Monday was a Professional Activity Day, for C’s teachers to complete report cards. So, after a 3-day weekend, Tuesday morning was little more rocky. He needed a great deal of coaxing to get dressed, and to get logged in. But he was happy to have me cut out more letters for his name card, and he glued them to a new sheet as we waited for class to begin.
We decided to have microphone off at all times, and camera off during the opening ceremonies, since C refuses to stand for the national anthem. This was followed by a group conversation where the two teachers took the time to call on each student to share what they did over the weekend. The students called on in alphabetical order, so C had a long wait (almost 45 minutes) in order to participate. When he did, he shared that he has been tobogganing and he watched “Small Foot”. Then, because the conversation turned to snow, he decided that we should go outside!
At lunch we visited this week’s Bitmoji classroom, and Charles watched a video to begin. When left on his own, somehow he found his way to YouTube, and began watching toy demonstration videos. Not exactly what we would have hoped! Later, his grandfather sat with him, and he watched a picture book reading on YouTube, linked from the same Bitmoji classroom, and this was more successful. They also watched a video on paper airplanes, and together they folded a plane. However, once he leaves the safety of the Google Classroom, who knows where he will end up!
The balance of the day was spent tobogganing, moving snow, and then helping his grandparents to assemble shelves. He built an amazing tower of empty plastic boxes, and told us that Justin, from Justin Time, had told me him to make his tower start with the large boxes, then the big boxes, then the small boxes. It was a successful strategy, and the tower will stand successfully until I begin to fill the boxes with my sewing materials, and place them on the new shelves.
Wednesday: C awoke at 5:00 a.m., having to go to the bathroom, so who knows how today will progress. He ate breakfast while viewing “Planes” on Disney+; his second viewing since the weekend. I have noticed that, both for C and for his parents and aunt, watching a familiar movie multiple times is calming. They share ADHD diagnoses, and say that they always notice new things each time they view a movie, which keeps it fresh and interesting. This was not a possibility in my childhood; we had only one television channel and no recording devices. But I wonder how much more I would have gleaned from television and other video resources, had I the means to rewind, pause, or view again.
Getting dressed was a challenge. I chose his clothing, and as may have been predicated, I made no choices that aligned with his preferences. We had a discussion about how to communicate this, rather than throwing them all in the air. He then chose shirt, then pants, then socks, then underwear, and managed to dress himself with plenty of time before school began. At home he has five drawers, in which his clothing is stored as outfits. He chooses the drawer, but then wears the “set” that he and his mother made in preparation for the week.
He was ready almost a half hour before class, so he opened his Chromebook, and found all the open windows from the day before. I had to help him to get back to the Bitmoji classroom, but once there he was able to choose an activity (putting letters and numbers on the stairs) and then another story: Hair Love. When two other stories were offered, he chose one, and was immediately transferred from “ViewPure” to YouTube, where he had access to almost anything! Fortunately he chose another children’s story (The Gingerbread Man) and was entertained until class began.
For some reason C’s Chromebook is signing him out overnight, and it takes two logins (one for the board, one for Google) to get him back to his classroom. He successfully made it into the classroom, where the teachers were carrying on a conversation. They did say “hello”, but none of the conversation was directed to the students. They negotiated their timing for attendance, and then what activity would follow. C was distracted by paper and markers, and began to make a new name card, despite having one ready to use. Great practice!
Then, one of the students chose to “present”. The teachers don’t seem to know how to set up their meet to disable presenting in Google Meet. This could be a real challenge, especially when a teacher is presenting.
After a short game with a paper ball, the teachers tried to present another art gallery presentation. It worked for a while, with somewhat choppy audio. Then, for some reason, they decided to try another setup, and all we could see was the teacher’s avatar. After five minutes C and I chose to do something else.
In this case he chose to use a small notepad with lines, and to print his name and his Google password. He printed all uppercase letters (except for one), and managed to place them in correct order between the lines. Given that the notepad was designed for adults, this is quite impressive. He also has changed the way he holds his marker: before it was a fist, and now it is closer to the tripod we’ve been aiming for. When I asked him why, he just said “I decided to”. He then went looking for more words to print, first by asking me letter by letter, and then copying from some of the text we had printed on previous days. C challenged himself to write “Mom” by sounding out the letters, only needing help with the “o”.
I’m thinking about the art gallery session we missed. How much better would it be to have this as a video on the Bitmoji classroom, with the students working at their own pace, and then sharing at a designated time later in the day?
