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How do we know Elementary Students are engaged in Distance Learning?

ISP Elementary Principals Dr. Cindy Vega and Ms. Jimena Zalba’s favourite part of their job is visiting classes to see first hand how ISP Educators engage young learners. In this article the Principals describe their experiences of seeing how educators inspire students under Distance Learning.

Whether onsite at school, or in Distance Learning, Elementary teachers strive to design experiences that engage children in learning. Teachers draw on their deep understanding of how learning happens, knowledge of the children, and breadth of experience to thoughtfully plan for engagement. 

The best part of our jobs is visiting classes and seeing this learning happen!  Here we provide a window into just a few of these thoughtfully designed lessons.

When we enter classes we know students are engaged in their learning:

1. When they are curious and motivated to learn:

  • A few Grade 5 students were asked what was engaging about Distance Learning. A number of them shared that watching a video about the water crisis and how people around the world do not have water captured their interest.  Teachers had chosen and used this video as a provocation to spark students’ curiosity as they embark on a new Unit of Inquiry titled, “What is the cost of clean water?”
  • In addition to watching the video, Grade 5 students were engaged in reading a book, Princess Gie Gie, a story about a girl in Burkina Faso who needs to walk a great distance for water every day. This carefully chosen book acted as a provocation for students to think about the water crisis and scarcity, but also about characters in a book.  This beautifully illustrated and well-narrated book sparked students’ curiosity resulting in a number of questions:  “Why does she have to walk?” “Can’t they build a house next to the pond?” “How do they clean the water?” “Is she a real princess?” “Why would a princess not have water?”.  In the words of one of our Grade 5 students, the book is “beautiful and deep”. It truly engaged a Grade 5 class in thinking about their lives and the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.  
  • In a Grade 4 class, as a provocation to the new Unit of Inquiry on media literacy, the teacher had prepared slides with different advertisements. The children were so engaged that they tumbled over each other to share their own experiences and where they see advertisements in their lives. They then engaged in making sense of the ads the teacher had carefully selected and what was being sold. These commercials required the children to look at what was being depicted and ponder how the message was being communicated, like puzzles the children had to figure out.
  • For example, when they looked at the ad below about window cleaner the children first laughed at the fish with a helmet. Then they asked, “Why would a fish be wearing a helmet?” “What does this have to do with window cleaner?”

One of the children finally said, “you really have to think about what you’re seeing”. They loved the thinking and inferring part of the task. The teacher had chosen ads that would require this thinking and had images that the children could relate to.

2. When what they learn connects to them and their lives:

  • In one Grade 3 team class the teacher asked Ms. Zalba to estimate how many IXL exercises the students had done since the beginning of the school year.  She took this opportunity to help students ‘see’ her reasoning and asked them to help her estimate by multiplying.   Because she was guessing about something that connected with their experiences and they were interested in, students showed a great deal of interest and engagement. 
  • The next day Dr. Vega visited the Morning Meeting of the same Grade 3 class. The children were practicing reading a 5-digit number – the number of questions they’ve answered this year! They were very engaged in this practice because it was a very large number that quantified the work they’ve done. They were delighted to see the look of amazement on Dr. Vega’s face when they told her this was how many questions they’ve answered this year. 
Grade 3 Students
  • The teacher also included a question in the Morning Meeting slide that provided opportunities for children to correct the question on the slide and practice creating grammatically correct statements and questions. They were very engaged in this process because the photo piqued their curiosity and they wanted to ask questions about it themselves. In fact, when the teacher tried to stop the Morning Meeting and give the children a break, they didn’t want to stop! They kept asking questions about the photo that she’d included as a provocation for their new Unit of Inquiry.

3. When learning is fun

At the end of the day, Early Childhood Foundations classes can choose to join Ms. Sandra to listen to a picture book. In the Story Time on Thursday, the zoom room was filled with young children (and their brothers and sisters who chose to join too!). Ms. Sandra read the book, My Lucky Day, a modern version of The Three Little Pigs.

Children listened attentively as Ms. Sandra read using lots of expression and different voices for the characters. Ms. Sandra thought aloud about the book as she read, helping the children think about the book as they listened. After finishing the book, the children talk about the book with Ms. Sandra: “Whose lucky day was it?” “Why was it a lucky day?” She then read a short non-fiction book with lots of interesting facts about pigs. She showed them how to find books on Epic and told them she’d show their parents how to find these books too. This optional Story Time at the end of the day must be fun to draw such an interested audience!

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