Today in our Flipgrid question of the day, I asked my students what they miss about “regular” school. My students come to school 4 days a week–half the class in the morning and half in the afternoon–with Wednesdays as virtual days. The other half of each day is spent learning at home: independent work, often finishing work started in class. They have done this since mid-September (after a 3-week start in distance learning).
I can’t say I am surprised by the answers. The overwhelming consensus is: they hate masks, they miss recess, and they would rather do their school work at school than at home.
And yet, they are good sports. They come to school each day eager to learn. They wear masks without complaint. They (mostly) keep their distance from their friends and classmates. They have learned to bathe in hand sanitizer and carry the heaviest backpacks ever, toting their materials from home to school and back each and every day. And they still love school–wanting more of it, not less of it.
I also make a Flipgrid video each day, answering the question I ask my students. My answer for today: I miss hugs! I didn’t realize how much hugs are part of the school day until this pandemic took control of our lives. This is my first class that I haven’t hugged–and I am hopeful that I will get the chance before the school year ends.
What do you or your children or your students miss about “regular” school?
Where I live weather casters have to work at nuance. So many days are mostly sunny, sometimes accompanied by night and morning low clouds. And this year, like so many years, we are in a drought, inches away from our whopping average rainfall of 10 inches per year.
When I hear a forecast for rain, skepticism is my first reaction. It isn’t uncommon for for a rainy day prediction to fizzle and disappear, replaced by that that little sunshine icon. And this morning, the sun rose like clockwork, making me doubt the rain I heard about…and even planned for today.
Today was my vaccination day (yay!), so I was careful to dress in short sleeves to make the process easier. But, it was also supposed to rain, so I layered on a sweatshirt and remembered to grab my raincoat as I dashed out the door for work. To the east some patches of stringy clouds were visible–they didn’t look rain bearing to me. When I turned west, I could see the rainclouds gathering along the coast.
After my Zoom meeting with my class, I grabbed that raincoat again and headed off to our local fairgrounds-turned-vaccination-supercenter. I wasn’t sure how the whole thing would work, would I need to walk up and stand in line? Would they tell me they had run out of doses just as I arrived at the front even though I had an appointment? Would I end up standing in the rain?
None of my worst fears came true. I drove into the orange cone maze and made my way around and into the big barn where I’ve looked at livestock during the county fair. My credentials were checked, my arm offered, and my first dose was injected without me ever leaving my car. I proceeded to the waiting area for 15 minutes, and water drops began to fall on my windshield.
Back in my classroom, the rhythms of rain were the soundtrack for today’s planning and preparation. Light drops punctuated with heavier showers. I could see the trees swaying, dancing in time to the rain, through the classroom windows.
When I got home I realized I hadn’t taken a photo today. I grabbed my umbrella (the rain was heavier by then) and wandered around the backyard, looking for a shot that would express the feeling of rain. I remembered how hard it is to capture rain in a photo (something I don’t get to practice too often). I tried to avoid the big pools on the patio and the muddy spots beyond as I explored, noticing how the plants seemed to be reaching out and welcoming the rare sky drops.
Today was a perfect rainy day. I’m ready for sun tomorrow.
These days, I often find myself in search of joy. Sameness is numbing, isolation is suffocating, and uncertainty is paralyzing. And yet, we go on. My students show up in the classroom (on a limited, hybrid schedule), ready and eager to learn.
I realize, sometimes over and over again, that my restricted time with my students pushes me to rush things in the classroom. Instead of giving time and space to breathe, to engage, to explore…I find myself watching the clock, urging students on, never letting them get fully immersed, locked into that indescribable flow that I can’t explain, but I always recognize.
Joy, instead of being a constant classroom companion, has become a shadow that I catch sight of at the edge of my visual field. It flickers, momentarily in focus before it dissolves into the corners–just out of reach. If I can’t reach out and grab onto the joy, how can my students?
Somewhere along the way during this pandemic school year I lost sight of daily writing. The whimsy and playfulness of messing around with words and ideas in the low-stakes sandbox of the writer’s notebook had vanished. Students mistakenly believed that writing should be one and done rather than the messy, living, complex process that it is. I had to make a change.
So, at the end of January, I reworked students’ independent work–the stuff they do during the half the school day when they are not in the classroom with me–to include time for daily writing. I set up a routine–predictable but with lots of novelty and variety. One day students are invited to write to a photo prompt–often silly and far-fetched. Another day they write under the influence of our weekly poem study: they can use it as a mentor text, they can be inspired by the topic, they can grab a word and follow it–the choice is the writer’s. And on the third day, I offer an active sort of prompt. Last week, on our weekly Wednesday Zoom call, students participated in a short scavenger hunt. They were sent in search of 5 items, one at a time. Once found, they showed the item on the screen and wrote it in their notebook. That list then became the fodder for the daily writing. They could come up with a story connecting the items, use one and go in any direction, again…choice is key.
While the daily writing is not amazing, students are finding a rhythm. They are developing fluency. And they are having some fun with it–joy is beginning to creep in. We are paying more attention to language, examining what we like when we read. Just last week, students picked one of these daily writing pieces. They picked not the best one; the one they love so much they don’t want to make any changes. Not the worst one; the one that feels flat and uninspiring. They picked one they were willing to work on, to improve, to make better. They used a Praise Question Wish protocol to respond to the writing in pairs. We studied a couple of mentor text excerpts from familiar pieces we had read in class. And armed with these tools, students went off to revise.
Most of these revised pieces are still not where I want them to be, but they are moving in the right direction. And better yet, they are moving toward discovering the joy of writing and language, expression and choice.
I am actively seeking joy in the classroom. Joy that fills me with wonder and energy. Joy that brings a smile to my students’ masked lips–that is visible in their eyes and felt in the air. Joy that takes me back to what I know is important in teaching and learning, despite pandemic restrictions and schedules that squeeze time into unrecognizable shapes. And I want writing to be a part of that joy, for me and for them.
I’m craving travel, exploration, connection, shared experiences, the opportunity to get out of the rut of the ordinary. So are my students.
Living and teaching during a pandemic is no picnic. But all of you know that. Uncertainty and change are the only constants…along with masks, hand washing, and physical distancing.
After three weeks of distance learning, my students came back to school last week. Sort of. Part time. I love, love, love having my students in the classroom again. But…
I have half of them at a time. One shift in the morning and a second shift in the afternoon after the janitorial staff comes in and disinfects the classroom. The AM group works independently in the afternoon from home, the PM group does the same in the morning before they come to school. And I am exhausted trying to keep up!
In spite of this hybrid schedule, I want students to have a rich and meaningful learning experience each and every day. I want them to think deeply and for curiosity to be an insatiable itch that only more reading, writing, observation, and investigation begins to scratch. I love to combine rich content with opportunities to explore, create, and connect. Science is often my go-to.
With the Pacific Ocean outside our door and plant and animal adaptations on our list of science standards, it makes all kinds of sense to study our local kelp forest. Macrocystis Pyrifera has become the basis of our study, the algae on which we build our knowledge.
We’ve done some reading, watched a video, and looked at some photos. Most years we head down to the beach and take a close up look or a parent heads in with a bucket full of these amber jewels. But not in coronavirus times.
So what could I do to breathe some life and variety into the learning in this hybrid classroom? What could I do to energize my own planning and teaching?
I decided on a field trip. Wait…the virus, the pandemic. I’m not even allowed to have all my students in the classroom at the same time!
Virtual field trip to the rescue.
My students don’t come to school on Wednesdays. I host a morning Zoom meeting with the entire class and then set them off to work independently for our minimum day. But this week, Wednesday became our field trip day.
I remembered that the Monterey Bay Aquarium had live cams and a huge kelp forest tank, so I headed to their website to see what kinds of opportunities might exist for my students. I uncovered a wealth of resources! This is a place I had always wished I could take my students to visit, but it is halfway up the state…well out of reach of a field trip even in the best of years!
So how would I organize this virtual field trip so my 8 and 9 year old students could access these resources independently? After some trial and error, I decided to create a slide deck to guide them through a variety of activities. I assigned some specific activities and offered choices for others. And to slow them down and encourage close observation and focused attention, I provided a paper packet for note taking…with a reminder that we will use these in class next week.
I know I was more excited about this virtual field trip than they were–there was great disappointment when they learned we weren’t actually going anywhere! But first indications suggest they did have fun…and learn some things. I’ll know more on Monday!
In the meantime, maybe you are in need of a field trip and an immersion into in the kelp forest. Here’s a link to my slide deck.
So, I didn’t get to travel…but I did get to explore and dig myself out of my usual lesson planning routine. I watched sea otters frolic, jellies undulate, and giant kelp sway. And I’m plotting how to put my students’ new found knowledge about the kelp forest ecosystem to creative use in the classroom next week.
I’m also already thinking about that next virtual field trip. Where should we go? What should we study? If you have great ideas about places with a variety of resources, I’d love to hear all about them!
The days feel long right now…and not in that endless summer kind of way. Being homebound means that each day feels a lot like the one before, experiencing little change in scenery. With the beaches, parks, and trails closed my walks involve treks around the neighborhood. I get my cardio exercise, but inspiration and scenic beauty are sorely limited. I’m enjoying the cool crispness of early morning walks, but I don’t find myself motivated to stop and pull out my camera to snap a photo or two.
