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!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 11

I was awakened this morning by the sound of C laughing in his sleep. When I told him this, once he awoke, he was very angry, and insisted that he hadn’t been laughing.  I wonder why the idea of laughing in his sleep is so troubling to him.

With almost two hours before school begins, we then began the negotiation of screen time. He has become obsessed with the show “Grizzy and the Lemmings”, a very violent program similar to Looney Toons, with no voices but only sound effects and grunts. I told him that it wasn’t a good choice, and he repeated his argument that he still didn’t know “how to speak bear”. And when I then asked C why he liked it, he said “it makes me laugh”. I explained that I didn’t like how it made him behave, and he informed me that he would hide later today to watch it. Guess I’m going to have keep him busy and distracted!

He has amazing access to Netflix videos and many educational apps via his tablet.  When I checked on him around 8:30 he was watching a show about counting by fives.  And then he shifted to Dr. Panda’s Bus Driver game, where there is no violence, easy of play, and C has to warn birds on the road by honking his horn, has to help passengers to their seats, and has to fill up the tank when running low.  It would be interesting to determine how children decide whether to passively watch a video, or to engage in a game. One of his favourites is in French: Tiny Trucks

By 8:50 C was dressed and looking at his class Virtual Classroom (Bitmoji). He chose to click on the volcano, and it took him to a great episode from SciShow Kids. Perhaps this choice was because he had driven past a volcano several times as the “bus driver”? As usual, he had a couple of suggested videos that took him from the protected ViewPure interface, into the full YouTube.  Fortunately most of the suggested videos were also SciShow Kids, and so he chose to watch an episode about endangered animals, and then one on Earth Day.

It’s a “snow day”, and so when C logged in today there were only four online, and they were talking about “outages” that were keeping one of the teachers unable to connect. They finally decided to take attendance and proceed, with a plan to revert to asynchronous should the system crash. Again, since C is at the end of the alphabet, he has to hold up his name card for almost two minutes before being acknowledged, and permitted to put his card down. By the time his name was called, C was tumbling on the bed, and I was holding his name in front of the camera.  (Perhaps they could just do a screen capture, and one of the two teachers could enter the data, while the other proceeded with the class activity?)

Following the opening exercises the teachers shared some of the student contributions to the Google Classroom. They shared their screen, clicked on the student images, and then invited the students to explain their creations. C chose, instead, to type names of all the people he knew, on my computer. When the teacher asked how an octopus moves, that inspired a YouTube search to see what it looks like while swimming. C told me that he needed four more arms in order to swim like an octopus! However, as with the asynchronous classroom, as soon as we exited the video, we were shown appealing “toy” videos, and C was upset when I would not permit him to watch them. The teacher shared a video of an octopus walking on land, and the choppy video, via Google Meet, was quite a bit less appealing than our direct YouTube connection had been. So, we headed down that “rabbit hole”, and spent the rest of the day exploring YouTube.

C also wanted to do some writing on my computer, and he keyed the names of all the members of his family. He is challenged by the need to use the shift key to make the characters match what he sees on the keyboard, but otherwise manages quite well to sound out the names, and type them in.

His choices this afternoon included video, outdoor play, and ongoing Lego and Transformer imaginative play. I asked him what appealed to him, in his video choices, and he could only say “it’s so cool!”. So, I think working on vocabulary, and critical consumption, will be our takeaway, instead of imposing my preferences.

Tomorrow we are going to try doing ONLY the asynchronous virtual classroom, and not stress C out by trying to connect in Google Meet.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 10

So we’re back for week three, and trying a different approach.  Kindergarten in Ontario is “play-based in a culture of inquiry”, and I am going to do my best to support this. If you’ve been reading my blog you will know that I am an experienced secondary school teacher and administrator who has most recently been teaching at the university level, so this is not within my comfort zone.  However, I did go to Kindergarten myself (and, you know, this is what makes everyone an expert in education), and I successfully raised two children of my own.  I’m hoping that this will give me some of the resources I need!

In preparation, I downloaded the curriculum document and began to deconstruct it, to make sense of the policy that C’s teachers are working with.  As a proponent of backward-design, or Understanding by Design, I began with the curriculum expectations, and discovered that the program has 31 overall expectations, and 126 more specific expectations.  While policy indicates that only overall expectations are evaluated, having 157 articulations of criteria is overwhelming!

The backward design process begins with expectations, considers what might be evidence that the expectations have been met, invites creation of essential questions, and then develops instruction to support this learning. So, over the next couple of weeks I will be examining expectations, considering how C might demonstrate them, and then selecting from the class resources, internet sources, and my own experiences, to support his learning.  Each day we will join the class in the morning, and stay as long as he is able.  We’ll make use of the Bitmoji classroom, ensuring that we look at each suggestion, and then modifying them to fit.  I will attempt some “pedagogical documentation”, beginning with a printed paper list of expectations, and then hopefully figuring out a better technological solution.

Our first challenge of the day was managing the transition to the Chromebook, and preparing for attendance.  C asked me to cut letters for him to glue to a piece of paper, and then was immediately upset that I created his full name; he only wanted his first name.  Then, because he finished this five minutes before the Google Meet link appeared, we went into the Bitmoji classroom to explore.  He chose a link to an Arkansas Zoo presentation that was almost 12 minutes long. Needless to say we battled over “pausing” this, and I chose to allow him to continue to view, making C “late” for class.  

I know that the Education Act requires that teachers be in their classrooms 15 minutes before the start of the school day, so this allows some flexibility, and a gentler transition into the work of the day.  However, that doesn’t seem to be required in our new online setting, and the transitions are much more abrupt. In the 15 minutes before class, in my experience, the room is prepared, music might be playing, and teachers can ensure that they are ready.  Since we arrived eight minutes late to the class, we could hear them beginning the land acknowledgement, before our connection dropped.

Back into the Google Meet, using a different internet connection, we arrived in time for the national anthem.  Because of the need to stand still, we turned the camera off. This was followed by their physical education session, beginning with the warmup.  C was being a T-rex, and so was unwilling to follow along. It would seem that we missed attendance, but his presence was acknowledged verbally.  The second activity was “Zookeeper”, where the teacher held up a picture of an animal to the camera, the students were moving like the animal, and then the teacher tried to guess which animal the kids could see.  C said he hadn’t learned how to be a bear yet.  The second was penguin, and C was able to “waddle” and the teacher guessed almost immediately.  Third came a seal, and this was difficult both for the children and the teacher! The giraffe invited “tall necks”, and then the panda generated an “eating bamboo”.

C then decided he was too hot, and he had to go upstairs where it was cooler.  He signed out of the Google Classroom, having been there for only 15 minutes, and headed up the stairs.  While there he saw my sewing machine, and asked we could sew. This turned into a literacy and numeracy activity, since the sewing machine has codes to sew shapes and letters, and he was able to identify the letters of his name and enter the code into the machine, then press the pedal to have the machine sew each letter in turn.  The code for A was 11, so he correctly read and keyed two-digit numbers up to 37, and spelled his name from memory.

A bit of laundry had him reading “Power” and “Start”, and then he decided that going outside would be a good solution for the mud in his monster truck’s wheels. So, we headed out into the snow. My new snowshoes worked perfectly, and I was able to pull C on a sled through the fields to say “hello” to neighbours.  We discussed how different each of the three homes we passed looked, from how they had appeared in the summer.  We noticed tracks, and considered who might have made them.  And then we headed back for a slide down the hill and then lunch.  (The monster truck was accompanied on the trip by his skid-steer and a windshield scraper, which made a great ice axe.)

Lunch included “Abby Hatcher” on his tablet while he ate.  TVOkids lists this program as kindergarten, and it certainly engages C! Nickelodeon says that the program supports “problem solving, being a good friend, and persistence”. Glad to see Overall Expectation: “4. demonstrate an ability to use problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts, including social contexts” and “23. use problem-solving strategies, on their own and with others, when experimenting with the skills, materials, processes, and techniques used in drama, dance, music, and visual arts”, among others. Abby certainly supports Specific Expectation: “3.3 demonstrate an awareness of ways of making and keeping friends”.  Although this is viewing, not doing, there is modelling of Specific Expectation: “7.2 demonstrate persistence while engaged in activities that require the use of both large and small muscles (e.g., tossing and catching beanbags, skipping, lacing, drawing).” There is certainly a great deal of creative play that is inspired by C’s viewing of this program, including his singing of the theme song!

Among his afternoon activities was a visit to my desk (while I was in the other room) where he found my Cricut paper cutter (which he has seen me use, and shouldn’t have accessed without permission….) and offcuts of cardstock.  He also asked for post-its, which I gave to him to use to create labels.  Instead of making labels he drew lines, and then cut along the lines, to create four squares out of each larger post-it note.  He cut triangles off the corners of a rectangle, and began gluing pieces together.  When he needed eyes, nose, and mouth, he drew these on a post-it, and then came to me to ask for assistance to cut them out. The tail required a larger piece of paper, but again he drew and I cut.  You can see the results at the top of this post.

When looking back on the day, I am pleased to see that he demonstrated a lot of expectation 7.2, with persistence throughout.  Never once did he give up, even when arguing this morning for “gummies” for breakfast!

His impromptu artwork certainly addressed “31.3 explore different elements of design (e.g., colour, line, shape, texture, form) in visual arts”, and “8.4 demonstrate control of small muscles (e.g., use a functional grip when writing) while working in a variety of learning areas (e.g., sand table, water table, visual arts area) and when using a variety of materials or equipment (e.g., using salt trays, stringing beads, painting with paintbrushes, drawing, cutting paper, using a keyboard, using bug viewers, using a mouse, writing with a crayon or pencil)”. But I guess I am going to have to order some safe scissors, for him to continue on this creative path.

Our school day ended by making beds, where C chose to be under the fitted sheet, rather than on top. He enjoyed being “trapped”, and how everything looked red from within his burgundy tent.

We had a visit in the afternoon from C’s great-aunt, whose own grandchildren are now almost all fully grown. Our conversation connected what we were seeing with our own rather narrow experiences at the same age. We identified skills and knowledge far beyond that which we had at age four, and expressed our wonder at how much C knows.

