by Lisa Bush, reposted with permission from Purple Semicolon;
Let’s talk for a moment about my daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. X.
No, that is not her real name, but I would like to protect her identity and “X” has a cool, mysterious sound to it. And Ms. X is very cool. She wears fun shoes and sings. During this remote learning journey, Ms. X has everything done perfectly. PERFECTLY.
She follows the Alberta Education Guidelines. She focuses on basic literacy and numeracy skills. She provides open-ended assignments that follow a clear pattern every week. She assigns a small number of assignments that are fun, hands-on, age appropriate, easily adaptable, and simple. She has one class meeting each week for 30 minutes.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy as Ms. X (and now my daughter who adores Ms. X) says.
From an educator’s perspective, any family should be able to do Ms. X’s assignments.
Any. Family. At. All.
We cannot do them. On a good week we might turn in two assignments. Some weeks we don’t get any turned in. Sometimes we catch up over the weekend. Sometimes we don’t. From a pedagogical perspective, what would help this situation?
Should Ms. X be more entertaining? No. That is impossible. Her class meetings are better than Netflix. They are the highlight of our week.
Should she be more organized? No. She is perfectly organized, even by my own high standards. I have very clear expectations of her assignments every week.
Does she need to start flip-grid conversations or ask me to download interactive apps to engage my daughter further? No. That would send my anxiety skyrocketing and I would most likely shut down completely.
Should she send me emails about my kid’s missing assignments? No, that would anger me immensely.
Basically, there is nothing that Ms. X could do better.
You see, teachers, this is not on Ms. X, It’s on us. It is on me and my family. And here is where we are. Husband: full-time job. Me: full-time assistant principal. 50+ hours of daycare for my children: gone.
We do take education seriously. But it’s not our top priority. Our top priority is keeping our kids alive in a very literal sense. Also high on the list is to not do irreversible damage to our mental health and to do the jobs that pay our mortgage (especially critical during these times of economic chaos). And sometimes that is all I can do in a day.
So, some days—sure—we turn in my daughter’s journal entry. But most days my children roam the house like feral animals hiding cake under their bed, pulling the wooden boards off our backyard fence to make see-saws, and painting their eyelids pink as my husband and I teach and work online.
I share this with you because I know that countless families are in similar or more complex situations than my own.
I know that many of you are in similar or more complex situations than my own.
So, if your students are not responding well to remote learning, please, please do not take it as a personal reflection of you. Your students love you. They miss you. But that doesn’t equate with them having the capability of turning in all, or any, of your assignments.
Please reach out to them. Check in to see if they are physically and mentally safe.
But also know that, you are doing an amazing job. Your ability to adapt to this new reality has been nothing short of astounding. Resist the urge to judge your own worth as a teacher by how things are playing out now. And, please, do whatever it is that you need to keep yourself mentally safe and healthy.
by Brenda Stein Dzaldov, PhD & Ariella Segal, MEd, BSW
The jump to online learning has been quick all across the world, which has created a steep learning curve for teachers shifting to online learning, and for students and caregivers who are navigating this new reality — the reality of emergency teaching and learning.
As educators during a global pandemic, our first thoughts were, “Are our students and their families okay?” This very stressful time necessitates the need to check in on mental health and ensure that students and families have their basic needs met before they can start focusing on learning.
As online learning ramped up just a few weeks ago, educators were faced with a wide range of technical challenges: How do we get our students learning? Do our students have reliable access to technology? How can we get students and caregivers online? Can I find resources that they can “click on” that will keep them learning and working on meaningful activities? What are the best ways to teach online?
As different schools and different Boards of Education began using different tools (eg. phone calls, Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Learning Management Systems), educators started by contacting families and then sharing video links, free online learning spaces, and posted activities. However, it quickly became apparent that assigning links, sharing vast amounts of content information, and hoping that the caregivers who are isolating with young children can support teaching and learning would require a new, more systematic approach. These realizations guided the process:
Parents and caregivers don’t have the knowledge, skills, and tools to step in as surrogate educators
Young children require a lot of step-by-step scaffolding in order to start the type of independent learning that is necessary in this new online learning environment
It takes years of training in pedagogy, content knowledge, psychology, and many other fields to become a teacher. Imagine if, suddenly, your accountant couldn’t support you in managing your investments and taxes anymore. Instead, you received a great link to a website that explained how to do these complex tasks, with the assumption that you could print and navigate the necessary forms and fill them out. We’re quite sure we wouldn’t suddenly be able to manage our investments and do our taxes with that type of information!
So, let’s take a step back. As teachers collect resources, check-in to see if students and families are okay, and share or post activities for students to complete (alone or with a caregiver), we need a lens for understanding this new reality from the perspectives of the learner, the caregiver, and the educator. Let’s widen our view and think about some big issues that need to be addressed so that online learning can start to be joyful and productive learning for our youngest students and their caregivers.
1) Navigating this new environment Think about students entering the online environment in the same way as they would enter school on the first day. Students need to find their classroom, figure out how to enter the room, where their belongings will be kept, where they will sit, and how to interact together in this classroom. The same thinking needs to happen for this new virtual environment.
Spend some time orienting students and their caregivers to the new “classroom.” Teach students and their caregivers how to use any new technology or links and how to access resources that will regularly be shared with them, including worksheets, texts, and internet sites. Use step-by-step instruction or short videos to accomplish this.
Try to use familiar objects and replicate routines as often as possible in order to minimize disruption. In a virtual classroom, you could start each day with a familiar How Are You Feeling Today? chart. Whereas in their physical classroom, students might stick their names to the Emoji that best described their feelings for that day, in a virtual classroom, students would select and draw their Emoji for the day and then volunteer to share it with the class.
The consistency in a morning routine is an important anchor for students. This makes it clear that we are still there to learn together.
Example of “How Are You Feeling Today?” Chart and Activity.
(Creative Teaching Press, 2016)
2) Set up a home “learning station” with materials and resources
All young children need a learning station — a place where they sit down to learn online and where materials and resources are accessible to them. Caregivers will need help setting up this learning station, but once it’s set up, students will be able to work more independently. What will young children need in a learning station every day?
Create a short video tutorial to walk students through how to set up a home learning station. Provide a step-by-step checklist of all the “must-have” items that students could keep in their home learning station. Be flexible with expectations (eg. a bin for holding materials could be a tinfoil pan). Ask the children to send a picture of their learning stations as an exciting interaction. This approach empowers students to create their own home learning stations which makes necessary resources available while modelling how to do it in a fun, flexible way.
Alphabet chart to help with letter- sound recognition and letter formation
Number chart or number line to help with number recognition and number formation
Magnetic letters or kinesthetic letters and numbers
A set of dice
Access to a printer to print assigned sheets
3) Telling (or assigning) isn’t teaching
As educators, we know that telling students to complete tasks or assigning activities is very different from teaching them. Therefore, for every task we assign, we need to think about what is being taught, what is being learned, how the students will know they have been successful, what modelling will take place, how students will practice, and what the product will look like. (Stein Dzaldov, 2019).
Where possible, leverage additional technology capabilities to effectively model the work. Share your screen to walk through how to find the activity before asking students to attempt the work themselves.
4) Think about what elements of a lesson can be incorporated online
Just as teachers plan lessons for face-to-face teaching, designing a lesson for online learning will take some planning. Let’s take the example of using a website with young children (eg. www.raz-kids.com).
Minds on: This site is called Raz-Kids, and you will have the opportunity to choose books that interest you and that you can read.
Learning goals: On this website, we are learning to find books that interest us and that we are able to read independently.
I can choose an interesting book.
I can practice reading it.
I can tell someone what it was about.
Modelling: The teacher shares the website. The child watches or follows instructions as the teacher clicks on the link, navigates the website, thinks aloud about choosing a book, and practices reading it online. Then the teacher reflects on the reading (eg. “I chose a book that interested me, I could read it, and I know it was about different kinds of dogs.”).
Practice Time: The students are encouraged to do the activity alone or with a caregiver one time, and then to put together successes and questions they may still have.
Closure: What product do you expect from the child’s time on this website? Is it the amount of time spent? The number of tasks the child completed? Make sure the child and caregiver know what the expectations are and how accomplishments will be celebrated!
5) Share a simple lesson plan with parents or caregivers and incorporate prompts and question stems for parents and caregivers in your lesson outline
Use a different colour for prompts so that parents/caregivers will know what to access and how to support their child. To make things as simple and easy as possible, hyperlink or attach all required resources directly into the lesson plan.
Sample of Lesson Plan
6) Assessment as learning is the most important assessment there will be right now
Although “assessment as learning” has often been viewed by educators of young children as a “nice to have” type of assessment, it is probably the most important type of assessment right now. If students know what they are learning and what they need to know and be able to do to be successful, they can start to track their own learning.
Students need to be able to answer these questions when checking in on learning:
What am I learning about?
How will I know if I’ve been successful?
How did I do?
Lesson plans start with a learning goal, and a few succinct and specific success criteria that students can check off to self-assess their learning. To ensure that “Assessment as Learning” is achievable, it is crucial that the learning goals and success criteria are worded using level-appropriate language.
Sample of Lesson Plan with Success Criteria and Learning Goals
7) Check-ins are about mental health and LEARNING!
Many educators are being encouraged by their Boards to “check-in” with their students. This is very important! Check-ins must start with care, kindness, and authentic concern about well being.
As well, as educators, we want to check in on learning. Ask the child (or caregiver) to bring a product or artifact to the “meeting.”
Then, have a learning conversation as you praise the child authentically for their work:
Tell me about this.
What did you learn?
Were you successful with this task? How do you know?
You have done fantastic work on “X”!
In this new teaching and learning environment, we will have challenges ahead, and we will continue adapting to make online schooling the best it can be for young students!
Can you imagine living in a world without the telephone? Wouldn’t you feel isolated and cut off from the rest of the world? We need to know that we have the ability to communicate with others, not only those in the same room as us, but also those well beyond our walls. Why do we need to communicate with others? Is it to gather information? Share information? Collaborate? The simple answer: yes.
Students share this need to communicate with others. They communicate with their families, their peers, and their friends. They speak, they listen, they negotiate. Yet our students are also living in a fast-paced world of electronics and technological devices. They are processing more information at a faster rate than was once imaginable. As teachers, we need to adapt to the changing world in which we all live. It is not enough to teach our students to read, write, listen, and speak. They need to know how to read and write for authentic purposes. We need to teach them how to become digitally literate, socially literate, media literate, and critically literate. They need to connect with the world and question the information they encounter; they need to analyze, evaluate, and think for themselves. They need to interact with others in real, authentic, engaging ways.
We want students to know where to find the information and what to do with it once they access it. What we need to be assessing in our students is not the recall of the information, but the application of it. Consider this mindshift: from knowing the information, to knowing what to do with the information. Our kids live in the information age. Information is cheap—knowledge is power. This is a fundamental change in our approach to assessing student learning.
As you search for activities to do with your students, try this simple math task that will bring you all together.
As I typed that two-word title, I paused, and then added a question mark. What was I possibly going to say in a few hundred words that would make that goal possible? Yet, the morning has just begun, the sun is still rising, and I am hopeful. So, let me try.
Empathy, simply put, involves the ability to understand the feelings of others. Muriel Rukeyser, American poet and activist, famously said, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” I believe her. I believe stories are an integral part of who we are. We tell stories to entertain, educate, impact emotionally, and communicate. We have an inherent need to tell, and hear, stories.
In my picture books My Name Is Blessing, Hope Springs, and Today Is the Day, I tell stories inspired by the work I do in Kenya. They are about difficult truths and hopeful endings. These narratives are far removed from the day-to-day world of almost all of those who read the stories. I want them to see this other world, to understand other situations and other lives, and to spend a few moments inside another life. I often hear from teachers how these stories have emotionally affected their students — and them. Teachers will tell me that they were moved to tears. I often ask them what they are going to do with those tears. To quote from a famous song by Northern Lights in 1985 — “Tears Are Not Enough.”
Empathy + Action = Kindness
As teachers, writers, and parents, we want to help our children understand the feelings and situations of others — especially those going through tragedy, trauma, and difficult life circumstances — but that’s only the first step. If we take them only that far, we’re not taking them far enough. We need to model for them acts of kindness, and further, allow them the opportunity to be kind. Once you read the book, what will you do about it? How do words and pictures become feelings and how do these feelings become actions?
I maintain that the most selfish thing you can do is help somebody — because it feels so good inside. And, when you do it once you’re going to want to do it again, and again, and again. Allow students the opportunity to experience empa-thy and to act in kindness. Malala Yousafzai said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
You can be that teacher.
*taken from Teaching Tough Topics by Larry Swartz.