Do We All Need A Little Bit Of Fort Fun? Evolving Thoughts Around “Special Days.”

In the classroom, Paula and I rarely participated in special days. During our spring shutdown, I blogged more about this topic. We are now about to begin our fifth week of remote learning, and once again, we’re looking at how to bring some added joy into our online environment that comes with a little bit of “special.” As Paula and I were planning and reflecting together recently, Paula made a really important point: “During this lockdown, there’s little to look forward to. Everybody needs something to look forward to.” While we’re still not prepping for Crazy Hair Days, Hat Days, and Pyjama Days, various Maker Days have seemed to increase excitement in our online classroom. Nothing though seemed quite as popular and enjoyable as our Fort Day.

The joy wasn’t just for kids: Paula and I really got into planning our own forts. On Wednesday, we used some time prior to our afternoon playdate to start the planning process.

Video 1 – Might be easier to view this way than in the tweet.
Video 2 – Might be easier to view this way than in the tweet.

Paula’s evolving fort plans inspired me to begin my own. Maybe some #CommunicationOfLearningProcrastination helped increase my interest in this special day. πŸ™‚

The best moment was on Thursday though when every single child logged in to join our Fort Day. A few cardboard additions to Paula’s fort and an unexpected word found on a plastic chair even led to some wonderful reading, writing, and phonological awareness opportunities.

In the past, Paula and I have never been fans of forts. In fact, we’re both apt to remove blankets and pillows from the classroom to dissuade students from creating them. The magical moments that happened online are harder to support in-person, when the focused fort play quickly becomes silly social time with too many children under the blankets at once.

Online, I was tempted to keep my fort set-up well past Thursday. It seemed to epitomize for me both comfort and joy. While the dysregulation that stems from most special days will likely make these different days not my favourite ones when we return to school, I have to wonder if our COVID realities might still require a little additional joy. Something special to gleefully anticipate. What might this look like in the classroom? How much will both kids and adults need some “special” in their lives? This is something else that’s on my mind for when we return. And if for any reason you can’t find me when we go back, check under our desk space by the door … it might be my perfect new place to escape! πŸ™‚

You get the idea … πŸ™‚


What If The Hat Came Before The Boots Or The Coat Trumped Both? Adventures In Dressing And Problem Solving!

On Wednesday morning, I noticed Doug Peterson’s tweet about the upcoming This Week In Ontario Edublogs VoicEd Radio Show.

Before listening to the recording of the showI rarely get to hear the live version — I like to visit each person’s blog and try to infer which post Doug and Stephen might be talking about. It’s like my own early morning guessing game. πŸ™‚ I’m usually wrong, but once in a while, I land on the right post. In the case of Terry Whitmell‘s, I didn’t select the right post, but I did go down a rabbit hole of some really interesting reading. Terry shares with us a daily journal of life online for a junior kindergarten student: being behind the screen to help support this child as he navigates remote kindergarten. There are all kinds of blog posts that I could write in response to some of the content that she shared, but it was a paragraph about getting ready to go outside that still has me thinking days later.

Here’s what Terry wrote.

Wow does this take me back! As someone who’s taught kindergarten for over 13 years and in many different environments — from half-day programs, to alternate day programs, to full day programs — I’ve helped many children learn how to get dressed to go outside. The video below sums up numerous songs and chants that I’ve used with kids in the past.

When my teaching partner, Paula, and I first started working together, a Speech Pathologist gave us visuals to hang in our cubby area to help with the dressing order. We went through them with our class and hung up the visuals together. Thinking back now to this time, I remember how irritating it was to have students run back and forth to check the order. I think that they just enjoyed slapping the cards more than they cared about what to put on next.

Then Paula and I moved schools, and somehow our winter dressing schedule went by the wayside. Most kids knew that they needed to put on their snow pants first, and if not, we got them to think about how difficult it would be to put snow pants over a coat. Terry’s blog post had me wondering if the rest of the order really matters.

  • Is there a reason that the boots need to go on immediately after the snow pants?
  • If you can do up your zipper with your mittens or gloves on, could you put them on earlier?
  • If you need help with your zipper anyway, does it really matter when your mittens or gloves go on?
  • What about if you have a scarf? Where does it fit in this song?
  • What about if you have earmuffs instead of a hat? Will kids automatically exchange the two in the song?
  • What about during the time of COVID when we can’t sing indoors? Will having a song as our guide just cause more stress for students and educators, many of whom are trying to turn all songs possible into chants in order to still be able to use them?

