Learning Gain #3: Listen to the Children

Last week, on the one year anniversary of teaching pandemic school, my fifth grade teaching colleagues and I invited our students to reflect on the past year. We asked our students to consider what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, what they’ve missed, and even what they now understand that they didn’t understand 12 months ago. Our fifth graders were given space and time to share their thinking through writing.

Not one of our 64 fifth graders, 1/3 of whom are learning from home full-time while the other 2/3 are learning in a hybrid school environment, mentioned that they worried about “learning loss,” academic standards, or about keeping/catching up. Oddly, many adults removed from classrooms or direct work with children are loudly sharing concerns with anyone who will listen about our children falling behind an arbitrary benchmark or standard. These same adults have likely not asked any children to reflect and share their thinking.

Let’s listen to the children. I have gained quite a bit by listening to our fifth graders over the past few months. Here is what some of them had to say last week, on our one year anniversary of doing school during the pandemic…

On Themselves

  • “Through this pandemic, I have realized more about myself, from my personal preferences to how I think. I have learned a lot of life lessons, and now I know how to better cope with bad things that come my way. I think I have also become a better person, I’m more self-aware and persevering.”
  • “I think that I have learned to be patient, and I still am learning because the virus hasn’t stopped yet. One thing that I have realized about myself when I was stuck in quarantine was that music and singing could help with my anxiety. Music has really helped. I can always depend on my music.”
  • “I really miss what life was like before COVID-19, but I’ve grown during this time. I’ve learned how to have fun with myself and that I need to appreciate time with others. But it’s really good that I know how to enjoy my time alone. It’s ok to be alone sometimes.”
  • “I’ve learned that sometimes just making it through is an accomplishment. We should all feel accomplished.”

On Relationships

  • “I have learned to be grateful for what I have and to not take things for granted. I’m so grateful for my family. Other people have lost so much and I realize I am so fortunate to have my family. I will never take them for granted.”
  • “I’ve learned the importance of family, even if we drive each other crazy. They are the ones I love and care about. I need them just like they need me. We all need each other. Especially now. We are united, together, and a team.”
  • “I miss playing with my friends everyday. Even though I don’t get to see them in person I’m glad we have found other ways to do things together. I appreciate my friends more than ever.”
  • “This year has been filled with tears, laughter, and new friends. I met new people! I actually met new friends in school but in weird ways. It wasn’t like how I used to meet friends. I feel more confident to talk to new people now. Everybody needs friends and I see that now.”

On The World, Advocacy, and Change

  • “I’ve learned that the world is a really big place and a really small place. I’ve learned that it’s important to care about other people and other places in the world. That if I can help I should help. I want to help all people in the world.”
  • “I also think that I have learned how bad racism is, which makes me so mad and upset. I know I need to do something about it. I need to speak up. I will speak up.”
  • “I have realized that we need to adapt to our environment, it won’t adapt to us. But, I have also realized that if we want anything to change we have to do it together. We have to actually do something. Not just wait around for others because if everyone does that then nothing will actually change.”
  • “This pandemic has turned the world upside down, and once the vaccines are done, hopefully it will be turned back again. No matter what happens, it will always stay a little tilted from all the changes it has made to the way we live. It showed the human race how no matter what challenges we face, there is always a way to persevere. It showed us that even in the darkest tunnels, no matter how overwhelmed you feel, there will be light at the end.”

On Overcoming Obstacles

  • “I have also come to understand that we will face big problems in our life that we can’t always fix alone. We have to take them slow like a math problem that we don’t understand yet. And slowly, but surely our problem will start to get fixed. Not just like that, but it will fade away slowly with work. We can’t always solve the problems in our lives, but we have to try different ways to solve them and never give up. I know that these days are really hard for everybody, so we all have to try to make a difference.”
  • “Everything has been so hard. But I now realize that I can overcome hard things. It’s not easy, but it can be done. Sometimes I need to ask for help and sometimes I don’t. No matter how hard something feels I now know that it’s probably temporary. It’s ok if things are hard sometimes.”
  • “The pandemic has brought us problems, but also solutions, solutions that can carry on even after these days of troubles. Solutions that will make a difference even in the far, cloudy future where kids will be learning about how this year was one of the strangest humanity has seen. This year has taught everyone how easy our society can shatter, but also that we can put the pieces back together.”

