an airplane and, naturally, wanted to keep working on it.  I suggested maybe we could draw some planes instead.  Jerry stapled together a few papers to make a book and brought it to the table.  He started with a title, and together we sounded out how to spell FLIERS!  PAPER!  AIRPLANES! (The “upside down i’s” at the end of each word were his idea).  I thought he was simply going to draw the planes that he had already folded or even the ones he might imagine.  Jerry’s first drawing was a rectangle with a line drawn down the center.  When I asked him about it he told me that it was the first step.  We then realized that an instruction manual would be a great project.  It wasn’t always easy for him – drawing the lines and shapes, showing with arrows how to fold, sounding out words, writing letters – but Jerry’s determination and deep interest allowed him to create one of the most amazing step-by-step manuals I’ve ever seen (by a first grader or anyone else).

It’s a beautiful thing, to be able to see a child’s interest and help him use what he cares about in a “school” kind of activity or project.  As Jerry worked on folding his airplane and creating his manual, he was developing and strengthening his spatial and sequential ordering skills, his letter-sound recognition, his fine motor abilities.  Did he know that?  Probably not.  But we see him, we see what he can do, we see how he can reach and stretch, and we help him along the way.  And, at the school where I work, there is a structure to the day that allows children to delve into what they care about, to extend their thinking, to construct their own meaning from their own experiences.  I’m so thankful that I happened along at just the right quiet time.

Alisa Algava graduated from Bank Street’s Leadership for Educational Change program last December. For the past 14 years, she has taught and learned in public, private, and charter schools in NY, NJ, and RI. She has written a handful of postings on the Alumni Blog about her experiences leading and learning in a small progressive school. Alisa loves learning. She loves moderating The Alumni Blog. And she really loves her nephew.

Entry filed under: assessment, classrooms, collaboration, constructivism, curriculum, early childhood, integrated curricula, literacy, math, social-emotional learning, the arts.

Owen and Mzee Motivate Reluctant Writers On the Shoulders of Ted Sizer

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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