Terry’s post and my reply to it, made me realize how much problem solving we take away from kids when we create the how to for them instead of engaging them in the process.

  • Let kids experiment with their own dressing orders.
  • Let kids make adjustments when their dressing order doesn’t work. What might they try instead?
  • Let kids create their own graphics, write their own songs and chants, and teach each other as well as educators and parents, different dressing orders that work for them.
  • And as Terry indicated in her blog post, let kids become understanding of differences: learning that more than one dressing order might work depending on circumstances.

Today is our Assessment and Evaluation PA Day, and once I finish blogging, I’m going to work on finishing our Communications of Learning. The Problem Solving and Innovating Frame is one that I’ll be commenting on today. I can’t help but wonder now if winter dressing will make its way into some of these comments. What other problem solving opportunities did I take away from children by providing a model before supporting the exploration? What about you? I can’t go back and undo what I did in the past, but I can do better moving forward. I’m grateful to have Paula, our amazing kids, and our fantastic families to help me do just that.


A Story Of DPA, Family Engagement, And A New Perspective

As many of my blog readers know, I’m very passionate about a number of topics in education, one of which is parent engagement. Both Aaron Puley, a vice principal in our Board, and Nancy Angevine-Sands, a family engagement specialist, have been pushing my thinking on this topic for many years now and engaging both my teaching partner, Paula, and I in conversations on how to improve engagement with families. While these might be discussions we have all year long, the recent move to remote learning has Paula and I thinking even more about parent engagement. As kindergarten educators, we almost always have parents and siblings join our online classes, but usually they are more in the background. They might help unmute computers or gather resources for play online, but their involvement tends to be more periphery. Then Friday happened.

Andrea Haefele and Laura Seckington, the two educators behind @playbeyondlabel, reached out to Paula and I about trying out one of their DPA (Daily Physical Activity) choice board resources featured in a recent blog post.

Unbeknownst to both Andrea and Laura, we were at first reluctant to take part. Yes, this resource looked and sounded fabulous, but in the classroom, we don’t really do DPA. Our DPA is woven into the 1 1/2-2 hours that we spend outside each day. We always support additional physical movement for those students that need it, but given the nature of the Kindergarten Program and our classroom set-up, this need seems less pronounced than it might be in other grades. With this in mind, we wondered how students and families would respond to a different routine, especially when being introduced and supported online. You never know unless you try — right?! — and with the outdoor time not happening in the same way online, Paula and I wondered if maybe a DPA option is exactly what our kids might need.

We did decide on a couple of things though based on our knowledge of our students and of the online format.

  1. We planned this DPA (movement) option at the end of one of our voluntary meeting times. Children could join just for this time, or they could stay for the DPA component if they were already at the meeting. We decided to choose this time as then we would be supporting a smaller group of students — all of whom wanted to be there — at a time when they would be leaving after the 20 minute activity option. They could then continue this play on their own or spend time with their family coming down from a more up-regulating experience. We know in the classroom that it takes a lot of time and proximity to even come down after a Phys-Ed class, and this is harder to support through a computer screen.
  2. We chose to use the independent choice board options instead of the “Play With A Teacher” ones. We appreciated how these independent options were less competitive than the Play With A Teacher ones, did not require a lot of wait time or instructions, and could easily be supported in any sized space. Paula and I also know that our students need a lot of support to interact with each other online. They tend to interact more with us or play independently. Trying to support social interactions while also supporting safe gross motor play could be a challenge, so we reduced all of our stress by choosing the Play Alone option.

After collecting materials …

and practising the instructional side of things …

we were ready to go with the kids.

Paula and I were thrilled with how things went! Not only did we get more students joining in to participate than we usually have during this voluntary time, but we loved how many siblings and parents got involved.

  • The activities are so open-ended that even toddlers could find an entry point.
  • There was limited set-up and supplies, so everyone could gather what was needed quickly and easily.
  • There were multiple other options for supplies, so families could use what they had on hand.
  • The instruction could take place during the play. Instead of having everyone sitting around to listen and observe a long explanation, the movement could happen quickly.
  • The activities could easily be modified for other grades. A child in Grade 2 joined us for a bit, and he was thrilled to show others how he could use a couple of socks for balancing or move while balancing an object. This inspired others to try various options.

