Summer’s begun, and for me, that means the beginning of summer reading. While I tend to read primarily mystery and suspense novels, I also decided to read a professional book: Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning.
There are many elements of this book that I could blog about, but one part that really had me thinking, focused on storytelling.
Let me use it to tell our story. Not a story of the entire year. Not even a story of the entire time that the world came to a standstill. But part of our story over the last three months of school.
Growing up, I loved reading fairy tales, and I feel this push to start our story with “once upon a time.” But it’s not a fairy tale, nor is it make believe, but if you told me before the start of COVID-19 that …
- I’d be living in the time of a pandemic,
- teaching kindergarten at home, online,
- “school” — back in the building of school — would end on March 13th,
- and this would be happening just about everywhere around the world,
I would have told you that this would make a great plotline for a book. This isn’t fictional though. And so instead, I will choose to begin my story — our class story — like this:
Once upon a real time, not that long ago, when the Coronavirus travelled around the world and we were all living in the midst of a pandemic, our classroom changed. I still remember the day when our principal, Gerry Smith, told us that distance learning was our new reality. How long would it last? What might it look like? Would we be going back to school again? Nobody knew.
There are so many characters that could be part of this story. Every educator, administrator, parent, and child has his/her own story to tell. This story though starts with two characters: me and my teaching partner, Paula. We faced the problem of figuring out how to teach kindergarten online using a play-based learning approach that is at the heart of all that we do.
As in the classroom, we looked to our students and their families as our guides. We tried to connect with them online using a synchronous learning approach. This started with some sharing. A thumbs up and thumbs down check-in. While kids came, parents looked in, and siblings participated, we noticed that bodies might be there but engagement was low. Now what?
Many kids were drawing and writing as they sat with us online, and so we wondered what might happen if we began creating together. An interactive lesson of sorts. Still open-ended. Let children do what works for them, but see if a starting point might lead to more discussion and a way to provoke learning after the call.
This was a good start. It was better. But there was still something bothering us. In the classroom, we would never all be doing the same thing at the same time. Free, child-led play is at the heart of our instruction, and the thinking, learning, and creating that stems from this play is magical for us. How might we play online?
We decided to provide some choices of materials, various provocations, and the playing alongside kids that works so well in our classroom space.
Today, we're trying something a little different during our meeting time. We're going to be "playing together." Different materials. Slightly different projects. Us there to facilitate, as kids also (hopefully) talk with each other. Not sure how this will work, but eager to see.
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) May 12, 2020
Did it work?
That was THE BEST experience ever!! We just played with our class online. Played. Built together. Created together. Talked together. Offered feedback & extended learning,but in a real play-based online atmosphere. My teacher heart is beyond happy right now!! @GSmith_ @moojean_seo
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) May 12, 2020
You would think that this might be the end of our story, but it wasn’t. For you see, as we continued this approach, here’s what we noticed.
While I love how we're able to play with kids online now, and facilitate this play in our online space, I also realize that fewer kids are coming. Why? Is it the move to play? Less structure? Could parents be looking for more? Adding a structured component in tomorrow.
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) May 13, 2020
This called us to action, and we reached out to parents with a survey. What’s working well for them? What isn’t? What else might they want to see through these synchronous learning sessions? We provided choices and allowed comments. While a few parents wanted time to play, many wanted a mini-lesson and follow-up sharing time.
We tried to facilitate both. We let kids bring what worked for them, provided a daily provocation, supported what various kids were doing, and allowed for sharing during the process. In addition, we created a virtual playdate, for a little small group playing time for those interested.
So did this story end as a comedy or as a tragedy? I think it depends on the child. There were many remarkable moments and great stories …
Best comment from our online meeting this morning. “That video was actually really helpful. I learned how to make my dad’s beard.” 💕 Thanks @msamylemons! Our child’s reflections speak volumes about the impact of your video!
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) June 17, 2020
I love how even young students could have thoughtful discussions on a very grown-up, and quite abstract, topic! This seriously made my day. ♥️♥️ A good reminder for us to never underestimate what kids can do. 💕 @GSmith_ @moojean_seo
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) June 10, 2020
Paula & I reflected on this after the meeting time today. Could our 8 straight weeks of meetings, with the muting & unmuting practice, have led to this? Is it the routine that made this possible? I wonder. In our big group, online, social skills happened. 💕 @GSmith_ @moojean_seo https://t.co/CmHkX2spfY
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) May 27, 2020
Online Meeting Reflections: 1) FaceTime tea parties sound like fun!💕 Glad that even our youngest learners are finding ways to connect with friends. 2) I ❤️ how our kids are beginning to recognize & respond to others in the class. 3) Mute is now part of a 4-year-old’s vocabulary. pic.twitter.com/o7pcovXjdt
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) April 30, 2020
A good reminder for us not to give up on kids or families. You never know. Connections are always possible, even at the most unexpected of times. A #happyteacher today. Sometimes I need to celebrate these small moments. What about you? cc @GSmith_ @moojean_seo
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) June 9, 2020
but there were also those kids who never really found their niche.
- Was it too hard to see their friends online but not in person?
- Did asynchronous options then still not provide the same immediate feedback that they might get in the classroom?
- Or were there additional considerations (including the stress of the time, parent work schedules, and the sharing of devices) that came into play?
We tried to reach out in different ways (e.g., phone calls), connect through our blog, and provide other alternatives (e.g., meeting online at a different time or with a smaller group), but nothing seemed to work perfectly for everyone. And so our story ends in the middle somewhere, between comedy and tragedy.
If the world was back to normal, maybe you would say that next year’s story will be totally different. But the Fall brings with it many unknowns, and we hope that we might be able to use our learning from the last three months of school to help us with our new story. We look ahead thinking about …
- the different ways to build relationships online,
- the value of small group connections,
- the need for interaction,
- the importance of involving parents and families in the learning process,
- the value of stories (both our stories and the ones shared by our kids),
- and the need to evolve. Just like we’re constantly reconsidering our provocations, environment, and approaches in the classroom, the same holds true online.
Our story is one that isn’t over yet. New kids, new families, new requirements, and a new year will likely shift to a new story. I’m sharing our story here as a way to reflect, and I hope that you share yours. What is your story? I wonder where the comedy/tragedy line falls for you.