I’ve written before about how challenging this year is. I could still list many things that I think aren’t working or aren’t working anywhere near as well as they could. But I’m feeling some success and finding some fabulous moments of joy. One of each happened during our small-group time today. (We have an hour each day, Tuesday through Friday, to meet with small groups for remediation or enrichment or whatever support is needed.)
I had promised my 3rd graders some time to finish a couple of things from earlier this week so I had set aside the first part of our hour for them to do so, if they needed. Whenever they were ready, I had an interactive slides math game prepared for them. One of the things they were doing was a program my district has purchased and that I have them use for about 20 minutes each, three days a week. One kiddo has been stuck in it and she and I have worked together to support her progress. Today she said she was still feeling stuck. I told her I’d work with her as soon as I answered the other questions that kids had. Before I could do so, another student piped up to ask if she was working with hundreds or thousands, because he’s on the thousands part. So is she. He offers to help. With both of their permission, I sent them to a breakout room so they could easily talk through the challenges. When I had a chance, about 15 minutes later, I popped into that room. The first student was sharing her screen and they were working together to solve the math puzzles. They did that, without any help from me, for at least half an hour.
In our classroom in our school building, that wouldn’t be unusual. In the virtual setting it is hard for kids to partner up naturally. They can’t just go off to a quiet space to work together. They can’t see each other’s faces and body language to determine who might be needing some help. Both of the kids above are new to our school this year (I teach on a military post and we have a 40% mobility rate so kids new to the school is a norm). They’ve never met each other in person. His offer to help, her easy acceptance, and their collaboration brought me such joy.
In that same block of time, after these two kiddos headed off to work together, I worked with another student. I had sent emails to each of my kids so that they could respond with nonfiction topics they wanted to write about. (I don’t really need to see their topics, but emailing me pushes them to make a choice and to commit to it in some way.) About half my class had sent those emails to me this morning and I had promised to help anyone else walk through it during our afternoon hour of small group time.
A brand-new student, she started last week, hadn’t sent me an email so I asked her if she wanted me to help her take care of that. (Rookie mistake, for the record, never ask a question if you want a specific answer.) Her response to me was that she doesn’t know how to send emails. I reiterated that I was ready to walk her through the process. She reminded me that she’d already written these things down on paper. I explained that I needed to have the information so I needed her to email me. She said ok. Then she got up and walked away. This is what I saw on my screen for a few minutes while I cracked up.
When she returned I asked her where she had gone. “To have my mom take a picture of this and email it to you.”
Nice try, kid, nice try. I still walked her through sending me an email. Even after she told me she doesn’t like typing on the computer. I thought, oof, this is going to be a long year, kiddo.
On the whole, that hour of our day felt like a pretty solid win.
At the end of the day, the student who offered to help a friend and headed to a breakout room together, asked if he could share something before we left. I try to honor these requests, especially when they’re so thoughtfully offered as ‘at the end of the day’ rather than just whenever they pop into 3rd graders’ heads. Some kids signed off, but many stayed to see this.
He explained that he made this for our whole class, that it is about all of us.
Several students turned on their mic to tell him how beautiful it is and what a great artist he is. It was an awesome way to finish our day. I am trying to hold onto these moments in the midst of all the ways I feel I’m falling short of what my students need and what I want to be doing for them.