One week. We’ve officially been teaching from home for a week now. Really four days due to the Easter long weekend. As an avid Twitter user, I will tell you that this social media platform has been full of tweets about the first week of learning: some good stories to share, some bad, and certainly lots of conversing along the way. I’ve shared snippets of my week through Twitter, but after some additional online reflection time with my teaching partner, Paula, I decided to write this post to commemorate our first week of distance learning.
Seeing Kids – Like many educators out there, I missed seeing and being with students. Three weeks away is a lot. Three weeks away in kindergarten seems like forever. When Paula and I found out about Microsoft Teams, we thought that this would be the perfect way to connect with the class and to have kids connecting with each other. This is really a case of “relationships first.” We know that we’ve built a classroom community already, but with time away from the classroom and now a new educational experience, we felt that for learning to happen, we have to solidify these relationships again. Online. While we ran into a few problems with Teams — some that might be corrected in the coming weeks — we found another Board approved platform to use: Google Meet (I initially thought that this was called Google Hangouts, but I’ve learned differently since).
While we’ll dig into our Google Meet experience later, the BEST thing that this platform has allowed for us to do is connect with the class. I keep thinking of one child who logs into our meetings each day: the second that she sees everyone, her face brightens up with a HUGE smile. It makes my day. I’m drawn back again to this recent tweet of mine.
A microphone & camera is not the same as being in the same room together, but it's a start. For some kids, just seeing, waving, & saying "hi" or "goodbye" to their friends is enough. Enough normal. Enough to make them believe that everything is going to be okay. To me,that's key.
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) April 8, 2020
Attendance – While I’ve heard about some people in the States taking attendance online, we don’t, but Paula and I are always curious about the numbers. Each day we discuss them. As part of our online learning option, we’ve scheduled a Google Meet each day from 10:00-11:00. As we’ll share below, this is really two different Google Meets, and the times are approximate, but most students come for the first part (20-30 minutes). This is not mandatory, and children are welcome to come and go whenever works for them. That said, we started the week with 23/28 students, and we ended the week with 26/28. The numbers were in between these two all week long. We’ve now seen and spoken to all kids on this platform minus two, and we’ve connected with them in other ways. Children keep coming back day after day, and while I wonder if these numbers will continue in the coming weeks, it makes me happy to connect with the class, even for small bursts of time.
Small Group Meeting Times – After our first Google Meet, Paula and I knew that something needed to change. The kids are so eager to talk to us and to each other that sharing seemed to take forever. No longer can kids just open their mouths and speak, but unmuting the microphone and dealing with static issues are now part of the process. We wondered if some small group meeting times might be the solution. Paula and I have never done reading groups, for example, so while we wanted to group kids, we didn’t necessarily want to group them based on levels. What about interests? These are harder to determine in an online platform, but maybe we could start with some general interests, and then based on the sharing, modify the topics. So we started with a Wednesday sharing around Art, a Thursday sharing around Building/Construction, and a Friday sharing around Writing (not this week, of course, because of Good Friday). Kids and parents can determine the meetings that they want to attend, and they sign-up, so that we can keep groups on the smaller side. On the other days, we decided to let all those kids that want to leave, go after our Full Class Meeting Time, and then we stay around for those that want to share. These other sharing times could be on anything. For example, one child wrote a story to read to us and another child shared a flag that he made. It’s in these small group times that we’re able to ask questions, give feedback, and even suggest some possible next steps. Discussion times can be longer as there are fewer kids in the room.
Yesterday, something amazing happened, as we noticed kids started to make connections between what others had shared, what they have done in the past, and even learning that happened at school. A couple of children could unmute their microphones at the same time and have a discussion with each other, and in a smaller group, Paula and I could easily help facilitate this conversation. Then when Paula mentioned making a “tally chart” to track successes, another child commented on a chart that his mom made to track successes and failures on a bicycle and a scooter. He remembered using these headings in some of the marble run tally charts that we made at school. What a fantastic connection and a perfect segue into math! With less kids there, we could go deeper with this group.
Targeted Feedback – Paula and I like to give specific feedback when working with students in the classroom, but usually, in a class of 28 students with many things on the go, this feedback is always given quickly and in the midst of other things happening. Sometimes following up on it is more difficult, or providing additional examples to support the child becomes more challenging. In the online classroom — whether through Google Meet or through our Class Blog — we seem to have more time to think about feedback and discuss it with the child. In the past week, we’ve seen how our suggestions (whether aloud or in writing) have impacted on the subsequent choices that kids have made. Maybe the same holds true in the classroom, but somehow it’s easier to miss this happening. We did not miss these examples!
The Easter Books
Family Involvement – While we’ve always had involved parents, I think that the level of parent engagement has increased since moving our classroom online. Often families participate in our Google Meet. We have siblings that listen together and parents that listen and chime in. One step-mom even made the connection to Art Attack when we shared some laundry art examples, and this inspired even more laundry art and a stuffed sculpture.
We could then extend on these creations by looking at the addition of labels and titles, while also exploring measurement.
