She sat next to me on the bed, mouse ears in place. I'd been reading aloud The Tale of Despereaux on Flipgrid for my third graders. It was the perfect story, in my opinion, for quarantine. The idea of darkness and light, good and evil, and stories bringing light to a dark world. In sharing this story with my class, I hoped to bring them some light. The comfort of a read aloud and a compelling story about an unlikely hero.
My daughter Megan, a first grader, listened to me read the book before I decided to read it to my class. I read it to her and her brother and after finishing it, decided it would be the next book I read to my students. Still, Megan wanted to be next to me as I read aloud. As the days went by, she took more and more of a role in the read aloud.
First, she would start us off with a "Hello Guys" and a message. Then, she started working the filters. And somewhere near the end of the book, Megan became Despereaux. She donned her mouse ears from her two previous productions of being a mouse- last summer in camp when she was one of the 3 blind mice without any lines in the production of Shrek and once in the winter when she was the mouse in Aesop's Fable The Lion and the Mouse in an after school club. She's always the mouse, she says. But she is quite good in the role.
She was a star in the role of Desperaux. It brought the book to life to have her act out some of the scenes. I hope my students will enjoy watching her be part of the read aloud as something funny and different from what would have been if we were actually in the classroom together. Megan would have been in her classroom and the dramatic interpretation would not have occurred.
Quarantine or social distancing or whatever it is to stay in your house and go nowhere for weeks on end brings about many moments or boredom or frustration. But also moments of joy that wouldn't have happened otherwise. I was impressed with Megan's ability to read the words with inflection and emotion. She is in first grade and Kate DiCamillo has a beautiful but sophisticated way of phrasing things. Megan didn't miss a beat. Snuggled up next to me with her mouse ears, I wonder what she it taking in about language and literacy and teaching and learning and connection with students. When she is a Superintendent or a President of the World or some other big fancy job as I have no doubt she is capable of being, will the memory of her school teacher mother reading aloud to her students each day become part of her core? About what she believes about learning and life?
I hope she will remember being the mouse in a read aloud during a time of quarantine. I won't forget it.
A parent wrote to me, "I feel like your style of teaching was almost built for the remote learning format they're doing." It was so lovely to read that, because I hadn't thought of it really in that way, but upon reflection, I think she's right.
Since becoming a third grade teacher in September 2015, I embraced learning digital tools. I began blogging, introduced blogging to my students, created digital reading walls for them, created a class website to help them navigate to different places on the Internet. I created a digital reading workshop unit for Social Issues Book Clubs. I had my students using Flipgrid for learning centers and beyond. My students used their chrome books every day and were comfortable navigating to different websites, which has been really helpful to them now that they are doing this on their own.
I've also always believed in the importance of classroom community and social emotional learning. Every day was started with a Morning Meeting where students greeted each other. We would share an inspiring quote of the day as well as an affirmation each day. Each week, one student was recognized as the Thoughtful Third Grader and celebrated each day in a small way.
I have carried these traditions to remote learning. Each day, I make a video of the Morning Meeting. It's not the same as being there together and the children contributing, but I share a quote, an affirmation and celebrate the Thoughtful Third Grader. I give the children an overview of their work for the day and where they can find everything in Google Classroom. I am reading aloud The Tale of Despereaux to them via Flipgrid so they can share their thinking after I finish a chapter. Reading aloud to students is one of the things I love best about teaching and so I am glad we can still share a book together.
I am learning a lot along the way. I am constantly collaborating with my 3rd grade colleagues and in a sense, I know them better as teachers now that we are sharing everything. I've learned how to make screencasts and do so every day. I've learned more about Google forms. I am learning about tools like Jamboard and Kami. I wish there was more time to explore. I am having a difficult time navigating all the screen time while I create and post, then check student work, reach out to students who aren't participating, all while keeping my 9 year old and 7 year old engaged in their work. (That's the hardest part).
I am grateful to educators who are generously sharing their thinking and ides. Clare Landrigan's post about the virtual classroom library has me inspired and wheels spinning. Pernille Ripp's Choose Your Own Adventure also has me thinking about how I can incorporate more choice into the day for my students.
When life resumes, and I get to be a teacher in front of students again, in real time, I think the lessons I am learning and the new tools I am trying out during this remote learning time will be tools I can add into my real life classroom. I might be able to facilitate small groups in a better way how that I know how to make videos more seamlessly. Knowing the value of digital tools and using them with my students has helped us to make this transition. It's not easy or seamless and I really miss the classroom. I miss the smiles, the voices, the ahas, the spark that comes when kids hear an idea and then add onto it. At the same time, I think my style of teaching has helped me and my students to make this jump in the best way possible.
How is it going for you?
I am a big fan of Rachel Hollis and have referenced her before in my posts. Today, I was listening to a free class she has published to help people shift their perspective with COVID-19. You can find information about her free class here.
When I listened today. Rachel was talking about finding joy in this time. Not like Pollyana ridiculousness, and not thinking that all of this is happening for a reason. The reality is, this is awful and hard for so many people. It is a time when many are sick and dying, people can't be with their loved ones in their last moments or even mourn them together. Jobs are lost. Finances are in disarray. There are real, horrible things going on right now.
Her point was, within the 4 walls of your heart, within the 4 walls of your house.....can you find joy ? I am lucky. No one I love is sick right now. I am healthy. I have a secure job and I am getting paid. We have technology to connect us with each other and enough food in our house. Rachel's point was this time can have meaning, if you let it. There can be lessons learned. And joy can still be found.
Today was an easier day to find joy. On Long Island, it was gorgeous. Sunny and warm with everything blooming. My daughter rode her bike and wondered out loud, "Is there a party in that Fed Ex truck?" The truck had loud music blasting. The driver got a good laugh. It was a light moment at a heavy time.
I will look for joy. Morning phone calls with my mom. Coffee with creamer. My son's cheery "Good Morning" as he comes down the stairs. Cuddles with my kids. Reading aloud a beautiful book on video to my class.
How are you finding joy?
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski