This was not an expected post, I was supposed to be working at finishing up a unit with my students. Instead, I now find myself where many teachers have been for months. Although I have only been teaching online for just shy of the two weeks that we closed before our spring break, I had other things planned. Instead, we were very busy at the beginning of March sorting out the real possibility that electronic learning at home is going to take place. Over the past months since other teachers in my PLN have been moving to online learning I have been looking at all the tools that are at our disposal to help students and teachers collaborate and learn, but instead of helping my students learn how to use them (our country was proceeding at normal) I continued to teach the unit. I quickly realized that these different tools take time to teach elementary students, and we had very little notice that we were going to go this route. It was an overnight decision by the government and we had one day to prepare for it with the students. This was spent organizing materials and devices to go home. We then had two days to get ready to begin home learning so meeting as a staff we were informed that we will be solely using the platform that students are most familiar with, their online learning journal, SeeSaw. Some of the reasons for this are:
- Student familiarity with the platform.
- Parent familiarity with the platform.
- Ease of giving feedback with comments
- Ease to continue class community with all of us being in a shared safe space for messaging and posting.
- Activities present a variety of customization in creating learning experiences.
- Cross compatibility with a wide variety of other applications.
The school had decided on calling our program “Continuous Learning” and set up a website for important communication and descriptions of approaches, routines and responsibilities. Our tech-coach Matt Broughton and our leadership team worked with the elementary division and grade-level teams to begin upskilling and building familiarity for the elementary staff in a host of skills including how to make activities, using shortcuts to create icons, making screencasts, checking how assignments looked in a test class, etc.etc. In addition to this, we had to come to an agreement as a school about the expectations of communication with students and parents, frequency of feedback, amount of time we will be assigning work for, and then the fun part, creating moring welcome videos.
Morning and closing videos are a great way to begin a routine and set up a culture with your students. I had a lot of fun creating these videos by myself and with my team. I took them in interesting locations around my house and school with me doing an activity to get my students to start thinking about the day. This ranged from cooking, to exercise, to drawing, reading, or a puppet show for the last one. I would usually leave a prompt the caption to asking the students to respond with comments. Judging by their responses, they really enjoyed the videos and it started them asking me and each other questions, simply saying hello, recording a voice response. I felt that this was really important for the students to have, essentially having a mini-morning meeting. As we had never taught hang-outs or other video apps that allow students to be together in real-time digitally, this would have to do. Throughout these morning videos and other routines, the Seesaw thread quickly turned into something I have never seen it look like.
I must say that after the second day the learning journal began to become a bit routine. The initial level of engagement was really high with all the students doing all their tasks, even with all of the single subjects. We had planned to give them about two hours a day. There was a lot of commenting to do and I tried to do this within the morning time that I could tell they were all online. This almost immediate feedback way usually responded to by the students quickly, setting up a quick channel of open communication. They knew that they could let me know should they have any questions. I think that after the first week of it, a bit of fatigue kicked in. I had to change a few of my videos to start the day with activities that were a little more engaging and really remind the class a few times to please respond. For the last couple of days before spring break, the students were posting pictures to share their dawings, what they made together on playdates, where they were outside. And all talking to each other about it. I am glad that I spent all year leading up to this developing a culture of online behaviour through using a commenting protocol. Through commenting it also became possible to differentiate and extend the learning experiences for the students by asking further questions that they changed their task to reflect on.
Communication through Flipgrid
I am very glad that I had taught my students to use Flipgrid before Continuous Learning started. The application really helped to engage my students and build another place for them to communicate. I had assigned them a couple of reading and connections activities on it and the class enjoyed personalizing themselves and adding lots of stickers and emojis where appropriate. This was another platform where I could respond to students quickly and they could also ask each other questions. It was a lot of fun and the class enjoyed talking to each other through video responses. I do feel that it is great for the grade three students to record their ideas first and think about what they want to say. In retrospect, it would have been great for all the students to get familiar with an application that we can all work together live as this is how we really learn by working together. If learning this way continues I think that I have a lot of areas to grow in creating screencasts to help students at this age level learn another platform to communicate in, and basically let them play in it for a while before starting adding the conceptual understandings.
Another challenge in the future if this continues is the curriculum content. Just before our spring break, we had two weeks on online-learning to finish up our Unit of Inquiry (another post about this is forthcoming). To be honest, I am kind of stuck with how to provoke and begin a new unit if we are continuing to teach this way. This is usually the time for lots of small and large group inquiries. This will take a lot of planning to clearly lay something like this out in a digital space for me as so much learning is on the fly with how and what the students want to learn. Learning this way has reminded me of the importance of the classroom environment in learning. So how can I continue to build on my digital classroom environment? We also have to keep a bit more simple in this time for their students as they are also navigating a different home life including disrupted routine, sibling distractions, sometimes lack supervision and more. Whatever I decide to do with my team curricular wise we will have to keep it simple.
One thing that has helped me to consider student perspectives through continuous learning is having my Grade One daughter around. Balance, while working and learning together in a smaller Japanese house, can be tricky for young children and it helps me to understand how my class is feeling. I watched my daughter struggle and shine when adapting to a new routine at home and it reminds me to ensure that tasks are fun, engaging, and most importantly, self-directed for my students. There was (and is still) difficulties maintaining a proper schedule and routine. I have found that we have been outside in the park more, creating more things together and trying to do brain boosts and exercise as frequently as possible. I am also telling my class that they need to do these things too as it is important for the students to see this. (home craft picture)
What is next?
The country that I am working in is planning on opening schools in a couple of weeks. The country I am from is banning all non-essential travel so I don’t know what is next. I hope for the student’s sake that we can open but should we have to delay I will have to continue to create holistic learning experiences for the whole child as well as upskill my tech learning to provide new opportunities for my students to interact.