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It’s Not the WHAT, but the HOW at a School Cafeteria during Lunchtime

08 Mar 2016 by Curry Ander

It's true, school cafeterias have a bad rap. Experiences in cafeterias have contributed to some low CLASS scores. For example, one observer was scoring a group of preschoolers in a public school cafeteria where all the children were required to be silent during lunch. One can hardly score high on Language Modeling or other CLASS dimensions when the children are asked to sit in silence!

I thought one way to counteract this stereotype about school cafeterias is to tell a story of a wonderful classroom observation that proves us wrong.

I was conducting a CLASS observation of a group of pre-K children getting ready to go to the cafeteria for lunch.

“Hmm," I thought. “School cafeterias are usually pretty bad.”
Then I said to myself, “Stop!” 

This negative response made my internal red flags fly. I thought, “that is a predisposition, and is not good for a CLASS observation.” It would have been better to turn this thought into, “I wonder what I’ll see,” a self-talk statement I use when I catch myself prejudging. 

I found myself writing furiously in the next 20 minutes. In fact, I saw and heard all sorts of high-level interactions. The teachers made the journey to the cafeteria and the cafeteria itself into rich interactive experiences for children.   

The observation began by noting interactions during the children’s clean up from center time. The children who had finished were singing a song with one of the two teachers while they lined up at the door.  Everyone in the classroom was busy, and the children at the door were choosing their own songs and took turns leading them. They laughed as they changed the words and made up their own songs.  They were having so much fun, the other children rushed to join them.

On the way down the endless school corridors, they played “do not step on the cracks in the linoleum.” The teacher in the back was having an in-depth conversation with a child about what he thought was going to be for lunch as compared to yesterday’s lunch that he didn’t like. The teacher in front was encouraging ideas from the children about how to not step on the cracks and walk to the beat of the song they were singing. She was also trying it herself and walking slowly to the beat, as the children were getting a little wound up. 

Soon, they were at the obligatory bathroom and hand-washing stop. The children resumed their singing, talking, and taking turns. One child who said he wanted to wait in the hall was allowed to hang back on his own near the door. 

Continuing on down the corridor maze, we finally arrived at the cafeteria. All the children knew exactly how to get their trays and their milk cartons. The teachers were retrieving their lunch boxes and bags from a cooler that seem to appear out of nowhere. Though the children didn’t get their own lunches, they did choose where to sit and they all got busy trying to get their milk cartons open. The teachers were circulating, helping them get set up, and sharing how to open the cartons with demonstrations and encouraging words. Milk cartons and straws are tricky work!

As things settled, the children were eating and talking with each other about what they liked and didn’t like in their lunches, holding up their lunch bags for others to see. 

All of a sudden, my last 20-minute observation of the day was up and I regretted that I couldn’t stay longer.  The time went by so quickly and I had seen so many great interactions! Even at lunchtime in the cafeteria, this classroom had it all happening and was a great example of a “well-oiled machine.” It made me think of all the hard work that went into making this high-scoring observation.

Thank you, wonderful teachers for helping me see how even cafeterias can be a rich learning experience.  It’s not the what or where but how teachers interact.

Do you have any tips or stories about coding in a school cafeteria? Please share your thoughts, stories, and/or tips in the comments section below!

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