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.
John Spencer and A.J. Juliani shared this graphic that they feel provides a framework for all stories.
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.
Will this blog post be required reading for new-to-your-classroom families this fall?
An interesting question, Doug! Not sure about required reading, but definitely one that I will be sharing with them as we reach out to families and find out more about their hopes and fears. Some of these families were with us this school year (when their kids were in JK), so I wonder what insights they might add to this story. I’m very curious to see how our story evolves.
You’ve thought of so many things! I feel like my classroom story for the end of they year was a tragedy. Perhaps I’ll blog about it soon. But after 4 months of watching you and lots of other educators find their groove, and working through my own learning, I feel like I am in a better position to provide good (decent…not great, but okay) online learning in the fall. I feel that valuable time was lost as we tried to support families (and educators) learn how to sign in and access some of our critical pieces. We spent all of April working that out. Some families gave up before it was sorted. In June I was realizing important things that I wish I had known from the start. I will take those thing with me into September. I expected support to come in different forms than it actually came in and from different people. Simultaneously I was trying to work though a home routine for myself and my family. By the end I was scheduling work time for us and I wish I had done that from the start. So…hindsight and all that…looking forward, I do feel 90% prepared to be online at some point in the week/month/school year.
I’ll let you know when I publish my blog post on this topic!
Thanks for sharing, Lisa! I wish your story wasn’t a tragedy, but I do love reading about the learning you did as a result. It looks like we might get another opportunity or two to do some online learning next year, so maybe this provides the chance to try out some new things. I know that even with our success at times, we also have done a lot of reflecting and have some anticipated changes depending on what September brings. Paula and I also have different family situations, which may not have led to that other layer that you described here. Please do let me know if/when you blog about your story. I think that we can all learn a little bit from each other: both with what worked and what didn’t.
I’ve started some posts about remote learning, but haven’t been able to finish them. I hope to be able to do that soon. I love how you’ve included your tweets in the blog. Shows the progression in real time. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Ramona! Maybe the biggest struggle that Paula and I had with remote learning was around documentation: https://adunsiger.com/2020/06/18/professional-wonderings-what-might-assessment-and-reflection-look-like-in-the-time-of-covid/. We didn’t want to record or photograph synchronous learning, and while some parents shared asynchronous examples with us for the blog, so much learning and reflecting happened as a result of our online meetings. I tended to use tweets and blog posts as a way to capture some of these moments. It felt right to make them part of our story. Glad you liked them. I really hope that you finish some of your remote learning posts. I’d love to read them!
I’m glad that Lisa C admitted that her story might be a tragedy, because I feel that way about mine.
I know, like Ramona, that I need to write about this, but I’m not sure where to start. My class was not “easy” in person, which made pulling us together as a community virtually even more challenging. Some of my students were overjoyed at not having to be at school in spaces that felt unsafe to them.
I feel like the biggest thing I learned, that I have to work on, is that I have to have relationships with parents solidly in place. Many of my students’ parents were hard to reach (because they were dealing with a crud load of stuff of their own), and others saw anything we sent out as “homework”, and felt like it was their responsibility to help with it (which it wasn’t). That took a lot of work to straighten out.
I also wish I’d offered more chances for my students to connect with me and each other synchronously. My kids who needed that connection (some of whom were home on their own through the day – I teach Grade 7) would have benefited from more of that.
Thanks Lisa for also being so open about your story. While you said that it was “a tragedy,” I wonder if the learning that happened as a result made it more than that. It sounds like you also have some ideas that may be beneficial if/when we need to move to distance learning again.
While I might say that our whole story wasn’t a tragedy, it also wasn’t perfect. There were things that worked, things that didn’t, things that we revised during the process, and things that we continue to reconsider, especially knowing that our Board has moved to Microsoft Teams (for now and for next year). Even in the midst of some successes, the need to reflect and change regularly, I think also benefits kids. It reminded me of the STORY MAKING book that I just finished reading this morning. If we always keep materials and spaces the same all year long, eventually we run into problems. Small changes and big changes can be beneficial in the classroom and online (I think).
I hope that you do write your story, and if you do, I’d love to read it. I wonder how much we could all learn from each other’s stories.