Trying, Reflecting, And Trying Again: Our Distance Learning Mantra

This weekend, I had the intention of publishing one — and only one blog post. It’s funny though how reflecting can lead to more reflecting, and this is exactly what happened yesterday. While there were many different points in yesterday’s blog post, the part that I kept coming back to again and again, was around the large group Google Meet call. It’s one of our couple of “bads,” but it’s the one that we’re finding hardest to change.

Yesterday, a mother made this comment when I shared my blog post.

The mom gave me permission to share her comment here, but I said that I would remove her name.

These two sentences sum up why my teaching partner, Paula, and I cannot seem to give up these large group calls. We know that they’re not perfect — far from it, in fact — but the joy that comes from kids seeing each other and us, makes them beneficial. Yes, they see some of their friends in the small group discussions, but not everyone. So many of our children really want to wave “hello” to the class. Now what?

It was actually an unplanned Google Meet call that Paula and I had yesterday that has us exploring another option. Yesterday afternoon, Paula texted me some videos that she recorded for Tuesday. To extend on our look at fonts, but also to support some more reading and writing opportunities at home, Paula suggested an alphabet chart provocation. In her videos, she linked her thinking with a Sound Alphabet Song that we sang at school during our morning transitional time.

Making Your Own Alphabet Chart

As we were texting back and forth about these videos and how to introduce them to the class, Paula suggested the idea of playing the song as kids were joining the meeting. Maybe they would sing along at home. Could part of a normal school meeting time routine provide a calming element for kids in such a new meeting time environment?

This was definitely an interesting idea, so Paula offered to do a Google Meet with me to see if we could play the song through my computer and share it with everyone. This provided its own difficulties — which took the rest of the day to resolve, but with some better Google search terms, I did it — but as we were on together, we started to wonder if this Alphabet Song could be the start of something better.

  • Yes, due to static, we will have to sing the song in our own houses with the microphones off. Everyone though can still join together through music, and a song that many of the children use when reading and writing. 
  • Kids can then see and wave to their friends. Some children might even want to make a sign to hold up and say, “hello.” Signs could include everything from pictures to special messages to names. 
  • If the purpose of this call is really to connect, then maybe we need to reconsider what we do during it. We have images and videos that could provoke learning at home, but we share all of these with families first. Do we really have to look at them together here? If sitting and listening is an additional struggle in front of a screen, why are we doing it? Maybe this would be a better time to do a check-in with kids. Have a few children share their thumbs up, thumbs down, or thumbs sideways experiences. A couple of children could even keep a list of those that shared to help us select new kids each day. As part of this sharing, we can also talk with kids about being “good audience members online.” Since we’ve got children thinking about “fidget options” for next week, maybe students can also reflect on if their choices work well as they listen to sharing by peers. If not, what option(s) might work better for them?

We wonder now if these changes will help keep the calls shorter, the focus improved, and better meet the needs of the full class. As time goes on, we can even introduce the Q-Chart as a way to form questions and think more deeply about responses. There will still be teaching time, but the teaching might just look and sound a little different than before.

The mom’s comment that we shared at the beginning of this blog post had us wondering more about why we’re doing what we’re doing. If there is value in continuing this meeting practice, going deeper to figure out the purpose of it, might also have us better able to meet the needs of our diverse learners. Seeing our kids each day revitalizes us and so many of the students. We’re not willing to say “goodbye” to this practice yet, but maybe some further changes are in order. Trying, reflecting, and trying again: this seems to summarize our distance learning experience so far. How are you doing this, and what have you noticed by doing so? This is new learning for all of us, and maybe it’s through some additional sharing of reflections and ideas that we all improve … with kids, educators, and families equally winning as a result!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *