Third grade has a big focus on friendship and community. What does it look like to be building friendships and community in this new virtual world?
Mary: We have done the things we would normally do on campus! We even made miniature rainbow fish. [Students] got all the materials in their take-home bag that they would have gotten in the classroom: glitter, glue sticks, sparkly pencils, etc. We read Rainbow Fish and talked about what we would do if we were lonely like Rainbow Fish. They learn that by sharing, Rainbow Fish doesn't have his glittery scales anymore, but he has friends. So, we made miniature rainbow fish and talked about what we have within us that we would like to give someone else (e.g., love of reading, sports achievements, etc.), and then they will share their "scales" (or gifts) with their classmates. Now, we're doing our friendship spheres. We talk about the characteristics of a good friend, and then they write it in descriptive language. Then, they decorate their friendship sphere and write their 20 descriptive phrases and make them into a ball. Students are doing 3rd grade the way that they would always be doing it; the only difference is the screen!
What are some techniques that you use to prepare students for higher levels of math and language arts?
In math, the enVisions program goes from reteaching to enrichment, and then I combine my own enrichment with the children, such as Math Detective. I also have Reading Detective. We do "find the evidence," where the children have to search for answers in reading material that we're using, which will get them ready for doing research when we study Native Americans. I also have office hours; I meet with two students a day for half an hour each to talk and work together. Then, when the children are doing their independent work, I'm going online to do research to find programs that I can use online with the kids. The more I have at my fingertips online to make [learning] more interesting and progressive, the better!
One thing we hear a lot is that 3rd grade with you is magical. What’s some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into creating that magic?
It's about the connections I make with the children so that we create the magic together. The magic comes from the talking we do with one another and the fact that they feel safe in the classroom. There's a lot of laughter, and that makes a big difference when you know that you can laugh with your teacher.
What do teachers and students gain from learning remotely?
It has made the children independent. They have to keep track of the work that they've done and send me a checklist. And when they're "doing school" virtually, they have to advocate for themselves. In a classroom, I'm walking around and I can say, "You don't seem to be getting it. What do you need help with?" But virtually, they will email me and ask for a Zoom; they are advocating for themselves much sooner than they would be in the classroom. These kids are really taking charge of their learning, which is what we want them to do. ❖
Interview conducted by Talia Fishbine. Originally published in Lower School Quarterly Vol. III, No. I in October 2020.