Teaching 5 year-olds this year has been mostly magical. We laugh, we dance, we discover reading, we count, we dance some more. There is so much joy in the world of kindergarten. More and more, I see how important academics are for these little ones. Coming from 4th grade, it is clear that the foundations for everything starts right here.
What is also important, is that kindergarten is where social learning starts as well. This is not ground-breaking information. Folks in early childhood have been shouting this from the mountain top for years. We learn to share, to negotiate, and to solve problems. As our country struggles to land diplomacy in the real world, it is evident that learning to solve problems in school is equally important. Here’s how we fix things in kindergarten.
The structure we use is called Fix-It Conversations. This is a hodge podge of problem solving structures I have learned over the years through various websites, blogs, and programs – most notably we base it on “Peace Talks.”. None of this structure is my own, all aspects are traditions honored from other amazing teachers who have come before me.
We start by teaching kids to identify the “size” of their problem. A “one” sized problem includes things such as name calling, not sharing, being mean, etc. A “two” sized problem is anything that might include hitting, pushing, kicking, or putting hands on each other in an unwelcome way. A “three” sized problem will unlikely happen in school. These are things such as natural disasters, car accidents etc. Yes, that is a pretty big leap from two to three but it helps students to put problems into categories. We want them to know that one and two sized problems can be solved in school and they can do most of the fixing independently.
We teach students that if they have a one sized problem, they have choices. They can either let it go (we all practice letting a balloon go and some sing the song from Frozen as well) or we can have a Fix-It Conversation. A two sized problem involves talking to an adult, and usually having a Fix-It Conversation as well. Here’s how that goes.
One student invites the other to go to our Peace Corner for a Fix-It Conversation. Let’s use the example of taking a toy, something that comes up a lot, as a way of demonstrating.
Student one: I didn’t like it (or I felt ___) when you took my blocks from me.
Student two: Oh, you didn’t like (or you felt ___) when I took your blocks?
Student one: Yes (if student two didn’t repeat correctly, student one says no and tries again.)
Student two: I took your block because _____.
Student one: Oh, you took my block because ______.
Student two: Yes (or no if not repeated correctly and student two tries again.)
Student one or student two: How can we fix this problem? Let’s make a plan.
Students work out a plan.
Student two: I can ask before I take a block.
Student one: Ok! (Or offers another solution until an agreement is reached.)
Students finish conversation with a handshake, high five, or gentle hug.
As you can see, it is not only important for each student to express their concerns, it is also important for each student to show they listened. By asking students to repeat what the other student said, students are less likely to go back and forth arguing about what they think happened. This Fix-It Conversation example is for kindergarten. In older grades, conversations are more involved, but students still working to express their own feelings and understand the other person’s feelings. I’ve also had older students fill out a Peace Treaty, a written document showing what the problem was and how they decided to fix it.
Using Fix-It Conversations has lead to increased student independence in solving problems in our classroom. We also use these as teachers! We have some challenging students in our classroom who sometimes employ the “cross my arms and stomp my feet” method of showing how they feel when given a direction. Often, I ask these students if they would like to have a Fix-It Conversation with me. And sometimes when a student breaks a class rule, I’ll skip the consequence and have a Fix-It Conversation again. I find that this deflates a lot of angry feelings. Kids feel heard and respected when we, as teachers, hold ourselves to the same expectations as we hold them. We even video tape some of our Fix-It Conversations and show the videos throughout the year as a refresher, or share them with other classes hoping to use a similar structure.
Fix-It Conversations have changed the tone our our classroom. They help students resolve issues independently so they can get back to the academic learning as well. But most importantly, Fix-It Conversations are creating a path toward adulthood better than anything else I have seen.
* I See I Learn at School, a comprehensive early childhood program from Pearson Education, features Stuart J. Murphy’s I See I Learn books, along with teacher’s guides, videos, take-home activities and more!