This was truly joyful play, and I have to wonder if this is what helped with the engagement factor for families. It’s like when we end our playdates with a dance. We now have parents dancing along with their kids. Smiling. Laughing. Twirling. Moving. Pure bliss, completely voluntary, but a favourite moment for so many!

Upon further reflection, we’ve decided to include a DPA component for the last 20 minutes of our two playdates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Not only are we hoping that this time will continue to aid in family/parent engagement, but maybe we can also help kids connect this movement with Self-Reg. Is this additional movement what some children need? How can we support them in choosing this option — even online — when required?

After our DPA experience yesterday, here are our reflections.Β @playbeyondlabel, you haveΒ @paulacrockettΒ and I looking and talking about how we can bring this regularly into our online environment. ThanksΒ @andreahaefeleΒ andΒ @laura.seck!Β 

I’m glad that we didn’t let our preconceived ideas have us turn down this opportunity to try something new. Once again, I’m reminded how remote learning is different from in-person learning, and sometimes to engage with families and support students, we have to expand our options. What does DPA look like in your online classroom? How have students and families responded to these activities? I’m curious now to see the impact that these DPA activities might have on our classroom environment when we return. Will some students choose and explore more movement options when needed? How might we support this? Every educator and group of students are different, but sometimes it just takes a little push to explore something different … and then you realize what else might be possible. Thanks Andrea and Laura for giving us this push!


Revisiting Assessment Online: Our Evolving Approaches

Last week, I saw a survey in Jennifer Jongsma‘s Instagram story about assessment online. As I mentioned in my blog post yesterday, my workflow and documentation of learning has had to change online due to an inability to record and take photographs as we can at school. My teaching partner, Paula, and I reflected on this very topic last year, as we continued to wonder what we could do to respect privacy considerations while also noting the tremendous learning potential in revisiting documentation with kids and extending learning from there. The video of our conversation from the Spring is below, but you can also read the full blog post here.

Being online again, Paula and I are back at re-thinking assessment. This time around, we’re trying a few different approaches. We really believe in the key considerations in Growing Success – The Kindergarten Addendum, so if at all possible, we’re trying to link our approach with the underlying pedagogy in this document. Here’s what we’re doing.

Taking photographs and videos of our play, and creating mini-learning stories to share the evolution of the process. While we can’t record what kids are doing, our choices align with the ones that they’re choosing. As I said in my blog post yesterday, we invite kids into our play. We can then use their initials to indicate their contributions to the story of this play. We can also indicate next steps that align with where we will go next as well as where we hope kids will go next.

Revisiting these mini-learning stories with kids. Looking back at some of the photographs and talking about what we did in previous days often gets our children to reflect on similar choices that they made. Maybe they will hold up their work, discuss their future plans, or initiate the discussion about what other possibilities there might be. This often becomes a bridge between assessment for and assessment as learning.

Encouraging families to use their child’s Private Channel to share learning from home. Our parents have been great at uploading photographs, videos, and written documentation to Private Channels. Many of them were using this option before we went online, which helped with the switch to remote learning. Now not only can we see what students are doing at home and provide some extension possibilities, but we can also revisit this learning during our meeting times. We often share the screen and look at a few of the photographs uploaded. Our kids love to talk about their work, which sometimes even inspires others to chime in with what they did. We’re starting to see that more of this learning from home is trickling over into the learning online and vice versa. While we might not be able to capture this learning live, working closely with families has allowed for this capturing to happen in other ways. A special “thank you” to all of our parents for this!

Figuring out a way to just record myself and my interactions with kids … without recording them. I can thank Paula for this, as I didn’t think that this recording would be an option. She helped me realize that with my headphones on, the only person that anyone would hear is me. If I set up my iPad behind my computer screen — or off to the side where you cannot see the screen — then I would also be the only person that anyone would see. Yesterday, I shared my videos from Friday, as well as some of my reflections. The interesting thing about this recording option is that while I might only be able to hear myself, this includes hearing my side of conversations with students. This triggers for me more of the details around our discussions and helps when Paula and I revisit learning and plan for future learning. It’s like assessment for learning in action, and once again, I have Paula to thank for this!

