“Can you read me the page you’re working on?” I ask student after student, in breakout room after breakout room. Getting a look at student writing during distance learning is tricky-especially in the primary grades. Parents (semi) regularly email me pictures and this week I’m teaching my first graders how to use the camera in Google Slides to take selfies of their work…
But, I miss peeking over a child’s shoulder during writing workshop, walking among students, reinforcing and reminding, complimenting and admiring. I miss pulling up beside a child for a conference, both of our eyes on their paper, talking about specific parts, pointing to places where they tried different strategies. I think that maybe, I took these things for granted.
Last week, one of my first grade told me that distance learning felt lonely. He had stayed after our Zoom session and my heart broke for him. Despite all of our best efforts, distance learning is at times, cold and lonely. It’s hard to have side conversations, to speak to someone quietly instead of broadcasting private feelings and thoughts to an entire screen full of Zoomers. I’ve always prided myself on being the kind of teacher that sees kids, and while I see them on Zoom, it’s not the same. I like to give a sly thumbs up to kids, crouch down beside their table for a chat, or whisper to them out of earshot of their friends.
I know kids are feeling this too. We always take a break midday and it’s often my favorite time of the day. I sometimes sit at my desk, muted and video off, listening to kids who have hurried back from grabbing a snack to chat with their friends. This has been the most spontaneous and real the social interactions have been. I suppose, I didn’t really notice that only the loudest voices were being heard during this time. Some kids were just observers, others didn’t rush back.
Today, I tried something different. I created a few breakout rooms during the break, for kids to join…if they wanted. I was happy to see a few of the quieter kids there together today, kind of awkwardly, trying to chat-trying to connect.
Our district’s distance learning model has really evolved over the course of this school year and I’ve even found myself celebrating the communities we have formed and some of the successes we have found. However, this week, I’m keenly aware to all of the ways that this reality we have found ourselves in, will never ever ever replace face to face instruction.
That is all.