Digital is not an enemy – it’s a new possibility.”Carla Rinaldi, President of Reggio
I try to spend most of my life living in a space of thinking about what’s possible. And sometimes that’s hard. Really hard. Lately, it’s been an ongoing challenge. I never thought I would be considering ways to teach four and five year olds remotely. And yet, here we are. When Carla Rinaldi suggested that digital is a “new possibility”, it opened my eyes to viewing distance learning in a new light. As I reflect back on four months of distance learning with kindergarteners, I realize that we had several successful routines and learning adventures, as I’m sure you all had, as well. It’s important for me to share them and to invite you to share yours, as this is the way we can grow and learn together – making our journey into distance learning the best it can be. And remembering that this is temporary.
Our job is too difficult and too beautiful to do alone.”Amelia Gambetti, Reggio Emilia, April 2015 (quote from Diane Kashin’s blog)
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ve heard me write about my firm belief that we teach children first and foremost – not standards, curriculum or programs. I think we really need to remember that as we move to virtual teaching in the foreseeable future. At a wonderful webinar by Mike Flynn, he said, “good online teaching is good teaching – don’t let the ed-tech get in the way.” We need to focus on our students first, then what good in-person teaching would look like and then choose a tech tool that matches. We can’t focus first on the fancy technology that might be flashy and look cool, but may not be what our students need.
I used Google Meet because it was one of the approved platforms in my district. You can do these things on Zoom or Microsoft Teams and I’m sure other platforms that I’m not familiar with. Blackboard Collaborate Ultra will present more challenges, because of the inability to see more than 5 people at a time on the screen, but it’s still possible to adapt for your online platform if that’s what you have to use. I’d like to continue this blog series with a look into a few things that worked for us in math and literacy learning in whole group. You can find my previous post here.
I continued the number talks and math routines that we were used to doing in the classroom and adapted them for a virtual setting. Here are a few of the ones that worked well, with links to explain them further.
- Finger patterns were a favorite, and we used them in a variety of ways. This required being able to see everyone on the screen, something that I felt was essential for many reasons – finger patterns being one of them. I had a magnetic 10 frame and number cards from the fabulous Tiny Polka Dot math game that I would show the kids. The kids would then use their fingers to show me the number in multiple ways. This might sound like, “How many? Show me on your fingers. I see 3 and 4. Can you show me 7 a different way? I see 2 and 5.”
- Which One Doesn’t Belong? – We used Christopher Danielson’s book in the classroom along with this website and created many of these images on our own in Google Slides. This was an easy math routine to adapt to virtual by sharing the screen and recording children’s thinking in the Jamboard or Google Document.
- How Many? – This is another excellent math book by Christopher Danielson, but the book is just a starting point. Once you start thinking “how many?” when looking at objects, you start taking pictures of all sorts of things! When you water your garden, when you’re organizing painting supplies, when your running shoes overflow the closet (OK, maybe that’s just me) – all are opportunities for a math talk that begins with the question, “how many?” I love these talks because there are so many possibilities and it gives kids a chance to count, explain their thinking and think beyond rote counting. Choosing highly engaging photos hooks kids right away and makes for an exciting math talk.
- Three Act Tasks – I had a lot of success using these in virtual learning. This website will explain what a 3-Act Task is. These are highly engaging and really challenge kids to think and explain their thinking.
- Is it Fair? and Who Is Hiding?– Antonia Cameron, Patricia Gallahue and Danielle Iacoviello’s wonderful new book Early Childhood Math Routines explains these routines in depth. This blog post shows you how an Is it Fair? routine might go. Using photos that kids are familiar with and their names makes this engaging and a rich mathematical conversation, where kids have to decide and justify if an image is fair or not. Who Is Hiding? is another quick image routine that supports oral language and helps them make meaning through conversation as new information is presented. These open-ended math routines encourage rich conversation and debate and work well in a virtual platform.
Literacy continued to be woven throughout our virtual classes, just as it was in the classroom. Here are a few things we did routinely in virtual learning.
- Read aloud – I made sure to read aloud at least one book for every session we had. I shared in my earlier post how I shared the screen and used a digital text for read alouds. This let everyone see the words and pictures clearly. I also created a private YouTube channel where I read aloud books for kids to listen to on their own. Children need to hear us reading aloud and engage in conversations about books on a virtual platform as much as in a classroom.
- Shared Reading – I used a variety of texts for shared reading. I brought several big books and charts home, but I found that children couldn’t see them as well on the screen. I would like to play around more with document cameras and a way to continue using our beloved big books. Poems, chants and big books in Google Slides, Jamboard and SMART Notebook worked well. I took a photo of our class anchor chart listing what readers do, and I placed that photo next to the shared reading text – just like we would have it hanging near our shared reading text in the classroom. I used my cursor as the pointer. I also learned that you can make your cursor larger in your computer’s Accessibility setting (Display – Cursor Size) – and that’s a game changer! Our poetry and song notebooks are such a huge part of our classroom reading life, and I want to continue this practice during distance learning by mailing home copies of the shared reading texts for children to put in their notebooks. Finding a way to distribute these is something that teachers need to think about. It’s important for kids to have hard copies of reading materials – not just digital. We need to figure out a way to routinely get these things into the hands of kids.
- Shared Writing – I did shared writing on a large piece of paper as well as on a Jamboard or Google Document. If kids can have a white board or paper to write along with you, that’s even better and far more engaging. We continued to co-construct texts such as letters, class books and community stories – just like we did in the classroom. I found that if I was typing the children’s words, I had to slow down considerably. Inviting them to write along with me and share what they wrote in front of the camera helped me with that. Just as in the classroom, our shared writing pieces became shared reading pieces to revisit again and again.
- Word Work – A magnetic burner cover or a cookie sheet makes a great portable way to do word work virtually. I brought home my magnetic letters and used these often, just as I would in the classroom. With their white boards or paper they could do the word work along with me. I would love for my kids to each have a set of magnet letters – that’s something I’m thinking about for the fall. I recently learned about these letter tiles, and look forward to trying them out.
I want to be back in our classroom more than anything in the world right now. I want to experience the togetherness and pure joy that a classroom full of children brings. I want to hug children, paint with children, hear the joyous roar of children at play and share a book with tiny, squiggling humans on our rug. It physically hurts to know that won’t happen anytime soon. However, we can make distance learning the best it can be right now, at the same time we long to be back in our classrooms full of hugs, love, joy and children’s laughter. Maybe we can even create virtual classrooms that have all of that in a way that’s never happened before – it’s certainly a possibility. Loris Malaguzzi said, “nothing without joy”. How can we create virtual learning spaces that are full of joy?
What has worked well for you? Please share. We are all on this journey together.