Successful Secondary School Online Learning

We have completed six Octomesters in our board, and we just embarked on Octomester seven. For some of our teachers this is their seventh class online, and for some it’s their first. But since we are now ALL online throughout Ontario I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what has been working for us.

Consistent Structure

A consistent structure in both instruction and in the provision of content via the Learning Management System has helped our students. KISS seems to work, with a simple presentation of content combined with a consistent agenda for each day allowing students to get into a “groove” and succeed. One of our teachers has music on for five minutes before class, has a “question of the day”, provides breakout rooms for discussion, and has one task to be submitted each day.

Posting using Multiple Modalities

Our teachers are packaging content in two different Learning Management Systems: D2L/Brightspace and Edsby. They are also providing both print and video content, and embedding videos using OBS Studios.  Some students are connecting with their teachers via email, and others are participating in 1:1 work in MS Teams.


Teachers are making the “chunks” small, and easily managed on phones, tablets and computers. They are replicating the length of social media posts, and providing multiples that thread rather than posting a single, large document. Most Learning Management Systems allow for content to be hidden until needed, so our teachers are able to keep students from feeling overwhelmed.

Being Available Online

Our teachers are live in an MS Teams setting for more than just the mandatory 225 minutes (PPM 164). They are replicating their usual practices of “walking around the room” or “being available at the desk in the classroom” by being online in a Teams meeting, and welcoming students to 1:1 or small-group sessions throughout the day. They are doing less “direct instruction”, and more individual facilitation, and it is paying off.

Differentiated Instruction

Our teachers are providing both synchronous lessons, and asynchronous tutorials. They are providing voice and choice to their students. By personalizing methods of assessment they are meeting their students where they are.

Sharing a Master Agenda

While some are using a list, and others a calendar, our teachers are all creating a “one-stop shopping” page where all assignments, links to handouts, and dropbox are located. The LMS is also a huge help, housing all course content and videos of the daily meetings. Live links to content assist both students and their parents to navigate each day’s work.

Clear Expectations

Use of learning goals and success criteria has allowed students to self-assess, and to reach out when they require assistance. Because the octomester structure results in very long days, but fewer of them, our teachers have pared down their goals to as few as possible, and are focusing their work on essential learning.

Taking an Inquiry Approach

Several teachers have structured their courses around fun engaging inquiry questions, and supporting student-to-student interaction to complete their “quests”. They are taking advantage of the technology, and access to Internet resources, and exploring content beyond the textbook.

Communicating Regularly with Students and Parents

Weekly newsletters and emails to parents are helping them to support their children to be successful. Our teachers are providing tips and tricks to families, so that their teens are supported at home.

Monitoring Participation

Our teachers are able to track who is attending meetings in person, and who view the videos later in the day. They can then follow up with students and their parents, and get them back on track quickly. One teacher has an attendance quiz each day, with one question: “Are you here today”? This populates a spreadsheet, and allows him to enter absences at the end of the day. Taking a look at statistics within the LMS is also helpful, and is allowing our teachers to reach out before students get too far behind.

Breakouts to Connect

Structures such as breakout rooms and shared documents have supported our students to connect. They have needed these in order to get to know each other, as many live up to 200 km from each other. Since the culture in our board is to have cameras off the breakouts provide a safe space for cameras and mic to be on and for students to interact. It is important to build rapport with our students, so our teachers make that priority.

Allowing for Fully Asynchronous

Several of our students are now working full-time jobs. They are managing to access class resources, and complete the day’s work when they are at home. By structuring courses to allow for fully-asynchronous participation, our students are able to continue their learning despite the need to work.

Team Teaching

Where we have more than one class for a particular course our teachers are team teaching. Sometimes they create one LMS, and share instructing duties. In other cases they plan and create two or more LMS shells, and instruct only their class. In both, however, they benefit from their PLN, and are able support each other to be more creative.


Our teachers have been experimenting with standing desks, multiple monitors, and other tools to ensure that they aren’t in pain at the end of the day. Some are scheduling regular walk breaks into their day, getting outside for some sunshine and to stretch their legs.

Learn and Share

Our teachers are learning a great deal through this process, and are happy to share with their colleagues. If you are teaching online, please reach out to a peer and talk about what is working (and not working) for you.

Advice to Novice Online Teachers:

  • Don’t stress out.
  • This is pandemic teaching, not a normal teaching year.
  • Be flexible.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Reach out if you are feeling burnout.
  • Extend grace to your students and their families.
  • You are doing great!

First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies AQ – Response #2

I am in week two of learning in our Ontario Additional Qualification course: First Nation, Métis and Inuit Studies.  This week we have four questions to consider, summarize and reflect upon.

How are First Nation, Métis and Inuit People distinct from one another?

First Nation people include both Status (registered as an Indian under the Indian Act) and non-Status indigenous people, who may or may not belong to a band, or live “on-reserve”. There are more than 630 First Nation communities in Canada, representing more than 50 Nations and languages. They are diverse in their language and traditions.