Conversing with children during the online meeting times and setting some extension possibilities together. Many of our kids love to share what they’re doing online. As I noted in yesterday’s blog post, we are starting to move from providing next steps to getting students to talk about what they’re doing and where they might go next. Their voice is a bigger part of the story, and they’re taking more ownership over extending their learning. We love how this merges assessment for and assessment as learning, and helps with the continuation of play beyond the synchronous times.

Sharing video recordings in Private Channels after children attend the playdates and the Snack and Share times. This video recording idea came out of a conversation that Paula and I had after some of our playdates. We once again returned to the fact that we can’t capture the learning that’s happening online. Could we reflect on it though? Instead of writing a comment to children about what we observed and heard plus a wonder (or question) about where to go next, we decided to record a short video message to share with them. These videos are easy to upload on Teams, and then kids hear us talking right to them. This might inspire some children to upload photographs and videos of what they did, but it also gives more child-centred feedback for asynchronous learning at home or the continuation of learning the next day online. Here’s an example of one of these video recordings. This one is not to a real student, but instead, a make believe one that I did with “Paula” for the child’s name.

Assessment might not look the same online as it does in-person, but Paula and I continue to explore ways to provide timely feedback to students while also recalling and reflecting on the learning that’s happening remotely. This is often through a combination of …

  • anecdotal notes connected with photographs and/or videos of our own work,
  • video reflections,
  • parental sharing of learning at home,
  • and conversations in small and large groups.

We’d love to figure out a way to visually capture the process of learning more, to aid in revisiting and sparking new learning online. Have you figured out a way to do this? What does assessment look like in your remote classroom? Online learning might not be perfect — or not perfect for everyone — but it is our reality until at least February 10th. Assessment is going to be a big part of this reality. If we share what we’ve tried, what works, and what doesn’t, I wonder if all of us — educators, parents, and students — might benefit in the coming weeks. What do you think? Thanks Jennifer for starting a great conversation. I hope this is one that continues.


A #VisibleLearning Look At My Playing Reality: Finding Joy In Remote Kindergarten

I’ll be honest: virtual learning was not what I hoped it would be. It was not what I thought it could be. These were my feelings at the end of last week. They were what caused some intense conversations with my teaching partner, Paula, and I when we tried hard to not only find our groove, but what worked best for kids and families. We’re both passionate supporters and believers in emergent curriculum, and as we looked back on the week, we were afraid that learning came too much from our push and our interests versus really seeing and building on what kids cared about, kids needed, and kids wanted. It was with this thinking in mind that I chose my #oneword-ish goal for January of time and space. (I’m glad to see through Doug Peterson‘s Friday blog post that I’m not the only one who breaks the rules. Zoe Branigan-Pipe has inspired me for years and still does.) My goal was to …

  • Stay quiet more.
  • Observe more.
  • Think before asking questions.
  • Really listen to what kids have to say.

As the week started, I realized that this goal of mine was a real challenge.

After our first meeting time on Monday, Paula and I realized that we were still talking a lot. If I wasn’t talking, she was, and vice versa. Instead of just trying to commit to “listening more,” we dug into why we’re saying a lot and why we’re constantly asking kids questions. We realized that depending on the camera angle, it’s hard to see what students are doing in their spaces. We want to make sure that we’re connecting with everyone, and in an attempt to so, we start the discussions early and continue them throughout each meeting. Paula and I are also very aware that parents are often watching and listening to the meetings: even though we communicated our plan to speak less and observe more, how will they feel about long silences and less interaction with kids? We know that we’ve invited them to share their reflections with us — and many do — but it’s hard not to wonder about impressions.

Digging into our concerns was valuable though, as we came up with a new idea: what if we changed the questions that we asked? Instead of making the conversations about what we think, we could invite students to, “Tell me about your plan,” or “Tell me about what you’re doing.” Instead of quickly jumping in with a next step suggestion, what if we asked, “What are you thinking about doing next?” We began to hear more child voices in planning and extending learning. We still offer feedback and provide extensions, but we’re starting to do so more after we find out what children are thinking and where they want to go.

