By Dana Mohn
5th Grade Teacher, North Bay Elementary School, North Bend Education Association
As we have started distance learning, one of the biggest challenges I have found is finding activities and strategies that get the students (and me) engaged while we are all miles apart. I have realized that a classroom has its own energy and that energy helps fuel the work of the day. I miss that energy!
I try to replicate that energy online and remembering to have fun is my mantra through this time of school closures. Each of my students have two Zoom meetings per week in two different groups. In those groups, we play games, share our work and try to be just a bit silly. Last week, we did a treasure hunt that was really fun!
April was National Poetry Month, which helped kick off our distance learning and connect our class. Students used art to inspire original poetry or they found poems to share via email. These poems helped the students connect to the classroom, each other, and to me. The poetry projects have been a great success because the students love to write poetry once they see that it really is just fun with words. The local newspaper even published several of my students’ poems in a short article. The students have really enjoyed seeing their work in the local paper.
Human connection is a very important aspect of school and something I think many of us took for granted before the closures. For example, as I write this, I am sitting in my empty classroom. I live in the country and have spotty Internet connectivity and data limits. There is no way I could interact with my students the way I think is necessary without the Internet service I access at the school. Sitting in my classroom alone makes me realize exactly how my students feel probably sitting in their bedroom working alone. It can feel overwhelming at times. I try to keep a realistic frame of mind and realistic expectations for what I am working on and what I ask my students to take on. Another way I tried to help bring my students together was to have them create a self-portrait. I then printed the pictures and taped them to their desks. Now I can still see their faces and they had fun “re-populating” the classroom.
These young students are learning how to work from home and keep a schedule. Most adults are struggling with that very same challenge right now.
I am also trying to remember that my students are 10 years old and in the middle of a global pandemic. I am trying really hard not to stress them out and to keep their engagement up at the same time. I have a big chunk of students with nurses or medical workers in their immediate family and that is really scary for the students. I have scheduled extra Zoom meetings for these students as they need the extra support. Most of the time, we use this time to just talk about what is happening.
Those were some of my early successes, but I had early failures, too. At first, I was assigning way too much work! These young students are learning how to work from home and keep a schedule. Most adults are struggling with that very same challenge right now. We can’t just assume students will know how to set and then stick to a schedule. One idea that has helped me is to let my students give input into the regular workload. As we go into our fifth week, I think the students and I have found a good balance for the amount of work I can expect them to complete and that they can reasonably handle.
Recently, I was listening to a song that helped me put all of this in perspective. The song lyric is from The Pistol Annie's song Lemon Drop: “Life is like a lemon drop/I’m suckin' on the bitter to get to the sweet part/I know there are better days ahead." Right now, we are all experiencing the bitter part of that lemon drop but better days are ahead. For now, we just need to stay safe and healthy and be patient.
Tools to Share
I have my students do a quick “check in” regularly so I can get a sense of how they are doing and what supports they might need. Students can choose how much they want to share and them I’m able to better support them in our Zoom groups.
Have a Distance Learning story to share?
We want to hear from you! Specifically, we want to share your experiences on:
- What is working for you to connect with all your students?
- What is working for you to provide a sense of care for your students?