Métis people self-identify, are members of a present-day Métis community, and have ties to a historic Métis community. They have a unique culture and nationhood. “In Powley, the Supreme Court of Canada stated the term Métis …does not encompass all individuals with mixed Indian and European heritage. Rather it refers to a distinctive peoples who, in addition to their mixed ancestry, developed their own customs and recognizable group identity separate from their Indian or Inuit and European forbearers. The Métis communities claiming Aboriginal rights must have emerged in an area prior to the Crown effecting control over a non-colonized region.”

Inuit people live in the Arctic, from the Yukon to Labrador. They speak Inktut throughout, with distinct dialects in each region. They have a unique culture, core knowledge and beliefs, and live in a distinct homeland.

What forms, and contributes to, First Nation, Métis and Inuit identity?

Identity is formed by personal experience and family history. Colonization and the loss of communal land has had repercussions to this day. There is a shared experience of loss, oppression and multi-generational trauma, that impacts the identity of all three groups. Forced assimilation resulted in the loss of languages and faiths, particularly through the practice of residential schools which removed children from their families. In some regions indigenous people remain the majority, as in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. While they now represent more than 15% of the population in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, they are less than 8% of the population in the remaining provinces of Canada.

Compare the historical rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada using the Indian Act and your learning in class to the contemporary rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. What rights do Indigenous People in Canada hold today?

Historical RightContemporary Right
Self-governmentImposed electric chief and band council system
Full status for womenIndigenous women have fewer rights than men, or of non-indigenous women
Traditional LandsReserves
Full status as “people”Status jeopardized by enfranchisement of grandparents
Access to landExpropriation permitted, without band approval
Use of traditional names – hereditary, family, clanImposed Christian first and surnames
Free tradePermit-to-sell, until repealed in 2014
FreedomImprisonment of anyone inciting to riot three or more indigenous persons
Alcohol as barter/trade itemSuppression of liquor sales until 1985 – now controlled by band council bylaws
Education of childrenMandatory residential school attendance to 1969. Now federally-funded, either on reserve, or by agreement with local school boards.
Use of home languagePolicy that forbade home language in residential schools has resulted in a loss of oral histories and severing of connections to culture.
Access to uncultivated landsLeasing of reserve lands to non-Indigenous permitted until 1985. Inadvertently led to sales of lands, permanently lost to bands.
Freedom of entertainmentGovernor General has authority to regulate pool rooms, dance halls, and other places of amusement on-reserve.
Right to vote granted at Confederation, but only if treaty rights and status given up.Right to vote granted in 1960.
Royal Proclamation of 1763 recognized First Nations as owners of the lands occupied by Europeans.Shift from nation-to-nation relationship to view of Indigenous peoples as wards of the Crown, faced to assimilate.
Each nation had full rights.Treaties affect only half of Canada’s First Nations, so rights are not clearly stated, nor consistent.
Summary from Joseph, Bob. (2018). 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act. Port Coquitlam, BC: Indigenous Relations Press.


How might this impact students that you work with (both status and non-status)?

Students we work with are diverse in their cultures and experiences. The impact of multi-generational trauma will take many different forms. Our students’ understanding of their family history will also vary greatly, with some having been cut off, while others have strong connections with their traditional communities. As a cis-gendered, white woman my identity has the potential to create barriers rather than build connection, so I must work with respect and continue to learn to support my students. I will need to be mindful of micro-aggressions that might occur in my classroom, and address them directly. I also need to examine our educational policies and practices which may discriminate against First Nation, Métis and Inuit students, either overtly or covertly. For example, compulsory school attendance, particularly within the current pandemic restrictions, is one that I believe needs to be examined, and addressed in a culturally-responsive manner.

What are Indigenous Pedagogies and how can we use them to support all learners?

The “living teachings” of the Ojibwe people, also known as the seven good life teachings, or Seven Grandfather Teachings, nurture the physical, emotional-mental, intellectual and spiritual self-esteem of our students.

  1. Minwaadendamowin – Respect

    • Valuing all others, and considering their needs before yours.
  2. Zaagiidiwin – Love

    • Caring for self, in order to be able to care for others.
  3. Debwewin – Truth

    • Considering others’ perspectives and not judging.
  4. Aakode’ewin – Bravery

    • Strength and clear thought in the face of challenges.
  5. Nibwaakawin – Wisdom

    • Receive, process and express ideas with accuracy.
  6. Miigwe’aadiziwin – Generosity 

    • Acting in response to the needs of others.
  7. Dibaadendiziwin – Humility

    • Be humble in your actions with others.

As teachers in Ontario, we are held to the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, as prescribed by the Ontario College of Teachers.


OCT members demonstrate care for their students through compassionate empathy, acceptance, interest in, and insight into their students’ potential. They approach their work with Love and Generosity, practising empathy and professional judgement.


Teachers model Respect for the values of their students, and maintain confidentiality in all their work.  They honour human dignity, emotional wellness, and cognitive development while supporting freedom, democracy and the environment.


This ethical standard embodies aspects of Truth and Wisdom, through fair, open and honest relationships with students, colleagues, parents, guardians and the public.


Teachers practice Bravery and Humility while speaking Truth in their teachings. They are reliable and moral in their actions, commitments and responsibilities.

These four standards underpin the practices of all Ontario teachers, and map directly to the seven good life teachings.

Ontario’s First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education Policy Framework (2007) is grounded in principles of:

  • Excellence and Accountability
  • Equity and Respect for Diversity
  • Inclusiveness, Cooperation, and Shared Responsibility
  • Respect for Constitutional and Treaty Rights

This thread of Respect also manifests itself in the classroom and school through necessary characteristics that support students (Bascia, 2014):

  • Differentiated learning
  • Learning linked to students’ lives and experiences
  • Focus on community building and relationships
  • Use of data, not perceptions, to drive professional learning and policy decisions
  • Vision of inclusion
  • Shared leadership
  • Deconstruction of the hidden curriculum
  • Engagement plans which honour difference
  • Global citizenship and environmental stewardship connections

Some of these characteristics are also shared with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), where learning is designed to meet the needs of all students. UDL is the basis of the Ontario document, Learning for All – A Guide to Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12

When teachers’ work is grounded in the principle that “what is good for one, is good for all”, they are freed to address the needs of a single student, and in consequence better serve all their students. Incorporating Indigenous Pedagogies benefits all their students. There are strong similarities between UDL and the pedagogical strategies of Indigenous peoples. Experiential activities, group talk, connections to real life experiences, differentiated instruction and differentiated assessment, concrete and abstract examples of subject expectations and multileveled questions support a range of learners and are good for all. (Toulouse, 2016)


The four areas mentioned in the introduction as supportive of self-esteem are drawn from the medicine wheel. It begins with the physical domain on the right, which is connected with spring and birth. In the south is the emotional domain which is connected with summer and adolescence. The intellectual domain is on the left, and is connected to fall and adulthood. And the final, north, is spiritual and is connected to winter and our Elders. Within each of the four quadrants are also aspects of the other four. For example, Physical and Health Competencies have an obvious physical basis, but they also include emotional (mental illness), intellectual (making healthy choices), and spiritual (well-being) components as well. Emotional Competencies include physical (self-management), emotional (interpersonal relationships), intellectual (decision making) and spiritual (self-awareness) components. Within the Intellectual and citizenship domain are physical (civic knowledge), emotional (civic dispositions), intellectual (civic skills) and spiritual (civic engagement).  And within the spiritual and creativity domain are physical (generation of ideas), emotional (evaluation of ideas), intellectual (improvement) and spiritual (consideration of possibilities). This holistic model honours the whole child, and supports both Indigenous and settler students. By reconceptualizing student achievement to include all four aspects we support all students. (Toulouse, 2016)

By attending to the four domains, and ensuring that the seven living teachings are incorporated, Ontario teachers’ practice can truly be “Learning for All”. And Ontario classrooms will be closer to achieving the eight goals of Equity and Inclusive Education while closing the achievement gap for all our students. 


Here are three ways in which teachers can take first steps to incorporate Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms:

  • Connect the six Ontario Learning Skills to the seven Good Life Teachings, and provide examples that bring them to life.
  • Examine the curriculum, and incorporate meaningful First Nation, Métis, and Inuit cultural
    perspectives and activities when planning instruction and assessment.
  • Develop a more holistic approach, integrating physical, emotional/mental, intellectual and spiritual perspectives in planning and instruction. This should be done intentionally, much as the four achievement categories were embedded two decades ago.

Here are ways in which school leaders can take first steps to incorporate Indigenous pedagogies in their classrooms:

  • Co-construct a Land Acknowledgement with students and staff that will be meaningfully used each time the community gathers together.
  • Invite participation in School Council from families who bring an Indigenous perspective.
  • Replace current Character Education initiatives with new school action teams which focus on the seven teachings.
  • Replace current Grade 11 English courses with NBE3U, NBE3C and NBE3E, and ensure that school library resource centres are sources of contemporary literature to support these courses. Showcase your students’ work on your school website, as Jean Augustine SS has done with its NB3U podcast 63Three: A Podcast.
  • Build understanding of the strong connection between the seven teachings and Ontario teachers’ Ethical Standards of Practice, with use of resources such as Exploring the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession through Anishnaabe Art. Frame and display this artwork in your school (you can see me in the reflection, taking this picture of my “display in progress” at Cawthra Park SS).

At-Home Learning – an initial reflection

Four weeks ago I embarked on a new journey in a new school board and in a new model of online learning. In a board with a large geographical area, much of which cannot reliably access the Internet, the model is very different from that which I experienced earlier this year. While many of the students are engaging in a synchronous model of learning, others are participating in asynchronous learning, and a few must be provided with packages on paper, due to their remote locations.

While the arrival of Starlink in our area is likely to be a game-changer, access to the Internet remains a huge impediment for our families. And so decisions were made at the beginning of the school year to provide the best education to ALL of our students

Our At-Home Learning teachers are, for the most part, teaching from their local schools. They participate in the school supervision schedule, and have the benefit of social interaction with their colleagues. Their students either participate synchronously through MS Teams and access their class materials through Edsby or our D2L/Brightspace LMS, or they use only Edsby, the LMS, and email to connect with their teachers. The few who require paper resources function much as “correspondence courses” would have in the past, with packages created weekly, and which are delivered via the student’s home school.

Synchronous Learning

It is fascinating to visit the classrooms of these teachers. Due to bandwidth, many of the students remain “cameras off”, but that hasn’t limited their participation.  You can hear the excitement in their voices, and in their contributions to the chat. The use of many tools such as Dreambox and

Asynchronous Learning

For many families, having the flexibility of anytime/anywhere learning is working for their children. The daily content is provided via Edsby or the LMS, and families can work at their own pace to access multimedia resources. Some “asynchronous” students will join into daily Teams meetings, then head off to work independently for the balance of the day. Others depend upon daily emails to connect.

“Paper Packages”

The third option has been problematic for some of our teachers, as they have to translate rich multimedia resources into single-dimensional paper versions.  However, for some families this solution is working well. The distractions that accompany use of an iPad or computer are removed, and parents are comfortable assisting their children to work with paper worksheets. We continue to look for ways to bring some of our richer resources “offline”, and provide them to families in a downloaded version on a device, so that they can make use of audio and visual content.


Rather than attending school for two semesters in a year, all of our Secondary students, both remote and in-person, are attending eight octomesters. They have one class for about 22 days, then move to their next course.  This has allowed us to be very flexible, and move students into our programs, or back to their home schools, where necessary. However, planning a program for fewer than 400 students, with a limited team of teachers, is becoming more and more challenging as the year progresses. We have offered most of the compulsory courses, except for French (due to a lack of qualified teachers). And so now we are looking to provide engaging courses that will support a diverse group of learners. As with our observations in the quadmester model in the fall of this school year, student achievement seems to present as an inverse bell curve. A group of students are doing very well in the model, and a group of students are finding it very difficult.  The group in the middle is very small, but are likely meeting similar success to that achieved in face-to-face settings.

Moving Forward

Over the next while there will be decisions to be made regarding the 2021-2022 school year. It’s likely that a version of At-Home Learning will need to continue, and there will continue to be students for whom this model is preferred. What that will look like is still to be determined.  I look forward to our conversations, and to the creation of a new system.

Beginning a New Job

Terry Whitmell - first day of work

Today is the first day of my new job. As a teacher, this is only my second school board, so it’s been a long time since I was truly walking into a brand-new organization. And it is very different from my first day back in 1983.

  1. You need a lot more “stuff” to begin work in 2021, especially in a pandemic:
    • Email account
    • Internet access
    • Logins to all the various digital tools
    • Computer
    • Headset with microphone
    • Good lighting
    • Make-up to look good in a virtual meeting
  2. You need to get to know a lot more people:
    • In 1983 I only needed to know our office staff, my department head and Principal, a few colleagues in classrooms nearby, and my students. And all of them were in the same building as I, and were easy to get to know. I would never have any way to connect beyond my school, so my world was very small.
    • In 2021 I will need to know almost everyone in the organization, eventually, but all of them are “invisible” to me. I did meet three people in my interview, and have talked to a couple more on the phone, but I have yet to get to know anyone in person. This means that building trust is a more challenging task.
  3. With social media you can easily make “faux pas”!!
    • I was originally to begin work on Friday, so I thought over the weekend I could update my profiles in places like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not a good idea! The organization hadn’t yet determined their communication plan for me, and my premature communication complicated theirs.  Not a good way to begin a new role!
    • I have had two years of freedom in my retirement, having only to be accountable to myself. Now I am returning to a “family”, and will need to be sensitive to the possible responses from all of my colleagues. When I first stepped into Twitter my audience were people who knew and trusted me, and this network has grown. Now there will be people meeting me for the first time, and they have the potential to learn a great deal about me just by “Googling”.
  4. It’s not as simple as “getting the keys”.
    • Information flows digitally through an organization in a clear sequence, with checks and balances at each point. So, having been signed on by HR, there are still many steps that might lead eventually to creation of email and network accounts. And if you don’t have them, you don’t have clearance to view any of the information you need for the role.
    • Computers are configured specifically for the role, and then they have to be transported.  Given the size of my new organization, and the snow day today, this could take some time. I might have to continue to struggle with Sharepoint until I get a new computer; it confused my university and school board accounts, and now there is a third organization.
    • And each person who will eventually be working with me has to receive explicit instructions to share with me. Since the communication of my appointment has yet to happen, they cannot proceed, much as they would love to hand off tasks as soon as possible.
  5. Your identity needs to be more explicitly communicated:
    • Am I Dr., Mrs. or Ms.?
    • Should I add “she/her” as my pronouns, to assist those who might interpret “Terry” as a male name.
    • How do I structure my email signature? What is my name in Zoom or MS Teams or Google Meet? 