So, I will continue our “follow the child” approach, and connect what I see back to what we are “supposed to be doing” in the curriculum

Want to bet that we hit most of the curriculum expectations without a “plan”?



Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Days 6, 7, 8 & 9

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:

  1. Playlists should be created, linked to curriculum expectations, which would be helpful to ALL teachers.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 5

C awoke eager to make robot cookies this morning, so before we even arrived at school we had mixed sugar cookie dough, and cut out cookies to bake. C is getting very good at levelling cups of flour, though not so careful with the stirring yet. He is also very ambitious with his cookie cutting, creating a robot that was a huge challenge to transfer to the baking sheet.

It took a bit of nagging to get him to log in, and he initially refused to put up his name card for attendance.  We did hear the teacher say hello to him, so we know that they saw him.  However, as we moved into the morning’s physical activity he turned both camera and microphone off. They then asked them to put up their name cards again, so he turned his camera on and chose yesterday’s card to reuse, because it was “Bumblebee in Disguise” (which he continued to sing throughout the attendance process.)

The cookies were baking as we headed to class, so he was able to share his first “man”, and then eat it as the teachers struggled to get today’s art gallery presentation to show. We could hear the presentation in the background, as one teacher coached the others to “share this tab”, and it wasn’t working. They finally decided that the other teacher should give it a try. When it finally worked, we could see the presentation, and the audio was “jittery”, but at least they could see it!

C had eaten his entire cookie, and was enjoying a juice box.  Not the healthiest breakfast (he had a yogourt before we baked), but at least he was smiling.  

He was able to identify that the image was a sculpture, but did not attend to the questions as the image remained on the screen for several minutes. When the response to one of her questions was that it looked like a “god” she then asked what they saw that made it look holy.  I know that C had no idea what she was talking about. The focus today was on art from Africa and the diaspora, and the curator talked about the Yoruba culture. She connected it to farming, but did not situate her work with a map, nor with any text, and she did not mention Nigeria at all. At 10 minutes we were still looking at the single image of the mask, and there had been no other visual support for what she was presenting. C was now using the straw from his juice box to blow bubbles of apple juice across his desk. We persisted, since it had been the art gallery presentation on Tuesday that had inspired C to draw. At 14 minutes it was still the picture of the mask, and she was talking about its size.  Without any reference within the picture, I’m sure our kids had no idea how large it was. At 16 minutes the image changed to “Wellness Activity” text, white on black, while she talked about festivals, and asked them to think about a festival that they had gone to. There were other classes contributing to her Q&A chat, so she repeated some of the names…. but it still said “Wellness Activity” on the screen.  I wonder if early readers were puzzled by this. From what the curator was saying, I’m pretty sure that it was the teachers participating, not any students directly in the chat. At 19 minutes she shared a contemporary sculpture made from shoes, which C saw as a robot, though it was entitled “Mother and Child” (which was confirmed in the descriptive text next to the image.) By this time C’s juice box had been compressed, and was being used as the target for his wrecking ball fist. At 25 minutes it was clear that several students were struggling, with one being reminded to stop playing with her microphone, and to keep it off.

Had this been a presentation in one of my secondary school classes, I would have suggested more visuals, supportive text for key ideas, and a quicker pace than two images in 30 minutes.  It is clear that the art gallery staff are not trained teachers, and have not read “Learning for All“, or any of our curriculum documents (Kindergarten). 

At 30 minutes she shifted to “Mini art activity” on the screen, and described what she was doing, but never shared herself to show us what she was doing. When someone added to the chat that we couldn’t see, she finally stopped her screen share, and showed us her drawing for about one second. Seeing her face was very welcome, though the two bright pot lights either side of her face put her in shadow. And then it was over…. without any clear direction for the students to follow.

Back with the class they began their opening ceremonies, with a great deal of negotiation between the teachers. C was entirely disengaged by this time, playing with his transformer Bumblebee at the side. He refused to turn his camera off, which I did not challenge, as his activity might be useful feedback to his teachers. It was interesting today that C chose to try to read along with his classmate as she read the land acknowledgement. And then the teachers spoke about C being “up north” where there would be a different land acknowledgement. This is our homework for the weekend, to share at the next class.

They also asked C to stay online after the national anthem, to talk about the pictures that we posted earlier in the week.  The national anthem was only audio today, and the students were reminded at the end that they needed to stand and not play during it. C found the interaction with the teachers difficult, and he didn’t take turns well during the interaction. I think that talking about the activity from four days ago might have been one of the factors, as was the tiny image on the screen with the full grid of his classmates as distractions. And, of course, Bumblebee continued to be a draw for his attention. Looking at the screen, and seeing the empty rooms, tops of heads, and students obviously singing and talking, I’m not sure that anyone was truly listening.