Zoom meetings, student comments, lesson planning, emails to writing project colleagues, clearing that inbox that has building up all week…the hours vaporized and the knots in my back tightened (is there something called Zoom back?). Around 3:30 I noticed an email from a dad of one of my students…and much to my delight there was a short note…”A” wanted to send you this photo she took today. As I scrolled down the image emerged! An egret perched on a chain link fence overlooking the seashore.
I felt a surge of pure joy! I love the photo–and seeing the egret and the beach were a shot of nature that I have been missing since the beach closures earlier in the week. (I have been staying away–trying to do my part to keep the virus at bay.) And it was heartwarming to know my student knows me so well. After almost 2 weeks of remote learning, this student knew how to share some remote caring. She knew I would love this photo…and she is right! Thanks A…you made my day! It really is the little things that matter most.
We’re still at it–the “it” being remote learning while our schools remain closed. On our 6th day I’ve learned some things that I didn’t know when we started this last week.
Remote learning is not the same thing as teaching. I’m able to push out learning activities and provide feedback, but I’ve yet to get the teaching part in order.
Technical glitches are a given. There is a constant barrage of technical questions from my students and their parents. Where is the attachment? It says file not found! My attachment won’t load. Where do I do my writing? My stream is gone!
Related to number 2, we are lucky to have responsive tech support in my small district! Today my email cries of help were met with a productive Google Meet session with one of our tech team members. I got help troubleshooting, established a reasonable work around, and even squeezed in an extra question about Google Meet!
I love Flipgrid! Posting a prompt each day–both written and as a video that I make as an invitation–allows my students to show each other a glimpse of their interests at home. They seem to enjoy it…and so do I. I just wish there were a way to comment that wasn’t limited to making a video back. (If any of you know a workaround for this, please share!)
My students love to chat! I knew that they loved to chat–as in verbalize–in the classroom. But I learned quickly last Monday just how much they love to chat (like texting) on the Google Classroom pages. Which also means that I’ve been thinking about ways for them to connect that are less annoying that hundreds of emails in my inbox.
So today, I decided to schedule an impromptu classroom meetup through Google Meet. I posted a note on our classroom page, letting kids know a couple of hours in advance that I would post a link to Meet…and gave brief directions about how to get on. I decided not to email parents this first time, just see who would come and figure out from there how it would work. Right on time, about half my students along with my co-teacher and our science teacher starting to pop onto my screen. At first with no volume…but eventually at full volume. I was able to get them to all mute themselves and then I called on them one by one to unmute and tell us all how they were and what they were doing. They absolutely loved being together…and then toward the end of our time one student discovered the chat feature–so I explained where it was to all of them and let them go wild chatting. Emojis began to fly along with the Hi and I’m here kind of posts they seem to love best. I gave them a one minute warning on the chatting and then wished them all well and signed off. I’ve already had an email from a parent thanking me for making her child’s day!
I still haven’t figured out how to get everything done–including my report cards–in a reasonable time . But I know more about how to manage this new learning context than I did last week. I’m thinking about how to use our Meet tool in two different ways–one for a sort of “recess” like today, and another to support student learning in more specific ways. I’m still worried about the kids who are not as present, staying on the fringes of this remote learning thing. Are they having tech problems, are their parents too busy trying to work from home to help them, are they home alone without help? I hope to answer some of those questions in the days to come.
What’s happening in your learning context? How’s your homeschooling or remote learning going? What is working for you? What isn’t? What connections are you making?
My face-to-face meeting with directors of California Writing Project sites all over the state became a Zoom meeting in light of the Corona virus pandemic. I was not looking forward to hours in front of my computer screen, I knew I would miss all the informal opportunities for conversation and camaraderie. But I was wrong. Today’s meeting was energizing and comforting and brought much-needed connection and shared experiences with others who can relate in a world that is suddenly so filled with uncertainty.
Our rich conversations had me jotting down phrases, words I couldn’t forget. And during my beach walk this afternoon, they started to become a poem of sorts. So here’s the early draft…not quite done, found in the words of my colleagues.
In a roiling cauldron of virus brew
blindly dodging infection
unwilling to get out
sure if we can’t see it, it’s not there
The pandemic spreads
morphing from fear of illness
into a pandemic of disappointment:
canceled events, weekend plans, the coveted spring break
we resist–just this once, I’ll be okay
wash your hands, pump the hand sanitizer
It’s time for each of us to listen loudly
to hear voices of those at risk
each of us is a single brick, interlocking, interconnected
whether we want to be or not
but not emotionally
wash your hands, cough into your elbow
cancel your plans and check on your neighbor
find ways to inject an inoculation of connection
without passing the virus
Write more, read more
Facetime with Grandma, phone call to Dad
(And an image from this afternoon’s trip to the grocery store. Empty shelves are so unexpected!)