"A good book introduction helps children get ready to read and anticipate what they will read. They have built up expectations and those expectations can help them power through unfamiliar words." - Russ Walsh
This is the 19th blog post entry of the 2019-20 school year. The first 17 entries were focused on home reading and strategies for parents to assist with building strengths in reading with young children. Last blog entry - posted just before spring break began - we veered off-topic to address the closure of classes. With families continuing in isolation and the school closed to students, I am going to try and blend the two topics together for the next few entries - see how I do!
We are entering the third week of classroom closures and oh! how things have changed in just a couple of weeks! On March 12th, when the NHL shut down, I remember thinking that was a pretty unusual turn of events - 19 days later, that seems like a pretty tame event given all that's happened in the meantime. Every sports league I can name is no longer playing, COVID-19 has closed our borders to most non-Canadian travel, closed all but essential businesses, cancelled our classes and sent us all into self-isolation in our homes. Skype, Zoom and Google have become standard digital locations for communication in a way I would never have imagined just 19 days ago and people are very ill across our own province, as well as the whole world. The stock market has crashed and the price of oil has hit rock bottom - and then gone even lower. These catastrophic changes to our social order have us all on 'tilt', wondering where to anchor, when all this will end and if life itself will ever be the same again.
I don't have any answers to any of those questions, but I do know a bit about teaching reading and about children so I thought I would try and bring a perspective to the events of the last month that really isn't about the traumatic events related to the pandemic at all, but about children and reading. Children are trying make sense of events and occurrences even adults are failing to comprehend with clarity, and are turning to the important adults in their lives to help them find an anchor. Reflecting on my own (rather long!) lived experiences and what has helped me navigate some fairly harrowing events (albeit nothing like this) it seems appropriate to acknowledge and appreciate the immense comfort books and reading offer to us all.
Books are solid, something to hang on to as unchanging when the events of the world seem like they are going to throw you overboard. Stories take us away from ourselves - make us laugh or cry, giggle or frown regardless of how we were feeling just two minutes before we picked up the book. They take us away from wherever we are in reality, calm our anxieties and soothe our breathing. Books and stories can - and should be - our best friends. They can help us envision a future we never anticipated or overcome a past that seemed too terrible to survive. I have come to rely on books as my inspiration, my meditation, my escape and my entertainment - as well as an endless source of thought-provoking information. Most importantly, books offer a foundation of continuity and predictability for children when times are both calm and choppy.
As we enter this new ongoing learning phase where we are not able to be together with the students, our primary goal is to keep connected with each other while encouraging children to continue to find joy in reading. Teachers typically share a read aloud at least once a day with students - often connected to tasks and investigations, so continuing this practice in a virtual way will offer continuity and connection during these unpredictable times. Students usually enjoy read aloud experiences and we use the joy found in these experiences to encourage them to extend knowledge and engage in both learning and extending their own reading practices.
Because read alouds are such a key piece of our daily instructional work, this is the first and most consistent piece of digital learning we have established as part of the daily digital learning experiences. As children have been connecting with teachers these first two days immersed in our new learning experience, it is so clear they have responded positively and truly loved listening to their teachers reading to them again - and the work they have shared in responding to these stories has been simply outstanding!
We are taking baby steps in this new learning journey, intentionally traveling slowly with both the children and families to ensure relationship, connection and learning remain the focus of as long as we are immersed in this forced separation. As we gradually expand these experiences to include use of live interactions through Google Classroom and Google Meet, we will remain cognizant of families' time and demands. Please stay in touch with us and let us know how things are going - when we need to pull back or make some changes and how your child is managing with the tasks and expectations.
Parents and guardians are our digital partners in these new learning adventures and we are highly appreciative of your support - as we introduce Google Classroom and Google Meet, we will not be able to support the children directly as they begin to navigate the new platform and will be reliant on parents to offer initial guidance on home devices. We promise to go slowly (it is all new to us as well!) and will continue to be easily accessible to you via email.
There are many ways to engage in learning - reading, listening, speaking, viewing, writing and representing understanding through fine arts. Our focus, as per the directive of Alberta Education, will be on literacy and math and we will do our best to keep students engaged in learning as interactively as possible. What we don't want is for the children to be stressed, worried or feeling inadequate in their learning. Teachers will be in close communication with families throughout and will greatly appreciate feedback as to how the learning is happening at home.
School will look and sound quite different for the forseeable future but will still be 'school', and when we are all back together again we will be able to continue weaving the threads of connection amongst the learning experiences.
Next week on the blog, we'll look at picking up the pieces of learning to read that may have fragmented over the past few weeks with all the social and familial upheavals that have taken place, and how families might support their children in continuing to build reading strengths.
Hoping everyone stays safe and healthy -
Lorraine Kinsman, Principal