The next activity (they had now been sitting still for 75 minutes), was a scavenger hunt, where they would be able to get up and move. I redirected C’s attention to the screen. The first task was to find something with the colour yellow, so guess what he held up to share? The teacher called on each student in turn. The teacher described what each student was holding, but C and I were only seeing their initials, not their faces, so it really wasn’t helpful to reinforce the concept of “yellow”. C was the last to be called on, and it took almost 15 minutes to get through this first cycle of the scavenger hunt. They were very attentive to ensure that they didn’t miss anyone.  The next was something that smelled nice, so he shared cinnamon and his robot cookie.  Next was something smaller than his hand, and so a piece of lego was his choice. When they asked for something with numbers, C immediately said “measuring tape”, and we had to go up two flights of stairs to get one for him. He was very excited to then make the tape go as high as he could.  The teachers continued to struggle with their layout, with one only seeing the initials, not their cameras. The next task was to find something in his favourite colour, and since he had his Lego firetruck beside him, and red is his favourite colour, that was his choice.  Today was “wear your favourite colour day”, so his T-shirt was also red. And next was “something that keeps you warm”, and he headed immediately for his blanket from his bed.  By now his desk was getting very cluttered with the cinnamon, firetruck, Bumblebee and cookie, so his blanket created a bit of a disaster! Then, find something that begins with the same letter as your first name. This one was a challenge for C, but he was able to find something that was also a good snack! The last one was something that starts with “B”, and so guess what he shared… again.

They had now been attending for 95 minutes without a break; longer than I would even ask of my grad students! And the teachers hadn’t had a break either, not even a few seconds off camera.

And then, finally, break time. They were invited to go and explore the virtual classroom (though this instruction was difficult to hear as C and his classmates all had their microphones on) for the asynchronous time.  They were also directed to a new Jamboard, but with the delays in Google Meet (seems to be a universal problem over the past couple of days), the teachers were finding it difficult to share to model the activity. The students were then invited to choose a sticky, and post a message to cheer up everyone else.  The teachers would like them to do it “on their own”, so we decided to try this later, when C might have more attention to give (than he had now, 100 minutes into this class, as he was “zapping” his Lego firetruck, and removing parts.) These directions took some time, so the break time remaining was only  48 minutes to eat and explore. I was surprised that C was unhappy that we were leaving the meeting, saying “I love my teachers”. I guess that observable behaviour doesn’t always align with how a child is feeling!

It was wonderful spending more than an hour outside. C chose to “earthquake” his igloo, built on Monday. Then we headed to the pond to slide down the hill and explore the characteristics of snow, bark, and “snow fleas”, more properly named “springtails”. The latter were found in our footprints from earlier this week, and likely came to the surface during our recent above-freezing days. There was plenty of singing of improvised songs, lots of kicking and digging, and even grandma got more exercise than usual.

Back  in the house we put all our wet clothes in the dryer, and C assisted me to begin sorting my quilting fabric.  He arranged my six boxes in rainbow order (identifying the last as indigo), and then rushed around to find other containers for black, white, rainbow, brown, pink and “uncategorizable” fabrics. Then we cooked Mac and Cheese, and C relaxed to watch “Justin Time” while he ate. This adventure show incorporates geography and history, and introduces C to new vocabulary that then shows up in his conversations with us.

I took some time to review the content from this week’s Google Classroom and the Virtual Classroom (Bitmoji).  As of 2:15 there was still nothing more in the Stream than the Jamboard that they shared this morning, so I was not sure when they would be reconvening for the end of day (I assume 3:00), nor what activity was planned.

Instead we visited the Jamboard, and read the messages already there from six of his classmates.  Then we decided to add an image, so he drew a happy face, sounded out and wrote the word “SMILE”, and added his name. Using the “image” function we were able to take a picture of his artwork and his own smiling face, and add it to the Jamboard. 

Then he returned watching more Justin Time, eating more Mac and Cheese, and gave me time to reflect on the day.

I am impressed that he stayed nearby for almost two hours of online activity. By not pushing him (except when he was asked to speak to the class about his igloo building) he seemed more willing to return occasionally, and engage in the activity. He was more connected during the Scavenger Hunt, less so when they were sharing, and not at all when there was nothing for him to do but listen.

I am wondering how much direct instruction would have taken place when he was attending in person with his JK/SK class. I suspect that it was much less than we experienced today. I also suspect that his teachers did much more 1:1 interaction; they are currently doing almost none. Maybe they could use their tools to have students interact directly with them individually for 5 or 10 minutes, a couple of times a week.  I think that building that relationship, checking in personally, and supporting turn-taking in conversation, would go a long way to supporting engagement when they are back in the full-class, online setting.

So, now it’s the weekend.  We’ll continue to do creative activities, get outside a lot, and enjoy video resources together. And I hope that C will be happy to return on Monday, to see the faces of all his friends, and begin to develop some self-regulation and participate more fully.

I wish his teachers a relaxing two days, and a fruitful Professional Learning day on Monday. I hope that they are inspired to consider planning for more activities that are chunked within shorter timeframes, and which allow for direct communication with each of the students. I’m sure that they end their days exhausted, and feeling that they haven’t really connected. I’ll continue to reflect too, and consider how I might help from home, to connect C to his teachers and his classmates.

Happy Friday!


Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 4

C’s morning went well: woke up well-rested, enjoyed a couple of episodes of Paw Patrol, ate frozen fruit for breakfast, dressed himself, and then chose to make a new name card for attendance.  Today’s card featured his drawing of his newest “Bumblebee” figure, and his name with all the letters in a row, in the correct order.

