Grade 1 in schools is often seen as the child’s first foray into the formal academic world, consisting of rigour and a move away from play. This is not the case at B.D. Somani. Here, Grade 1 is a seamless transition for a child from Kindergarten to the Primary School. Just as in the Early Years, the emphasis continues to be on vigour, wonder and play. Block work continues to be the core of our students’ learning, encouraging them to deeply engage with their immediate environment at a more sophisticated level.
This year sees students transform into stronger readers and writers with a better grasp of language nuances and an appreciation of the beauty of language. In addition, we see enhanced social and group work skills and significant development in their numeracy and math thinking abilities. In our Grade 1 classes, our approach is on developing these skills further and growing our students into confident, lifelong learners with a broad awareness of their surroundings.
Our day typically begins with the familiar routine of circle time after which we discuss the agenda for the day. This is followed by our favourite part of the day when a few students share their experiences, which they have noted in their journals. This time is completely driven by the students themselves and they are free to share any experience they choose. Sharing their own writing and taking feedback and questions from their classmates leads to a lot of bonding and trust among our students.
We then share our homework with each other for feedback, accepting each other’s suggestions. This is followed by reading, first silently for 15 minutes, then in pairs and groups. After reading, we encourage our students to create their own stories. They work in teams to bring to life whatever they are reading using role play, songs, poems or even puppet shows.
After reading, we meet back on the floor for a 10-minute comprehension mini-lesson. This mini-lesson follows our comprehension skills for the week and is based on the book we read the previous day during read-aloud. Sometimes after a read-aloud session the students themselves also come up with great ideas such as writing a story sequel, a summary, creating their own characters, creating a song or a poem. This exploration of their imaginative and creative thinking is a joy to experience every day.
The core of the Grade 1 program is the social studies curriculum in which children learn about the components of community through block building. Their buildings are now entirely related to reality and often form a functioning community within the classroom. We take our students for frequent field trips to the places within the community that they choose to build. Through exploring their community and making observations, they are practicing first-hand research skills. On these visits, they have many meaningful questions to ask the people working there to clarify their understanding of how things work.
Lately, they have been working extremely hard to replicate the places they have visited with realistic and minute details added to their intricate buildings. At times, the whole class is taken for the trip and, at other times, it might only be a particular group. Sometimes, we are not able to visit a place of interest so we use the Library to gather information.
About an hour a day is devoted to block building, adding accessories and details, doing research and then visiting each other’s buildings in the form of dramatic play. In Grade 1, the communities constructed in the classroom may take a week or more of work. Electrical circuits may be constructed to illuminate the buildings, pulleys may be used to create lifts and, often, the bank produces miniature money to be used in dramatic play.
During our Number Talk time in Math, teachers are both facilitators and scribes. When students are explaining their thinking and math strategies, it is our job to write down exactly what they are saying. Acting as a scribe gives our students the chance to ask their friends questions and give suggestions without feeling like they are being judged or the teachers are looking for the right answer. They know that the process and the steps taken to solve problems are most important.
Some of our favourite Number Talks include Dot Talks (what do you see, how many can you count, what patterns emerge), blank Hundreds Charts (students visualise and discover the numerical patterns and the relationship between the numbers). They also solve their own math problems by using different strategies with which they are comfortable. Sometimes we divide them into two groups and each child participates and is given a chance to justify his or her answer by using various strategies. Our students enjoy creating their own number stories and math problems and are always willing to challenge their peers and teachers with them.
The students have a 40-minute lunch break where they get the opportunity to play on the field after lunch. After the break, we often use one of our mindfulness practices to calm our bodies and minds. Children find these practices helpful in their daily lives – before doing homework, when they are having difficulty settling down or at any other time when it would be useful to settle the mind.
In Grade 1, our students devote a lot of time to writing. We inspire our students to plan their writing by using a mind map, making a list of ideas or words or by using a graphic organizer. They start writing their first draft where they try to add all the details of their story. Then they elicit feedback from peers and teachers in order to make revisions. On their final draft, they edit their work by using a coloured pencil to mark proper punctuation and spelling. Children spend several days on a piece of writing and, when ready to publish, they share their final piece, sitting in the Author’s Chair. Comments and appreciation are taken from their classmates.
Throughout the week, scientific observations are made on our community visits or related to our topics of weather, rocks, and various living creatures. In addition to the core studies, Grade 1 students have regular Art, Hindi, IT, PE, Theatre, Music and Capoeira classes in their weekly timetable.
During preparation for dismissal, we pack our bags and do our respective jobs. From straightening crayons in a caddy to sharpening pencils, to organizing our classroom bookshelf, these jobs keep our classroom looking neat. After students finish their jobs, they put on their bags and are ready to leave.
Grade 1 teachers take seriously their goals to nurture children’s joy in reading, reasoning, observing and making conclusions. They use various approaches and strategies to accommodate the different learning styles and levels of maturity of students. Grade 1 is also infused with much laughter as students develop their senses of humour and appreciate funny stories and poems. There is always a sense of wonder in our classrooms as children feel comfortable sharing their important questions and ponderings.
When our students leave Grade 1, they have understood the importance of time management and self-discipline. They are able to focus, think and make independent decisions. They are more aware of the world around them and develop a sense of commitment and engagement to the larger society of which they are a part. In Grade 1, our students learn to develop their observational skills and apply them in solving problems, whether scientific, or mathematical, or even social.