On More Traditional Academics

  • “I learned things! I learned how to draw better and I learned more math! Which has surprised me and everyone around me! It’s inspired me to work harder. I know I don’t really need normal school to learn new things.”
  • “The pandemic has also shown me that I love to draw and I’m good at it. For example, in fourth grade I didn’t know how to draw, I didn’t even really try. When the pandemic started, I began to draw to fill the time. Now I enjoy drawing and have found it as one of my hobbies. It even helps me with my writing!”
  • “I learned a very important lesson. I learned that I can choose my own books. I don’t have to just read books others want me to read. That helped me so much. I actually like reading now.”
  • “I learned that school can be done anywhere. I miss going to my actual school, but I know I can learn from home. I actually kind of like it. I like doing math and writing at home. I never thought I’d say that.”

So, the next time someone makes claims about our children, ask them if they’ve given children the opportunity to reflect upon and share what they’ve learned and realized over these past 12 months. When we take the time to give our kids an opportunity to truly reflect on their feelings and learnings and express themselves, we can learn so much more than we could ever anticipate.

It’s time to listen to the kids. It’s long past time.

-Christina

The next few posts in this series will describe lessons learned about ways of now doing school that I’ll carry over to post-pandemic schooling. Click on the follow button to have each post delivered to your inbox, or check back here in a few days! All posts in this series can be found at this link.

Learning Gain #2: Blunders & Missteps Modeled

“I can’t hear you. I see you’re not muted, but I can’t hear you.” The images on the Zoom screen showed mouths moving and gestures of conversation, but I could not hear anyone on the other end.

Suddenly, messages started flooding the chat…
I can hear her, Ms. Nosek.
She sounds fine to me.
Ms. Nosek check your settings.
Are you connected to audio Ms. Nosek?

I started to grow a tad frazzled as we only had a short amount of time for the reading workshop ahead. The added pressure of seamlessly managing the tech know-how of Zoom meetings while simultaneously leading a reading workshop is real. Not only did I need to respond to student reading needs in the moment, but I also had to respond to tech-issues, often my own, in the moment as well.

The advice continued in the chat…
Remember this happened before.
What was it last time when this happened to Ms. Nosek?
Ms. Nosek, is your computer volume turned all the way down AGAIN?

I immediately looked down at my keyboard, repeatedly pushed the volume button, and watched the volume symbol on screen grow from zero to ten. Yep. That was it. My computer volume was once again turned all the way down and I didn’t realize it. I planted my hand on the familiar spot on my forehead, took a deep breath, and sighed, “Thank you, fifth graders. What would I do without you? Shall we start reading workshop now?” Then, a friendly, understanding response came my way…

“It’s ok Ms. Nosek. These things happen.”

If your teaching is anything like mine, you’ve made quite a few missteps and blunders this year. Not only have I continually made these flubs, but I have made them publicly, in front of my students and even their families on occasion due to being broadcast into some of their homes. However, the power of this lesson does not come from the blunder itself being made. Rather, the power comes from watching me, the teacher in charge, publicly make them, learn from them, and eventually bounce back.

Some of the missteps and blunders I’ve unintentionally modeled in front of my students have included accidentally ending the entire Zoom meeting instead of closing breakout rooms, allowing my own typos to go unedited on assignments while realizing it as I’m explaining said assignment, and even making a simple arithmetic error in front of everyone while modeling a strategy on how to add fractions with unlike denominators. In all of these instances, rather than trying to cover my tracks or make an excuse for the blunder, I named it, owned it, repaired it when I could, and moved on…

Some of these lessons from the blunders have been simple- make sure double check the button I’m about to click in the Zoom meeting before I click on it. Others have been a bit more impactful- when I speed through my work without rereading it, even as an adult who is well versed at doing school, errors are bound to go unfixed. So, be sure to always reread or double check my work. The public and often unintended modeling of noticing, naming, accepting, and then finding the remedy to the errors is where the power of the lesson resides.

After a few weeks together, I noticed students started going through the same process with their small blunders. When minor blunders were made, students would say things like, “Oh well. Let me just fix this and move on!” or “Oh, now I see. Got it.” The embarrassment and self-consciousness of school years past has transformed into a humble confidence of sorts. During this school year more than any other, students are granting themselves grace or are even partially celebrating their minor blunders and then are just moving on.

I’m not able to draw causation from my public unintentional modeling of my missteps and blunders, but I do wonder if this has had an impact on my students when they make a minor misstep as well. I wonder if my frequent publicly made blunders are putting students more at ease for when they make them. I may never have an answer, but I do know I will carry this thinking with me well past this school year.

Learning gained: blunders and missteps publicly modeled are a beautiful thing.

-Christina

Learning Gain #3 will describe the power of listening to our kids. Click on the follow button to have each post delivered to your inbox, or check back here in a few days! All posts in this series can be found at this link.