The link to the Google Meet was late to be posted; due to a staff meeting the teachers were delayed. And when we joined, there was a lot of conversation about why one of them could not see the children’s video, only their initials. C was still drawing, and not ready to hold up his name card, but he hurried and was able to share both the card, and his new Bumblebee. The attendance process included a personal greeting to each, and C was happy to see everyone on screen, especially one who had a new train set. C was able to name everyone on the screen, even those whose camera’s were off. He would have loved to have been able to talk to a few of his friends, but so far there has been no opportunity for student-to-student interaction.

The opening exercises now include C turning off his camera, since he doesn’t want to stand.  Today’s class began with the same physical warmup from yesterday, and C was happy to be up and jumping… at least for two minutes.  Then the call of his Bumblebee was too strong, and he returned to imaginative play with his new toy. I chose not to redirect him, observing to see if and when he would re-engage. He was interested in the instructions to everyone to turn off their cameras, but happy to hear the music. We added all three of today’s songs to a playlist, to listen to later today in the car. When I asked him why he wasn’t dancing, he said “because I don’t want to now”. 

Today’s letter was “P”, and C was quick to identify it and its sound. He found “pocket”, and since he had no pockets in his pants, he borrowed the pocket from my hoodie, to share. His first attempt was to turn on his mic and shout! When all of the class was instructed to turn microphones off, he complied, and was then called on to share. However, after doing so, instead of continuing to watch the other shares, he then headed to the bed for some bouncing. The teacher was attentive, ensuring that all students were permitted to share, and there was quite a list by the time they were done. C wasn’t sure that bringing a “potty” to the screen was a good idea, but it was handled well by his teacher. Then they were asked to think of a “P” activity: pedal, penguin walk, push, pull, or pop. C’s choice was to have Bumblebee dance, rather than doing it himself.

At the transition there was a suggestion that the students thank their parents, grandparents, siblings and caregivers, for the all help they are giving their children online. This was a beautiful acknowledgement of the assistance that all of them are receiving at home, working online. I echo this thanks, knowing how difficult it has been for me, a qualified teacher and experienced parent.

The message of the day was posted by “J”, and he was invited to read it while the teacher shared the screen. The students were invited to comment on his post in the “stream”. I had to enter C’s response for him, and it would be interesting to see how many other JK students could do this independently. Since the question asked them to vote on their choice of snack, it was suggested by one of the teachers that they return to this later in the day to see all the responses.

At 45 minutes into the day’s activities, C chose to leave the room, and play elsewhere. I closed down his Chromebook, and will check in later to see if there are other activities that we could plan for, within his attention span.  I would love if there were an agenda for the day, so that we could plan together, to participate selectively in those that would have the greatest impact.  While the sharing and conversation that was going on when he left were very important to the child sharing, it was an exercise in patience for the rest of the class, as they had no role in the process.

So I have chosen to adopt the philosophy of Suzuki, and follow the child.

We did not make it back to the “classroom” by the end of the day.  The only message as of 11:00 was that they were meeting at 11:45, but no clues given as to the activity planned. We instead drove an hour away to deliver yesterday’s baking to C’s great-grandmother, meeting her in a parking lot to ensure that we distanced. By the time we returned, it was the end of the day.  C had packed his lego firetruck into his tote for the trip, but unwisely chose to place it at the bottom. So rebuilding his truck was an excellent spatial activity with which we ended the school day.

I had a webinar scheduled at 3:30, sharing D2L/Brightspace with principals from across our province.  Having taught with D2L at Laurentian University, I had a basic understanding, but learned much more about the use of curriculum expectations and the portfolio. The ability to track achievement of expectations for each student, as well as for courses and classes looks very powerful.

Is anyone in the K-3 panel using Brightspace with their classes? It looks like it might be a strong environment to support students on a daily basis, as well as to communicate with both students and parents. I’d love to hear from you, if you have moved to this VLE.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 3

Day three began well, with C beginning a morning routine.  He has made a new name card each day, and this serves as a good warm-up, and fills the time until the Google Meet link shows up in their Google Classroom. By getting into the class as soon as possible he gets acknowledgement from his teacher, and seems willing to engage. Having snacks nearby has also been a help (thank you to one of my teacher-candidates for this suggestion!).

Today the routine of the land acknowledgement and national anthem was followed immediately by physical education. The teacher modelled the warmup, and then shared a “Let’s Exercise” video, with choices of movements that moved quickly and had upbeat music. She used half the screen for the video, and the other half was the class grid. C still needed prompts from me to return to the computer, and turn his camera on. The scavenger hunt to find an object beginning with “J” also required my assistance, but C correctly recognized that Jacob and Jonathan could have just found themselves. Of course, throughout this, he was heading to the bed to tumble and jump (obviously not ready to finish ). He was happier to participate when she asked them to do a movement that begins with the letter “J”. When he was frustrated at not being called on his teacher said “We hear you C”, and this went a long way to keeping him connected.