So, I stand here in front of my rather empty desk.  I have both phone and virtual meetings scheduled this week, which I know will add to my comfort level and task list. But in the meantime I wait.  In 1983 I would have been thrown into the classroom, and not stopped until the last day of June.  Today’s been very different. Perhaps I should enjoy the calm?


Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Days 17, 18 and 19

Despite our best intentions, our plans to go “screen-free” lasted until late in the day on Wednesday. By then we had been busy all day, and we needed a break from each other. And we decided that Netflix as a reward was working, so our screen time on Thursday and Friday featured “Go Dog. Go”, on repeat.

Wednesday began at 4:30, with C awake and ready for breakfast, likely due to his dinner decisions the previous evening. It took about 45 minutes to convince him to return to bed, and he successfully added a couple of hours to his sleep time.

But he did awake hungry, and so our first activity of the day was to dig out an old waffle iron, mix up some batter, and cook breakfast. The first batch didn’t meet with his approval, as I did not spread the batter to the corners, and so he didn’t have the four square waffles he expected.  As the second batch was cooking we took breakfast-in-bed to Grandpa, and confirmed that we would have having another “screen-free” day.

While he ate, we created a calendar for the month of February, entering all the important dates, including his birthday in three weeks. He enthusiastically crossed off 1, 2 and 3, and then later in the day checked off 4 as well! C spent the morning playing with Lego and his vehicles, and then making sandwiches for lunch.

We had a beautiful, clear day, so the afternoon was spent exploring nearby ditches, sliding down the snow, and keeping out of the wind. C has no idea that I might not have the flexibility and stamina that he has, and so it was a great workout.

In the evening, before bath time, we headed outdoors to examine two things: the electricity meter on the outside of the house, and the amazing display of stars. C’s idea to then play hide-and-seek in the snow was only partially effective: the temperature made the snow quite crunchy, so it was difficult not to hear where anyone walked. He did like the anticipation of hearing my footsteps, getting slowly closer and closer to his hiding spot, and I could hear him giggling as I approached.

Thursday we tried going back to the Virtual Classroom, but it consisted entirely of links to books about groundhogs, and a short memory game with photos of groundhogs. This engaged him for less than 30 minutes, and he then had a meltdown when I wouldn’t allow him to head to his toy videos on YouTube.

He was much happier playing with scissors and a small paper cutter, creating tiny squares of card-stock and then gluing them all together.

Since he had already put an X under February 4, we only checked the calendar to confirm that it was still several weeks to his birthday, and to note that his uncle’s would be the next day.

Friday was a snowy day, and C requested pasta for breakfast. He is very good at cooking Kraft Dinner, and I couldn’t think of a reason to say “no”. But before that he needed to make two small video messages for his uncle’s birthday and for his parents, to say he loved them. Both were improvised songs, and he ended the second with a heart made with his hands. I know that they will love them!

Then, because of the snow, we then relaxed with more “Go Dog. Go”, while I checked my email and the weather. We are hoping to drive south with him this weekend, but it’s looking like both days will possibly include snow squalls. Today promises 15 cm, with more tomorrow, and we have a 400-foot driveway to clear.

With the blowing snow, C is not keen to go outside, and neither am I. He asked for me to make a stuffed heart, and we worked together at the sewing machine to make it, and then he stuffed it. I added buttons, to his design, and it is now ready for him to give to his mother for Valentine’s Day. We also shortened the sleeves on a bathrobe, and he ran the pedal while I controlled the sleeve in the machine. Unfortunately these activities took minutes, not hours, and so we need to plan another eight to ten activities to fill out the day!

Looking back on our four weeks together, I am not at all worried about C’s learning. I wish that there had been some sort of social connection, both with his teachers and with his peers. However, we have been working on positive social interaction in all that we do, as well as independent work and self-regulation.

So, does Kindergarten really matter? As a university student I worked for an artist who chose to keep her children out of school until the law demanded it. She explained that schools killed creativity, and she wanted her children to be free to play until the last possible moment. The four-year-old that I cared for that summer is now a magazine editor, obviously not damaged by her lack of Kindergarten. My husband never went to Kindergarten, and began grade one in a one-room schoolhouse. He had a long career as an engineer, graduating near the top of his class both in high school and university. I attended half-day Kindergarten when I was five-years-old, and the requirements were much less detailed than today’s curriculum:

From this report card you will see that printing wasn’t even assessed until the last term of senior kindergarten.  I only counted to 10. And there are some characteristics you have learned about C that I also shared at the same age.

Despite this rather unimpressive beginning to my education I excelled at school, and achieved well in my post-secondary programs. It’s perhaps not surprising that I studied music initially, nor that I ended up as a Principal. However, I am sure that this report card would be received with little enthusiasm by today’s parents. It might not be surprising as well to hear that I spent much of grade one with my desk at the end of the last row, facing the back of the room. Nor that in grade 7 I had a desk by the window, with hand-made “blinders” to keep me from talking with the others, who were in groups of four or five.

My home at C’s age had only one black-and-white television set, which received one station only. There was at most an hour of children’s programming each morning: The Friendly Giant, Chez Helene, and Mr. Dressup. We had a few books, but depended upon the library for most of our reading material. We owned a couple of children’s records, but I had to ask my parents to play them for me on the “hi-fi”. And most days we played unsupervised with the other children in the neighbourhood while our mothers did laundry with a wringer-washer, nursed our younger siblings, and prepared meals without a microwave or food processor.

The world that C inhabits is infinitely richer than I experienced as a child, and his school experience has demanded far more from him already than was asked of me at a much greater age.

I am not worried about his development. And I don’t think that other parents should either. Providing a secure, caring home is much more important. Our kids will learn. Our kids will grow. Despite us!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 16

Today was a “no screens” day. Except for a search for a bread recipe, a Cricut project, and “window shopping” for Lego for C’s upcoming 5th birthday, we kept all computers, tablets, and phones out of sight. Generally it went very well.

We observed a lot more singing, imaginative play, conversations with both of us, and much more movement. There were a few tears, but they soon extinguished and C was on to something else.

Breakfast was one huge pancake, with C’s secret ingredients of cinnamon and raisins added. It was intended to be a normal pancake, but the raisins didn’t cooperate when exiting the bowl, and the entire batch found itself in the cast-iron frypan. C generously cut me wedges of the pancake, and we shared most of it, then put the remainder in the fridge for later.

A trip to the “attic” revealed some new-to-us games, including two small paddles and a birdie. Since this wasn’t going to be a safe indoor activity, we headed out into the wind and sun. C figured out how to toss the birdie, and occasionally hit it with the paddle. The sound it made was a strong reinforcement, and he persisted with the activity a lot longer than I expected.

Back inside we began the process of bread-making, with tasting the dough several times, and kneading his own small piece before returning it to the bowl. Unfortunately he acquired a taste for the dough, and secretly tasted some more later in the morning, as the loaves were rising just prior to going into the oven. (I noticed that the towel covering the loaves was askew, and he rather sheepishly said that he “was hungry”.) The result was one beautifully-shaped loaf, and one that was rather lumpy and lumpy, due to the pokes and pulls.

We made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, with C helping to spread butter, and separate the cheese slices. We insisted that our meal take place at the table, and except for the bright sun making C “hot”, it was a pleasant lunch.

Our Cricut project was inspired by our baking: the labels on our measuring cups and measuring spoons were almost illegible, and so we designed and cut new vinyl labels. C was able to put the spoons in order, but was upset that 1/8 tsp was the smallest, even though it had the largest number. I think that the concept of fractions is going to need a bit more work!

Then the Lego shopping took much of the afternoon. C is very concerned about the recommended ages on the various Lego sets, interested in the number of pieces, and not-at-all concerned about the price. I, however, am sensitive to price, and so it took quite a while to come to an agreement about which sets would have the best play value for the price. He understands that online ordering means that we have to wait, and seemed quite excited when I said that his birthday would be in three weeks. We haven’t converted that to days, but I’m sure that is coming.

It is likely that we will not be with him for his birthday at the end of the month, as we will be returning him home this weekend, so that he can (hopefully) return to school in person. So I will do curb-side pickup when we take him home, and ensure that his gifts are safely stored with his parents until that day. This deferred gratification will be a challenging exercise for him, but one that I hope will pay off.

We will be having dinner at the table tonight, without our usual video or movie to watch. I’m hoping that our conversation will continue through dinner. With a bedtime of 8:00 there is still a great deal of time for play and stories. And now that my tiling is done, C can enjoy playtime in the tub as well.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 15

It’s week 5 of online school for C, and his fourth with me.  We decided that he should check in with his class, to begin the week, despite having been asynchronous for much of last week. He was ready at 8:30, and the 45 minute wait was filled with music and videos, and you can imagine where he ended up. So, I promised he could return to his paused video after attendance, and he held me to it.

The class opened with the three teachers (ECE, phys. ed., and supply teacher) discussing dogs and their weekend experiences.  They occasionally said “hello” and then “please mute your mic” to the students as they arrived. C was able to say “Look at my shirt”, and they did respond with “Nice shirt”, which brought a smile to his face.  Then for five minutes there was nothing to engage the incoming students. C was eager to share, saying “I want to sing them my song”. I explained that he needed to wait, and he complied. At attendance he did hold up his new name card, which they commented on. And then, immediately, he said “can I go back to my video?”.  Having promised, I “caved”, and so he then began watching a video of children playing with a Hot Wheels Play Set.  It’s imaginative play, and likely has many of the aspects of his play at school with friends, suggesting new vocabulary and developing interesting plot lines.  C is also interested in the mechanics of the vehicles and characters, and will both describe and critique the engineering decisions.

