By Katherine Wall & Anna Wells in E10
Emergent curriculum is developed from the interests and needs of the students in the classroom, but it goes far beyond quick activities and introductions. Building on a common interest among students can lead to extended, in-depth investigations and incorporate many elements of school readiness and executive functioning skills.
Recently in our classroom, this has been most evident as we follow a student-initiated interest in storytelling and creating new versions of familiar fairy tales. When we noticed many students wanting to use felt board pieces to retell and invent stories, the teachers approached it as an opportunity to focus on comprehension and drama, originally thinking it could lead to exploration into early writing skills and bookmaking. The teachers carefully selected new materials to be added into our classroom and support the interest, such as additional felt board stories and boards for the students to use, books containing “fractured fairy tales,” and blank paper books for students to record their own stories. These materials were open-ended so that we were able to observe the ways that students would interact with the activities and provide opportunities for expansion.
The students became very excited to explore these possibilities, and for several weeks we explored different versions of stories through structured group times, small group storytelling where each child had an opportunity to add to a group story, and open-ended time for the students to use the materials in whatever ways they chose. Near the end of those weeks, teachers noticed a new interest emerging: using classroom materials to build sets and act out parts of their favorite stories.
With this new interest came opportunities for even more expansion. As a group, we held conversations about what stories they were interested in performing, then voted to determine two stories that would have enough parts for everyone who wanted to participate. Along with practicing how to compromise, this also was an opportunity to work on emotional regulation and responding to disappointment when your choice is not the final group decision. Teachers facilitated this process through large and small group conversations, focusing on helping the students remember to listen to others’ ideas as well as share their own thoughts, and supporting individual children as they found appropriate ways to express their emotions.
Once stories were selected, the teachers helped students to form small groups based on the story they would perform. This allowed more focused discussions about what they would need to make for the performances and especially thinking about how to create the places that are represented in the stories and how we could make costumes for each character. Negotiations were held to decide which roles individuals would play during the performance. Students were encouraged to use their own emotional understanding and self-identity to determine how they would be comfortable participating, whether that was acting the part of a character or building the sets. As this work nears completion, we are in the early stages of practicing lines and inviting the students to adapt their roles and take ownership in creating their versions of the story. These practice sessions will also be a great time to work on persistence and how we respond to and overcome challenges, both individually and as a group. The students are especially excited about planning for the future of their performances by writing invitations to an audience and performing for several groups.
From this one simple, student-initiated activity (storytelling), we have been able to incorporate elements from every domain of our assessment tool. This also addresses the main academic areas that will be stressed in Kindergarten – literacy, math, scientific processes and critical thinking – and supports overall socioemotional development as the students work as part of a group to accomplish a defined goal.