Never Say Never: Reflecting, Hope, A New Possibility!

When at school, my teaching partner, Paula, and I reflect constantly. You can often find us in the classroom, sitting on two little chairs together after school, sharing our observations, engaging in kid talk, and trying to figure out what to add or change to make things better. Even when things are going well, these discussion times remain, but usually with a focus on how to continue the momentum. As the After Care Program comes in from outside, and some of our kids enter the classroom again, we’ll even have them join in on the conversation and the planning. It’s a whole system of reflection that works.

Now though, teaching and learning looks totally different … but this week, we were reminded how reflection time is equally valuable.

Earlier in the week, we noticed that our Class Video Meets, which usually have 23-26 students attend, had lower numbers than usual. Why? At first, we attributed this to some Internet problems in the area, but the slightly lower numbers continued. Now around 20 students was our norm, and while these video conferences have never been required, we couldn’t figure out the reason for the dip. We always invite parents to email us their feedback, but nobody shared any concerns with us, so now we needed to do some of our own investigating. Paula and I decided to watch kids closely during the online meetings, and see if we could garner anything from their words and actions. We noticed that while some children were excited to share their learning with us, others seemed quite fidgety. They wanted to stay, but didn’t necessarily have anything to add. The nature of the platform coupled with the age of our kids, seem to lead to a lot of turn-taking sharing, but is there a way to make it more than that?

This led to us discussing the possibility of doing an interactive lesson online. 

  • All of our children have paper and a drawing/writing instrument. What if they brought one with them to “class?”
  • We’ve been looking at some artwork that includes shapes and lines. What if Paula demonstrated how to draw different shapes and lines?
  • Kids could practice on their own papers, and then look at how to combine these shapes and lines together to create something. What could they make?
  • We hate to limit creativity time, but would the addition of a timer help keep things on track and support some deeper focus? Kids could always continue drawing or writing past the timer if they want to do so.

I’ll admit that this approach made both of us feel uncomfortable. We never get all children to do the same thing at the same time … or even something so similar. This drawing activity seemed very prescribed, and we wanted to make sure that there were still multiple entry points. Looking at some of our children that seem the most disengaged online — a word that bothers me, but also a truthful representation of what we were seeing — we thought that their love of the Arts would help make this activity a calming one for them, and might increase their interest in this online learning space. Could students then take what they started here, and extend their learning independently at home?

We thought that this new approach was worth a try, and so, we tried yesterday. This was definitely our best meeting yet!

  • When we emailed parents to tell them our plans, more kids came to the meeting to participate in the activity. This had our attendance up closer to normal.
  • Kids carefully watched Paula’s demonstration, and then began to draw their own shapes and lines, which slowly evolved to multiple amazing masterpieces. One child drew a story involving a girl, while another created a beach story with some “abstract seagulls.” A couple of kids created Turtle Island: linking to our classroom learning. Another child drew a group of “zig zag monsters.” There was even a child, who used the lines to form numbers and letters, including an attempt at a “cursive e.” (Due to privacy reasons, I couldn’t take any photographs of the work shared, so hopefully the descriptions suffice.)
  • Everyone could participate. Paula really focused in on the lines and shapes, so kids could apply this learning in multiple ways. While some children just worked on drawing different shapes, others connected the shapes to make pictures. A few students even added words and colours, with one JK child sounding out “Beach” as a title for his picture, while an SK child labelled the entire drawing of her apartment building. I love that we didn’t even make these writing suggestions, but kids chose to do so on their own.
  • Students applied what they learned at school, but in a different context. One JK child shared her incredibly detailed house picture, with little windows and people playing “below them.” She even drew a “concentric sun.” It was great to hear her using the language that we learned during our study of Kandinsky’s work, but in a different context. Concentric shapes must have been popular, as another child drew a picture on an iPad of a jellyfish, and pointed out the “concentric circles” that she included. 
  • Conversation flowed naturally over this same, but different, work. To avoid having too many microphones on at the same time, and hearing a ton of static, usually kids raise their hands to add to the conversation. I pick students, who then unmute their microphone, share their work, and then mute their microphone again. As kids held up some of their work though, they began to notice similarities and differences in their pictures. Sharing seemed to flow naturally. While we did quickly get to a point where I started picking kids again, there was a beautiful few minutes of children muting and unmuting microphones, one after the other, sharing their work, questioning each other, and making connections between their artwork. It was short, but it was perfect! 

When the call ended yesterday, Paula and I spoke about how to continue with this approach. We are going to break things down into smaller bits to allow for multiple mini-lessons, but with an equal amount of open-endedness and sharing. Will this approach work forever? Likely not. Just as we had to make a change on Friday, we know that there will be more changes to come. But upon further reflection, Paula and I realized that in our classroom at school, we’re constantly making small changes. 

  • It could be adding a material.
  • It could be taking something away.
  • It could be describing a new technique or approach.

Small changes — based on observations, and with the intent of extending interest and learning — are a key component of our classroom approach … so how did we miss this component in our online classroom approach? A couple of days ago, I shared this tweet.

I’m fortunate to have a wonderful teaching partner, who shares our online classroom with me, just as she shares our classroom at school. With everyone at home alone though, I wonder about partnerships and connections in other grades. How might you reflect together now? What do these partnerships look like in our new distance learning reality? While in many ways, Paula and I are happy with how things are going in Distance Kindergarten, nothing is perfect. We were reminded of that this week. But hopefully some more reflection conversations will continue to help us tweak our program to better meet the needs of kids. And in this online environment, something that we would have never considered before, became the best new addition to our space. Another reminder of just how different our world is right now, and how some “never’s” might actually hold some amazing possibilities.



2 thoughts on “Never Say Never: Reflecting, Hope, A New Possibility!

  1. I am very intrigued by this approach, as you were sharing how to draw the shapes, did you do it on the whiteboard part? (How were the students able to see well?)
    I am also super impressed at how well you know the technology. As far as I knew you could only see four participants at one time, but you have upwards of 20. How are you doing this? Perhaps you could offer a professional development hour!

    • Thanks for the comment, Eileen! Paula modelled the drawing by angling the camera down to the paper that she was drawing on. I pinned her and shared the Desktop, so that kids could see her in a slightly bigger frame. This helped. She has a good webcam too, so the image was also really clear. At the time of this, we were using Google Meet, as Teams wasn’t ready for us back on April 6th and our Board is still supporting Google until the end of this school year, so Meet was the other option. You can see everyone with Meet. The same approach can be used for Teams though. The sharing approach still works. Right now, you can only see 4 per screen, but that’s changing to 9 really soon. A few of our kids already had the 9 update. Again, smaller groups definitely work better here. Hope this helps! I would love to hear the approaches you try and how they work.


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