Parents are also regularly sharing their children’s work with us, and chiming in with feedback and questions that help us modify our approaches. I think that these three tweets and one blog post sum up our positive family experiences in the past week. We love that parents help us think more and think differently, and it’s the regular conversations that make a huge difference.
It's a learning curve for everyone. Love that we're able to work with our parents to figure out plans that work for all kids. A #TeamEffort for sure. #ptchat #schoolwithoutwallsHWDSB cc @GSmith_ @moojean_seo https://t.co/sRzaYr97AH
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) April 6, 2020
Just received the loveliest of emails from a parent. At a time when things are so different than usual and there is a lot out of our control, kind words can go a long way. Makes me think of who deserves a “thank you” and how I can send it. Thanks to this mom for making our day!💕
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) April 7, 2020
This is not an easy time for anyone, but the fact that we can connect to make this time a little better, makes my heart happy. I think we all need to find a little positive these days. 💕 #schoolwithoutwallshwdsb https://t.co/381cC21rQJ
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) April 7, 2020
Educator Connections – While not being in the same building makes it harder to communicate at times, being at home with nowhere to go, does give some additional time to connect. Paula and I have definitely appreciated the electronic connections with some different teachers at our school. Through Twitter, I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Karen Wilkins: our Teacher Librarian. I stand firmly behind this tweet from the other day.
If you are not already following @ArtsHWDSB and @SWOLearningCo, now would be a great time to do so. She posts incredible ideas online that easily connect with math & language expectations. Perfect for multiple grades. Check them out! She’s inspired our students almost every day.
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) April 9, 2020
She has inspired our students with different provocations throughout the week, and always replies with feedback when we share their work with her. She’s even going to chime in on our small group Art discussion this week, and her background in The Arts is sure to help push all of our thinking.
These are great! Wonderful artistic observation skills on the chip bag! I also really ❤️ his name logo too! The POP art connections are great artists to explore! Might be fun to also share onomatopoeia words, graphic words too! How do they draw it to look & sound like it means?
— Karen Wilkins (@ArtsHWDSB) April 9, 2020
LOVE this SO much! So much attention to details and a brilliant use of line and colour! I have had a few conversations in the library with him about dragons – he is very knowledgeable! So great!!!
— Karen Wilkins (@ArtsHWDSB) April 9, 2020
There are less visual cues. – The insights from a parent (with permission to share) made us think more about this point. For some students — be it those with different learning needs or those where English is a second language — understanding instructions is often based on both what is said and what is shown/done. On Google Meet, for example, seeing and presenting visuals is a little more difficult. We do have some video and photograph provocations that we share — which we are able to do by sharing our screens with kids — but sometimes this is not the same as incorporating the visuals while talking. Responses to questions seem to be more oral, and I’m wondering how even a few hand actions or pointing might help with understanding. I love how parents are supporting kids as well, by even translating at times. We do share activities and links to videos and photographs through our class blog and through email. Maybe a couple of follow-up videos (at times) with additional visuals would help. There is definitely still more learning to do around this point, and I’m curious how others have addressed this issue.
“It’s Just Not The Classroom!” – In many ways, this sums up the bad. Yes, Google Meet allows us to connect face-to-face with kids, but still with the limitations that happen behind a screen.
- We lack the proximity to students, which impacts on both interactions and attention.
- We lack the ease in communicating without having to fool with a microphone.
- We lack the ability for some choral reading/singing, as too many microphones off at the same time provides too much static.
- We lack the same knowledge about our kids, as much of the day we don’t see them, so we’re piecing things together based on what parents have shared through emails, what students have shared through discussions, and what we observe.
- We lack the same level of engagement as you get face-to-face, as everyone is sitting behind a screen. Little images are not the same as real people.
Paula and I chatted the most about these points yesterday, and it’s what eventually prompted the writing of this email.
I usually dislike fidget toys and would do anything possible to avoid suggesting them — as I often find that they become a bigger distraction than a help — but watching our kids in the small group session yesterday, I might argue the opposite. Maybe we need to reconsider what listening online looks like. Will this make a difference for all of us, and make the online classroom that much better? Maybe, in time, the full group discussions will be replaced by more small group conversations, but I keep thinking about those children that glow when they see their friends each day. Does even a few minutes of checking in with the full class, make a difference for these kids?
Now I know that Paula and I are not like some other educators out there with young children at home that they are also trying to support while educating their students online. Maybe then we would have some “ugly moments” to share. All of our parents also have at least some access to devices and Wifi, and with many low-tech activity suggestions, everyone seems to be able to do something. I also know that both Paula and I would jump at the chance to go back to our classroom environment if it was safe to do so. But online is our reality for now, and I’m grateful to have a job doing something that I love. I remind myself of this when days aren’t perfect and I wish/hope for something more, something better, and/or something like we used to have in our room. But reflecting helps, and thinking back to the good and bad of this past week, makes me realize that there is still a lot to celebrate in the midst of not the greatest of times. Somehow this keeps me going. What about you? Parents, educators, and administrators, what are your “good, bad, and maybe even, ugly” moments? I wonder if we’ll all see things differently the more that we delve deeper into the past week. I’m curious to know what the upcoming week will bring.