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?