While I quite love this change, I’m finding that my role in the virtual classroom is also continuing to shift. In our regular classroom, I spend much of my day documenting learning. I do play a little bit with students, but I rarely don’t have an iPad in my hand and the video/camera app on. Due to privacy considerations, I can’t document in the same way online. I could take notes as I observe play, and sometimes I do, but making long lists of observations is not how I function. I think that this was the reason that the first week of Remote Learning was so draining for me. I was constantly in “teacher mode,” but with fewer connections with kids. This wasn’t working for me, and was questionably working for them. After chatting with Paula, I decided to change my workspace and add in materials (e.g., LEGO, paper, a marble run) that would allow me to play with kids. This was game changing for me! As I tweeted this week …

I realized something important last night though: the more that I’ve played with kids online, and gotten immersed in this play, the less stressed that I feel, the more that I’m enjoying my job, and the more energetic that I am (even when being in front of a screen all day long). Paula has always shown me the value in getting authentically involved in child-directed, free play, but I think that I’ve always struggled somewhat in not remaining focused on how to capture the learning and offer the extensions so that I can quickly move onto the next child. Now I’m really enjoying the time just conversing, connecting, and being with kids. I know that the learning is happening in the midst of this, but my mind is racing less to “what comes next,” and instead focused on “what’s happening now.”

On Thursday night, as Paula and I were texting about this play, she suggested that I figure out a way to record myself playing with kids. I thought that this would be impossible due to privacy considerations, but with my headphones on and the direction of my computer screen, I was able to figure something out. This stream of tweets shares more about what I did.

After texting with Paula last night, I decided to share these video recordings (sprinkled in between some picture posts) in this blog post.

While I’m always listening to myself conversing with kids, as I do in the many video posts that I share each day, I’m rarely the one in front of the screen.

  • Now I’m aware of my very flushed face. I was recently diagnosed with rosacea, and stress brings out the flush. Knowing that I was recording myself increased the red cheeks. I’m trying hard to embrace them, or not let the redness deter me from sharing this work.
  • I’m cognizant of the many faces that I make. Apparently, I lick my lips a lot and scrunch my eyes as I focus on my work. I think that I sometimes lick or bite my lips in an attempt to resist the urge to talk.
  • I return to my own play when I want to reflect more on what to say or do next. Sometimes keeping my hands busy gives me more time to think … not only about what I might say to kids, but also about how I can pull them into each other’s play.
  • I’m trying to get more comfortable when kids do not respond or when there’s a bigger lag between response time. This often happens in our playdates. Children wander away from the screen or are so immersed in the creating that they don’t want to unmute and chat. (They can keep their microphones on during this time due to the smaller numbers, but some still choose to mute and unmute.) I find myself narrating their play more when this happens. Could this help support some more mini-world play? I wonder …
  • I try to bring children into my play. As you can see in the videos, I often do this by asking them to help read a sign, spell a word, think of a number, or figure out with me what to add next. This is something that Paula often does when playing and creating with kids in the classroom. I hear so much of Paula in my words, phrases, and vocal tone. Thanks Paula for teaching me.
  • I engage in self-talk. Look at my lips move as I built a person during our morning meeting time. I know that I tend to do this when playing in the classroom, and I’ve noticed that this transfers to online. Now to just remember to keep my voice low, as the microphone picks up on everything.
  • I’m still trying to figure out when to talk. This is something that Paula and I chat about a lot. In the classroom, we don’t speak on top of each other, as we’re rarely in exactly the same space at the same time. We could use breakout rooms to create the same environment online, but we love that we can see each other’s interactions and have two different perspectives on student engagement and where to go next. Our meetings are small enough that the breakout rooms are rarely needed, but I’m still working on slowly entering into conversations, so that I don’t overtake the discussion or cut someone else off. Pausing is key online.
  • Everything seems bigger online. My voice seems louder. My actions seem more pronounced. I still try to be genuine with kids, but without the use of proximity, sometimes it’s harder to communicate interest, excitement, and appreciation with quieter words and smaller responses. Do others find the same?

I don’t expect anyone here to watch an hour of me in action, but I keep thinking about what Lisa Noble has said in the past about the value of #visiblelearning. I’m putting myself out there as a way to …

  • invite suggestions,
  • make myself accountable for my own areas of growth,
  • and remember where I started and where I’m going.

As I continue to strive to find the fun in remote learning, I’m also determined to continue to improve. Where might I be come February 10th and our return to the classroom? I’m curious to see how what I’ve learned about playing online translates to our physical classroom reality. What have been your unexpected upsides to remote learning? The virtual learning world isn’t always easy, but it is safe, and I do love this safety right now. In the meantime, I’m trying to find pockets of joy. I hope that you also can.