As they began to talk about what they liked about their movements, to give their teacher feedback, C chose to leave the class. We returned, so that we could hear what was going on, but shifted to another parallel activity of gluing down letters, which worked for only a few minutes.

The next activity was to review the slide created in a previous class, which listed what the class already knows about penguins, and what they wonder. The slide had a great deal of text, and only one image in the middle. For the non-readers there was little to assist our littles to focus their attention. C chose to put his fingers in his ears, and sing some of the music from the previous activity, and he was very angry when I attempted to redirect him.  There were some very sophisticated questions based on this version of a KWL chart, and the solution provided by the teacher was to look at a book. She shared the National Geographic Kids Library book from YouTube, turned down the volume, and read from the book. This was very effective once she found a page to pause at, but while it was running she found the words to be blurry. Her choice to just play the video resulted in echo, since some students still had their microphones on. C was interested in the illustration of an Emperor Penguin, but lost interest in the conversation and questioning, in favour of his almost-empty snacks. Because the teachers had been saying “keep your mic off”, even when he had an answer to one of the questions he refused to turn his mic on to contribute. The return to the book, with the echo, made the information difficult to understand, so we had a side conversation, which evoked some good responses from C. Is was unfortunate that the teachers identified polar bears as predators to penguins, since they don’t live together anywhere outside of zoos.

I wonder if the students could have been asked to watch the book independently, and then to participate in a more structured conversation?  This would have avoided the difficult transitions between reading and questioning, and would have permitted them to hear the text more clearly. At 75 minutes into the class, and more than 30 minutes in this single activity, C was now VERY restless, and so we chose to leave.

We sledded for a while, and then played in the hot tub. C identified the first and last sounds of the words he was using and was able to sound out the “Shark Patrol” on his swim shirt. He dressed himself, and then relaxed with a burger and a video game.

I have checked out the activities we missed, and those for this afternoon.  This morning’s activity requires that he write a note in Jamboard: definitely not within his abilities. This afternoon’s activity will be to make a sensory bottle, and requires a clear plastic bottle, oil, glitter and food colouring. If we had these materials I still would not allow him to gather them from the cupboards. How many homes stock glitter and food colouring? The request was posted at 12:10, for the 1:00 activity!

There is no agenda for the balance of the day, so no way to make any further decisions about whether to insist that he sit and join in to the Google Meet.

So, I think we’ll pass on the afternoon’s activities, in favour of some baking to take to his GG tomorrow.

The baking was great, and C even ate a couple of our almond flour and blueberry muffins!

I then decided to check out the Facebook group, supporting online learning for our board.  And I was blown away by the number of posts from parents of K-3 students, struggling to get their children to attend. They are very worried that they are losing crucial skills, and are justifiably concerned that their children are being turned off learning entirely.

So, tomorrow, I will wear my “how to make this better” lens again, and see if I can see ways in which I can work better with C, to keep him learning without “nagging”.

Have you found anything that works for you with your 4 to 9-year-olds?

School Systems are not ready to End Oppression

I am on a journey to understand how my actions as a teacher and administrator have contributed to Anti-Black Racism in our school system. And to understand why we have taken so long to acknowledge it, and to act to counter it.

  1. Our school structures are power structures. Director to Superintendent to Principal to Teacher to Student, we all impose our will on the level below.
  2. Our curriculum is a control structure. Our government and bureaucrats receive input from academics, the business community and post-secondary institutions, and write policy documents that impose strict expectations for each level and subject.
  3. Our assessment structure depends on teachers to design assessment tools, and then to translate the results in marks or grades, which are then used to sift and sort our students. The tools they choose range from traditional pen and paper tests, to oral presentations, to complex portfolio conferences. But each of these privilege students with strong skills, and handicap those whose experiences or life circumstances impact their success.
  4. Our social structures, at least in a secondary school, depend on rules and expectations, which are more easily complied with by students whose toolkit is full.
  5. Our progress is measured by the proportion of achievement to chronological age. A successful student completes the required work in less time than allotted for the course, and an unsuccessful student requires more time.  When the course is over it is not just a matter of taking a bit more time.  Students must begin again at the beginning, and repeat all of the course, in order to achieve the “credit”. Since students must remain in school to age 18, there is a race to complete all courses before this date.  After 18, students who are struggling with attendance or mental health run the risk of being demitted, rather than supported to graduation.
  6. Our budgets cover some of the resources necessary to learn, but not all that is required for all subjects.  And there are magnet programs that depend upon family resources to prepare students, to transport them to distant schools, and to furnish additional funds. Doors begin to close in the areas of athletics and the arts for students whose families cannot afford the cost of learning and coaching outside of school.

You will notice that none of this is explicitly connected to Anti-Black Racism. But a system that will tolerate practices that oppress in all these areas is likely to tolerate other forms of oppression.

Until we see each student as an individual, with agency to control their learning, we will continue to exercise unnecessary power over them.  If a policy presents a barrier to even one student, we must provide the means to adjust the policy, and support their learning.

This is why it is necessary to start with the systemic policies and processes, to dismantle anti-black racism.