I finally lured him away from the screen with the promise of a sled ride, and so we spent much of the afternoon out in the fields and woods. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were able to remove mittens and hats when out of the wind. He took his skid-steer, monster truck, snowball maker, and one of my windshield scrapers with us on the journey. They were a little difficult to hold onto on the slippery sled, but all were used in his play at some point in the afternoon. He is becoming quite good at steering the sled down the hill, and no longer insists that I pull it back to the top for him. So, I was able to pull up a lawn chair, and enjoy the sun!

His choice when we returned indoors was to paint, with a set of acrylic paints I picked up on the weekend. He had already used the three small canvases I purchased, so we cut cardboard instead. He understands that green and red make brown, and that was useful for his painting of a cat. Red is his favourite colour, and so his robot painting was entirely red.  We will likely only be able to use this colour one more time before we run out. It is interesting to see how he works with the various sizes of brushes, and changes his grip to achieve the look he desires. Also purchased on the weekend were a pair of safety scissors, and so one of his cardboard “canvases” now has corners cut off, painted brown, and glued to the painting. I remember being taught how to use scissors when I was in kindergarten, but I don’t think I tackled cardboard until I was much older.

We continue to battle over “screens”. With a family television set, his Chromebook, and his Fire tablet, there is plenty of access. And it’s not as if we don’t like our computers, Netflix, and DVDs. We are NOT good role models, and so it’s difficult to deny his wish to view. We have been trying to incorporate some social viewing, where the three of us watch together.  He either is entirely engrossed, or he becomes excited by the action and begins running around, participating in the plot. Having watched the live-action Aladdin, he was intrigued by our book of the same title.  The only roadblock is that it is in French, and I’m not able to do live translation into English, in order to read it to him. He is very encouraging, telling me that I can do it, but my grade 13 French isn’t up to the subtleties of the plot.

So, I really think that having him log in, and sit passively in front of the Chromebook, is setting us up for failure during the day.  Even when we visited the Virtual Classroom in the afternoon, he only chose two or three activities, and then went down the rabbit hole of toy videos. I think that, given the addictive nature, it would be easier if we never turned them on.

So, tomorrow, we will opt out, and I will keep the screens on the shelf as long as possible.

Stay tuned to find out how that works!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Days 13 & 14

C awoke ready to make breakfast. Of course he needed a recipe, so he drew each item, and then labelled them: bread, butter, cinnamon and raisins.  The last two he copied from the packages, and as you can see in one of the images above, he’s beginning to adopt a traditional pen grip and trying to put all the letters in a line.

Then he helped prepare tonight’s dinner: beef stew. I did the chopping, and he added each item to the crockpot. He even tasted a new food: parsnips. 

I headed back to my tiling project, and C stayed in his pyjamas, building Lego and singing songs. We called his parents via Facebook Messenger Kids, and he was able to walk around the house with my phone, sharing all of his favourite places. It is clear that they are missing each other, and so we committed to a daily conversation.  This should help him with the conversation turn-taking, and support his strong connection with his family.  We’ll also have to plan a few evening calls, so that he can see his little sister, who is at daycare during the day.

We had an adult conversation as well; hoping that the return to school date of February 10 might actually be real. We’d like his transition home and then back to school to go smoothly, so we’re thinking that he’ll head back at the end of next week, if all goes according to plan.

We shared a lunch of leftovers, and then I returned to my tiling while C took out his tablet to play games and watch some of his favourite shows. Then he asked to go back to his Chromebook, to visit the videos in his Virtual Classroom.  He was disappointed that there were still only two videos, and two books, all four of which he had viewed. So, he ended up back with shows on YouTube (oh well….) He does seem to choose videos that connect either to books we have read, or toys he owns. He is certainly developing a strong sense of plot and of the various characters.  His imaginative play also includes some sophisticated language from some of these shows.  Among my favourites to view with him are the perennial Peppa Pig, and the impressive Chico BonBon: Monkey with a Toolbelt. I know that the latter is responsible for many new words that otherwise would not be part of C’s vocabulary for many years. 

As C and I interact throughout the day, I try to engage him in puzzles, both word and number.  One night in the hot tub we played with 6 pool rings.  With the jets and bubbles on I would hold some of the rings above the water, and ask him how many were underwater. It was interesting that when I held up six, he said “no”, meaning “no rings”.  We then substituted the words “none” and “zero”. It was a fun game, and he clearly understands all the ways to “make six”.

The next day began in a similar fashion, though C was hungry enough to want to make pancakes without a recipe.  He has become very proficient at levelling dry ingredients, and breaking eggs. His variation on the recipe this time was to add cinnamon and raisins to the batter (are you sensing a theme here?).

His day was again one of parallel play; with me as I did some TA work online, then began to grout my bathroom, and with grandpa as he taped drywall. C is quite happy to play with Lego or blocks, or view videos, as long as we are nearby.

