Guest post by Casey Federico, an early childhood educator based in San Francisco. Her passions include supporting Bilingual and Bicultural families, teacher-led professional development, fighting for equity in early childhood, and tinkering for all ages. Casey works with Ryoko, Steph, and Karen in twice weekly Zoom tinkering sessions with Mr. Limata's class in Oakland.
I have had the honor of studying Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain with the i3 Institute, and am newly committed to the tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching. Years ago I learned the phrase “warm demander” from a professional development workshop as a synonym for “tough love”, and I see now I learned that phrase all wrong! In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain I am learning the true meaning of the phrase: a teacher who connects deeply with students, with real regard for their lives and experience; who celebrates their brilliance AND holds them to high standards as independent learners.
In my work with the Tinkering Studio, I have had the honor of joining Peter Limata’s 2nd grade class at Emerson Elementary twice a week. Together with Tinkering Studio colleagues, I have gotten to know Peter’s class and his special teaching style. Peter has a way of celebrating a child while pushing them just a tiny bit more. The other day I got to witness him supporting a new reader reading a long sentence with new vocabulary. He kept reminding her, “you’ve got this… that’s right…” without filling in the next word when he knew she’d get there. The words came into my mind again, “warm demander!”
During our tinkering sessions with Peter’s class I have wondered about the role of a visitor in pushing student’s thinking, especially with open-ended tinkering explorations. Often I have questioned whether to ask for more from a student’s explanation, wondering if I have enough personal capital with that student. With those questions in mind, I was so taken with our visit from artist Hanoch Piven.
Hanoch Piven shares his creative approach to “drawing” with found objects in a series of children’s books. In Making Faces, Hanoch shows how faces can be created with meaningful found objects that speak to personality and identity. During his visit to Peter’s class, Hanoch introduced his art and told the students, “when we make art we are allowed to think for ourselves.” As he demonstrated his technique he created an immediate rapport with the students. He made a self-deprecating joke about talking too much, and a talkative student jumped right in: “I don’t think you talk too much at all!”
As students began creating their own faces with objects from their homes, Hanoch invited students up on screen, spotlighting their work as they created. What struck me about his facilitation was his combination of enthusiasm and… you guessed it… high expectations. When a student showed a large person he was creating with objects on the floor, Hanoch shared, “Great job - I love it. Now let me see how you can include the vacuum behind you to create something even bigger.” With another student, Hanoch said, “this is a truly great beginning, now show me how you could use those shells to change the expression.” Without knowing the students before the session, he was able to create connection and push them towards a next step.
After this session with Hanoch, I am feeling inspired to try out a new balance of enthusiasm and high expectation for the brilliant learners I get to explore tinkering with. How can I share my genuine delight in their creations while supporting their next steps and experimentation?