In Ontario, this now means “destreaming” our grade 9 programs, to eliminate the sorting that happens as students move into secondary school, and are set on pathways to University, College, Apprenticeship or the Workplace. This is only the first, I hope, of many changes in curriculum that will serve our students well.

Moves to preferentially admit Black or Indigenous students to regional or magnet programs include the requirement that they “meet minimum requirements”. These requirements are judged both by the middle-school teachers, and by the teachers in the secondary school who review applications. Given that these programs are funded by the Ministry of Education, I struggle to understand why there need to be ANY requirements. It might just be the perception that programs’ requirements can only be met by privileged white students that is limiting the programs’ diversity.

We need to fundamentally change our programs, to make them inclusive and supportive of all students. Whether it’s Italian Art Songs in vocal music, or Ballet in dance, or having the confidence to do a monologue in drama, we need to revisit the content of our courses, and consider if they are truly welcoming all of our students.

We need magnet programs for more than just the academically strong, university-bound students. In fact, the students who need the arts most are likely those who are struggling the most in middle school.

All of this is to say that if we break down oppressive practices and barriers to learning for some students, we might be taking the first steps to dismantling those at the forefront today.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 2

We’re back in Google Meet with C’s class. Today he created a new name card, with letters we printed with the Cricut Maker.  He added a hand-cut (by grandma) heart “because I love my class”.

The first activity today is another workshop with the art gallery.  Today the teachers enlisted the help of the teacher who joined the class for physical activity and music yesterday.  She was much more successful, and so we saw half a screen of the art gallery session, and half a screen of the Google meet grid, with the students’ cameras or images. It was great to see the teachers on camera, but the loss of clarity for the presentation definitely had an effect on C’s engagement. The presenter also never came on camera, so it was difficult for C to make a personal connection. The teachers also invited students to participate verbally, and so there were many interruptions to the presentation as the teachers spoke over the presenter. As well, when the students turned on their microphones, the presentation cycled through and created a confusing echo. I tried to refocus C, but when I encouraged him to look at the screen, he told me “I’m taking a break”.

This reminded me of the “art lectures” that I attended as a student in grades 5, 6 and 7. We would be bussed to the art gallery, and a curator showed us slides of artwork for two hours. We lay on the carpet, and the images were huge. Despite this, I recall falling asleep in the dark. I do remember some of what we heard and saw, but it was a challenge at age 9 to focus. No wonder C, at age 4, is finding this difficult. With no face to focus on, and no interaction with the presenter, it’s a very passive activity.  Kudos to the teachers for providing the students with thinking prompts, and inviting them to participate.  Perhaps this would have been better to be recorded, so that they could pause the presentation, have the students interact, and then continue with the presentation?

The second half of the presentation was the activity: draw an animal using geometric shapes. The presenter modelled the drawing of a cat out of rectangles and triangles. C related this to a character from one of his favourite Netflix shows, and was very excited by the prospect of drawing his own. He asked me to help him find a picture of this character, which I printed for him, so that he could look at it while drawing. (You can see what other students drew using the hashtag #AGOschools.)

Because of the presentation, the opening activities were delayed.  The land acknowledgement was a shared activity with one student, and was followed by an indigenous performance of “Oh Canada” by Asani (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgVqxT3G5kk&list=PLZsHu2W75wCiwyGfogmQdkW5cBZPnkUJA&index=6) C was quite interested in this, and his attention jumped from the drawing he was doing, to the screen. 

Then there was a very fast transition to the next activity, which was going to need sticks, something flowy, and a hula hoop. C was still drawing, so it was not easy to redirect his attention.  The activity was in a video that was successfully shared, though with our satellite internet it was a clear audio, with choppy video. C looked occasionally at the screen, but continued to draw. He chose to tumble on the bed, rather than do the dance moves with the instructor. When the activity with the scarf caught his attention, he then danced with his paper napkin, and it morphed into an activity of flying and crashes. The video continued to be laggy, so it was difficult for him to follow the motion of the video dance teacher. I think we might have done better with a link to this, that we could run ourselves and pause as needed in order for C to participate.

At this point, I am wondering how this Google Meet is preferable to an asynchronous activity, perhaps like the Bitmoji classroom that is also available to C’s class. Yes, the teacher is sharing the screen, but there is no interaction with the students, and it’s really not a lot different from watching a video on YouTube or Netflix.

C’s drawing turned out well, and I have shared it above. And the dance video went on as he completed his work. I used to tell my teachers that our grade 9 students needed to have activities chunked into 15 to 20-minute sessions, in order to sustain their attention. After 30 minutes C found that tumbling on the bed was better physical activity than the video, which is really more like a series of stills due to the internet lag. Maybe music would be helpful?

It was snack break, as of 10:45. Because the teachers have a 1:15 meeting they decided to do activities after snack. Then lunch from 11:30 to 12:30. So we headed outside, to rejoin the class later.

An hour later, and C was continuing to play outside, after eleven runs down the hill on the toboggan. We were hot and sweaty, but happy with the physical activity.  Not sure what those whose parents are working full-time from home were doing; I can’t imagine that it’s easy to keep their children occupied for almost two hours!

