I used to get involved in many different conversations through Twitter. Pre-COVID. Maybe this was a time when life seemed less complicated and when emotions didn’t run quite so high. In the last few months, I find myself reading less tweets, and really thinking about how I want to connect online. Maybe I’ve become a little more selfish in these COVID days, and maybe it’s okay for all of us to sometimes put “us” first. With all of this in mind, it surprised even me when I chose to reply to this tweet from Andrew Campbell the other day.
— Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) May 21, 2020
As I mentioned in my reply, I’m not sure that I totally agree.
I think that a lot comes down to how we use these online platforms, as well as the interests and needs of the students in front of us. We differentiate in the classroom, so why not online?
My teaching partner, Paula, and I have been discussing this a lot lately. As I mentioned in my last blog post, our approach to online learning has gradually shifted/evolved in the past seven weeks. While we offer a lot of asynchronous options through our class blog, we also try to support these choices through our daily class meetings. Now though, the weather is getting nicer, we’ve almost finished our second month of learning at home, some home realities have changed (with a few parents going back to work), and our numbers are slowly dropping. While for five weeks, we had 23-26/28 students consistently joining us for our daily meetings, we now have 15-19 students attending. We sent out an anonymous survey to parents to try and find out some reasons behind this trend, and if there’s anything else we can do to support different needs. The most consistent feedback is that parents wanted more small group options.
Right now, we offer an online meeting from 10:00-11:00 every Monday to Thursday, with a 10:00-10:30 Fitness Friday meeting option, thanks to our fabulous Phys-Ed teacher. For the Monday-Thursday meetings, kids can come and go freely. We try to start with more of an interactive mini-lesson, and then children stay online and work with us. We check in on what they’re doing, provide feedback, and facilitate conversations between kids. Usually there are more students at the beginning of our meeting time, and then children leave, and we have a smaller group to end the call. While we always attempt to connect with all those interested, some students talk/share more, and maybe this is even what these kids need. During these meeting times though, a small group is usually around 8-10 kids. Maybe some students need less than this.
Our survey results also intersected with this week’s announcement that Ontario school buildings will stay closed for the rest of this school year. While our online classroom numbers might be dwindling, the year isn’t over yet, and Paula and I are not ready to say “goodbye” right now. Maybe another small group option will increase excitement, attendance, and engagement during the final month of school. It was with these thoughts in mind that we announced our online play dates.
Thinking about the parent “Searching For Answers” in this article, I wonder if a play date would meet his child’s needs. Now maybe, at first glance, this seems less instruction-focused than some other online learning options, but connecting and extending language and math learning during child-directed play is what Paula and I do in our physical classroom every single day. It’s the very pedagogy highlighted in our Kindergarten Program Document. With fewer children in each group and less of a formal lesson, children might also be able to talk more freely with each other, and we can support the development of social and problem solving skills as well as academic expectations. Our play time might be MUCH shorter than it is in the classroom, but we wonder if this approach will allow for an even bigger focus on relationships, which we both feel is so vital to our Document and our program.
My heart breaks when I read articles like the one that Andrew tweeted. Joining an online classroom should NOT be …
- a fight,
- an emotional upheaval,
- or a way to destroy the rest of the day.
If it is, maybe the format or the tool isn’t working for that child. What else might?
But at a time when there’s so much uncertainty and disruption to normal, sometimes just seeing a friendly face meets a social and emotional need. For many of our kids, this is true. It’s why we continue with these daily meetings. For others it isn’t, and in these cases, we find other ways. What about you? In this Distance Learning world, are there ways to meet both social and academic needs, and what ways might you suggest? Let’s share approaches, and maybe all kids can benefit from our collective voices!