With the cold temperatures, we weren’t sure about outdoor play.  But by 4:00 it was clear that he needed to get out of the house, so he and grandpa headed down the drive to the mailbox, out to the back with the kitchen compost, and then into the pond to play in the snow.

It is a gift to have all this time with C. After three weeks he is really missing his parents and sister, but he seems happy most of the time. At four years of age he is likely to remember this time together, and we will certainly not forget. 

They are re-opening schools in the London and Ottawa areas, and so there is hope that the GTA schools will re-open as well, after the promise February 10 date. That means at least another week with us, and so I will be trying to think of unique activities that we can do here.  We have lots of snow, plenty of building materials, and much more time than most parents!

And I have the benefit of suggestions via responses to this blog, Twitter posts, and conversations with friends and colleagues.  I am learning a great deal, and appreciate all the support I have received. Thank you!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 12

As promised, today we are not going to try the synchronous Google Meet, as it seems to be more stress than success. C was happy with this decision, and happy to head to the Virtual Classroom (Bitmoji) where he had listened to one story and viewed a video on volcanoes yesterday. I was happy that I didn’t need to “time” his school start, so he began at 8:45, rather than waiting to sign in at 9:15.

Today he tried the second video in the Virtual Classroom, on coral reefs, but found the lecturing adult female didn’t hold his attention. His choice was to return to the volcano video, which then sent him down a path of choices which, fortunately, were SciShow Kids, and appropriate for him.  Getting back to the virtual classroom by selecting the correct tab in Chrome is much more difficult than clicking on the animated advertisement for the next video suggestion in YouTube. SciShow was founded in 2012 by one of my favourite vloggers, Hank Green. Heading down the rabbit hole of his, and his brother John’s work is definitely worth it!

But back to Kindergarten.  Among the curriculum expectations are a few that we really need to work on, including “26. develop an appreciation of the multiple perspectives encountered within groups, and of ways in which they themselves can contribute to groups and to group well-being”, and especially “2.4 demonstrate self-control (e.g., be aware of and label their own emotions; accept help to calm down; calm themselves down after being upset) and adapt behaviour to different contexts within the school environment (e.g., follow routines and rules in the classroom, gym, library, playground)”. The latter has been a real challenge for C to achieve within Google Meet, and so I’m hesitant to completely give up on the synchronous classroom, knowing that there is a great deal for him to learn about turn-taking and connection.

Yesterday’s blog post evoked this response via Twitter: “I say go for it. We would be asynchronous all day long if I didn’t need something to “occupy” M while I’m on for my 225+ mins…” This is a shared concern of all of my teaching colleagues, who are trying to support their children online while teaching themselves.  I have the luxury of time to “prompt” and “redirect”, which is not possible for a parent who is managing a class of 30 online. So, I think we need to look for strong asynchronous resources, ones which allow a student to work independently for longer periods of time, and which transition from one event to the next easily for little ones like ours. I am going to have to give this more thought….

I stepped aside this morning to listen to Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson on VoicEd radio’s This Week in Edublogs discussing last week’s blog. It was affirming to hear their thoughts, and to hear their support for my last two recommendations, to have an agenda for the day, and to connect individually with students. Writing this blog supports my thinking and problem-solving, and I am hopeful that it might inspire the same in others. My husband and I discussed Stephen’s comment about this year being C’s first experience of “big-boy school”. We concluded that he likely won’t think of this as school; it will be the physical building and the social connection that he experience prior to lockdown that will be “school” for him. (It should be noted that while I was doing this C continued with his video-watching for more than an hour, ending up, inevitably, at one of his favour toy-demonstration videos!)

We then engaged in parallel play: C with his play dough, me with my bathroom tiles, and his grandpa with wiring. He stayed focused until lunch, which he shared with his grandpa while I set tiles. Then he joined me to begin the clean-up process, washing thin-set off tiles, and discussing the purpose of the “plus signs” between the tiles. He asked for the offcuts, and used his markers to begin to build a small house (see photo above).

It was a beautiful sunny day, so he headed outside with his grandpa, though only after a great deal of conversation about the “getting dressed” process. He has a very strict order for these type of processes, and would prefer if we followed the same order as he. We have been able to have a good conversation about respecting differences, and allowing others to do there own thing. I wonder how much of this “rule following” is his natural tendency, and how much is a result of his daycare and school experiences.

It’s now the end of the school day, and we have had no tears. C is happy and well-fed, and both grandparents have also completed some of their own projects.  We will cook dinner together, enjoy a movie while we eat, perhaps play in the hot tub, and will end up with four stories (he is four years old, so we have to read four books) before bed. His self-regulation will be challenged by the full-length movie, and by the requirement not to splash in the hot tub. And we will work on his memory skills while we review the day, and talk about his highlights.

I am thinking that perhaps we should work on his interpersonal skills with our own Google Meet sessions, with only one person at the other end, so that he can practise turn taking in conversation.  Sounds like a plan for this weekend!