So, at 12:45 we were back in the Google Meet, having posted his artwork to the Google Classroom. Without a helper at home, this would not be possible. As we arrived, their teacher was explaining to the students how to make a Bingo card, if they haven’t been able to find the cards that were sent home with them on the last day before the Winter break. They were asked to make eight boxes, and put it any number between 1 and 20.

C had his cards, since his parents sent his school backpack with him to our place. He was very excited to be playing the game, though the pace was a little slow for him. Thankfully the pennies we chose as markers made good fidget toys! However, he also discovered that the antique student desk has a sloped top, and so kicking his seat caused an “earthquake”, and his pennies slid down off the card. We’ll take learning any place it comes! When the bingo finally was called, almost all the students shared the glory.  And the teachers asked each in turn to read out their numbers. This took some time, with many reminders to turn microphones on and off. Interspersed with the conversation were several renditions of the song, “BINGO”!

This was followed by the message of the day, contributed by one of the students.  She needed a bit of help with the reading, but it included a question that puzzled the teachers who weren’t sure if it was a riddle, joke, or a serious question. The next thing to share on the stream was a picture from another student, drawn after her walk today at lunch. The third share was a students’ artwork from this morning; a beautiful cat made of rectangles, triangles and straight lines. C was next, and he was able to describe the shapes he used, including the heart. The fourth share was another cat, and again the artist was invited to describe her process. When the sharing ended, C decided he needed to see the screen bigger, and accidentally closed the meeting. He had been sitting for 70 minutes straight; an accomplishment indeed!

After a break in the hot tub, with shower wall drawing, we headed back to see then the class would resume. The stream in Google Classroom said that there would be a “read-aloud” at 2:35, so we planned to return then.

Back in the Google Classroom at 2:30, there was no link to a Google Meet, so I had to explore.  I found the page for the Teacher Librarian, and halfway down the page was a posting for the Tuesday and Thursday Read-Alouds. We clicked on the link, and it took almost four minutes for the MS Teams interface to load. We were greeted by a slide, and the sound of static and typing. The question posed was good, but I’m not sure that many of the JK students would have been able to figure it out without someone reading it aloud. Eventually the TL switched to her face, and asked the question.  Many of the students responded to the question in the chat, but as a non-reader, this meant that C was sitting and waiting long beyond his limit. When she began the story, it was nice to see her using a physical book, rather than digital images. But it would have been nice if the software could have shared the image alone, and removed the document camera navigation. With the book on the left, and the TL’s face on the right, there was no way that the text could be read, as the book’s footprint was less than 25% of the screen.  Perhaps a setting would have allowed for a “picture in picture”, so that the book could have possibly been read-along by the students. Between this, and the reflections on the pages, C only lasted about five minutes into the story before bailing. I stayed, and tried to imagine myself as one of her primary students, trying to see the text and figure out which words were the story, which were her explanations of the story.

I made the decision that we would return to the classroom following the story, despite C’s protests. He joined in, turned on his mic, and then began to make silly faces and sounds. I heard others in the class saying “when are we leaving?”, “Hi”, and again “when are we leaving?”. C continued to sing, and insist on his mic being on, despite my prompting.  The teachers asked students to share what they remembered about the story, but it seemed only one student actually listened to it.  She gave a strong recounting of the plot, and was obviously engaged. But at the same time, C was saying “I’m tired of doing this, I’m tired of school”, so we chose to leave the meeting.

Here are my thoughts on today’s experiences:

  • I know that reflection is the best way to learn, but I suspect that our teachers have no time to do so, with all the preparation they need to make, and all the intense interaction they must undertake with their students. But perhaps hitting “record”, and watching just a few snippets from the day’s activities would be informative. By viewing the recording they would be able to see the experience of their students, could focus on particular students’ faces, and could consider what’s working, and what needs revision. Inviting our board resource staff to join in, and contribute, might be worthwhile.
  • I wish there were a way to ensure that each child has an advocate at home, to assist them with the interface. It has been a significant amount of work just getting C to class, and refocusing him while he participates. I cannot imagine what it is like for parents who are also trying to complete their work duties at the same time!
  •  I also think that a daily agenda, with the timings provided, would be very helpful.  As a caregiver, I would also like to know which of the day’s activities were important and which were nice-to-do, but not crucial. For a child with limited attention, this would support a more positive attitude, and possibly greater attention, if we could avoid the “waiting”.
  • As for timing, we know that the mornings are best for learning. So, perhaps the teacher-student interaction could be increased in this time, and the video activities rescheduled to later in the day where the students could be more passive consumers. By 3:00 today, C was tired, and ready to view rather than produce.

I can think of so many ways in which our teachers could be supported, to allow them to do what they do best: interact with their students. They are SO patient, and are responding positively to every student.  In these past two days I have not yet heard one of them get frustrated.  How do they do it?

And I’m sure that parents are unsure how much, or how, to support their children. I don’t know whether to redirect, or to leave it to C and his teachers to manage how he works online.  Perhaps he doesn’t need to actually be there in front of the screen; maybe having the computer on while he plays somewhere in the room is enough? If I, as an experienced educator, have these questions, I cannot imagine how many more our parents have.

What do you think? How much support should I be giving C?