When exploring the house, C found my earring hanger, and came to announce that “Tomorrow will be a huge festival: Earring Day”. When I asked what would be happening, he said that we had to go upstairs and get earrings. Can’t wait for the celebration tomorrow!
In the meantime he is back with the plastic bins and boxes, some of which are large enough for him to turn into a “jail”. With both of his grandparents available to him, we are thinking that we might just build our own play-based program for him, working in parallel with us. We’ll continue with the check-in each morning, to maintain connection with his class. And we’ll use the resources on the Bitmoji classroom as starting points for our activities. But the interactive components of his class are more frustrating than productive, and perhaps aren’t worth the nagging and tears.
We only managed the first half hour on Thursday, as most of the interaction was between one teacher and a supply teacher, getting her set up, and C lost interest almost immediately. We explored the Bitmoji classroom more, and have done ALL that was shared there. Every link to the PureView videos also provides two more suggestions of videos…. and these take you to YouTube, where the world is available to C. He is very attracted by toy demonstrations!
Today, Friday, we logged in as usual, and heard about 10 minutes of teacher negotiation. C was greeted, but there was little to keep him engaged as they sorted out how they would work in the absence of the teacher who usually does the morning physical education activities. So far this week there hasn’t been more than two days where the “usual” team is present. There was no introduction to the students of each of the supply teachers (today and previous days), despite their being present on screen.
Attendance requires that hold up their name card. Since C is at the end of the alphabet, he grew tired and put his down long before they called his name. They then went into the opening ceremonies. On previous days I have asked him to turn his camera off, since he hasn’t wanted to stand. Today he protested, and insisted on standing. Thankfully his eating of breakfast didn’t result in a reprimand, though several others were instructed to “stand still”, over the national anthem audio. I’m not sure why they chose not to show the video; it was helpful in focusing C.
One of the teachers then shared her ritual with sage, thanking Mother Earth. She was able to show them her eagle feather, and then invited them to listen to their morning song, and think about what they were thankful for. C chose to jump, rather than reflect.
Finally, 25 minutes into the class, the teacher shared the activities sent by the absent Physical Education teacher. She had a few technical challenges sharing the video, and we heard “your mic’s off” a couple of time. We would see and hear snippets, and for a short time we saw only the chest of the supply teacher…. I think her final solution was to play it with her speakers and mic on, so there was a distinct echo. When we finally saw the video it featured a male voice, an adult female on the screen, and no music. The teacher then added her instructions over top. This was not engaging at all!
I asked C if he was interested in this, and he said “No, I was distracted”. So, we left the class after only 30 minutes.
In conversation with several colleagues this week, we discussed some of my concerns. Here’s what would like to see happen:
- Playlists should be created, linked to curriculum expectations, which would be helpful to ALL teachers.
- Videos of read-alouds, simple craft activities, outdoor walks, etc. would be very helpful to caregivers, to be added to an asynchronous slide/page that could be accessed as students wished. This could be done for a particular grade level, and shared throughout the board on a daily basis. (This could also be something that TVOntario took on, with broadcast or website content that is curated and could have teacher/caregiver support materials as well.)
- Teachers need to know how to leverage Google Meet: how to focus students’ attention, how to share video, how to connect to streaming content in real time so that video and audio work for all. They need a training day (or week), to learn how to work in this new environment. They are doing a great job figuring it out as they go, but learning on the job is detrimental to their students.
- An agenda for the day should be published, so that students can join in as they are able. Having to sit and wait for verbal instructions is not within their 4-year-old skillset, nor their caregiver’s time availability. This doesn’t need to be text; we usual visual agendas with kids all the time, and this would just be a digital version.
- There needs to be some person-to-person interaction, without the audience of the full class. Little ones find it difficult to focus, and having to “perform” within a 10-second window where they are invited to share is destined to fail.
I’d strongly suggest that our teachers consider using MS Teams instead of Google Meet. With its new functionality, it would allow for smaller groupings within breakouts, and possibly greater connection between teachers and students. Today there were three teachers with 15 students, resulting in an 18-person “Brady Bunch” screen, and only one person talking at a time. It should be the students talking most of the time. They won’t ever get a voice in this current environment.
I also think that it might be useful to consider a shift to Brightspace, where content could be easily created and shared, and provided to caregivers in an organized format. The new Master Assessment Gradebook would allow for documentation of learning, tagged to curriculum expectations, that would easily be communicated to families.
If I, as an experienced educator, am struggling to support a child at home, I can only imagine what it is like for those without access to resources, understanding of curriculum, nor the energy to bring it to their children.