Distance Learning Success: Poe-a-Tree Forest (K-12 Collaboration)

In case you missed it: distance learning is hard for everyone. From my last distance learning post:

Honestly, it’s hard for everyone involved. It’s challenging for the students, who long to be in their classrooms with their friends. It’s challenging for the teachers, who have had  to pivot in a moment’s notice and completely recreate their curriculum and teaching style, all while staying up at night worrying and missing the little ones they love And it’s challenging for the caregivers at home, who are suddenly forced to take on the million roles that a teacher normally fills, all while maintaining their myriad other responsibilities.

There’s nothing easy about it. But I’m grateful for it, because it’s keeping my community safe. I am lucky to be safe at home, providing the highest quality of education I can while helping to flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s not ideal, but it’s real, and I’m grateful for this inconvenient, exhausting, frustrating, lonely, and pretty much impossible situation.

Our school was on Spring Break when Virginia schools were ordered to close. Unlike most others, we did not take any time off – teachers launched into virtual planning on Tuesday, March 17th (the day we were supposed to return from break), and our distance education began in earnest on Monday, March 23rd. That means we are currently in week six of this new routine. The blog has been mostly quiet during this time as I have worked to get my feet under me and support my readers and colleagues during the transition. But now, with six weeks under my belt, I’m ready to try and share what I’ve learned.

My last distance learning success hinged upon collaboration with flexible, brilliant, and all-around-charming coworkers. This time, I got even luckier because the collaboration idea came from the very best source: students! Here’s some info about the project.

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K-12 Poe-A-Tree Collaboration

Ellie, a member of the Upper School Poetry club, emailed me to share a fun project that the group had been working on. Here’s a snippet of her message: “Our faculty sponsor came up with the idea of tying several poems to the large tree in front of the cafeteria for poetry month earlier in the year; we would call it the “poe-a-tree.” Due to recent events, that’s obviously not going to happen, but [we] liked the idea so much that we created a Google Doc on which people can take pictures of trees that they’ve put poems on/in, so that our document can become a forest of ‘poe-a-trees.’ We thought this was possibly something that the lower school could get involved with from home.” Brilliant, right? I was scheming and dreaming before I even got to the paragraph where she asked me if I’d like to get involved.

Our school has two campuses: K-8 (which we call the Learning Village) and 9-12 (which we call the Upper School). Ellie is a student at the Upper School campus, which is a mile or so away and on a different schedule, so collaboration can be difficult. I was thrilled when she reached out to see if we could make something work. As a bonus, the timing of this project was perfect, because her email came right in the middle of April, National Poetry Month. Many grades had been reading, exploring, and writing poetry all month long. Additionally, the school’s Virtual Poetry Night was coming up. In other words, poetry was on the brain!

We used a few virtual tools for this project:

  • I uploaded my readaloud videos to YouTube and shared them via Safe YouTube, as is our school’s policy (videos embedded below)
  • K-4 students uploaded their designs to SeeSaw, the platform that our Lower School students use to share work
  • Middle school students learned about the project over Google Classroom during their advisory time
  • Upper school students and faculty spread the word via email
  • K-12 poets and poetry lovers connected via Padlet

Before the project, Ellie and I emailed for about a week to iron out the details. We never had a formal meeting.

Goals:

Our goal was simply to get readers of all ages and their families to engage in and share poetry in a new way. From Ellie: “We started the upper school poetry club in an effort to spread a diverse selection of poems throughout the upper school. What was once a small group of students who met monthly has snowballed into a much larger and more communicative group of faculty and students alike. During the quarantine period specifically, we decided to send out a weekly list of poems that everyone can contribute to, and we have even begun having virtual discussions. While we enjoy speaking to our tight knit group of poetry-lovers, we would love to involve the lower school, as well.

Process:

Week 1:

The first week, I extended the challenge to our Lower School students and families as an optional library activity. I told them that the upper school students needed their help to create a forest of poe-a-trees. I included three different videos with this activity: One with an explanation of the challenge, one with my own poe-a-tree video, and one with a haiku readaloud to get them thinking creatively.

As you can hear, the guidelines for our poe-a-tree activity were simple:

  1. Pick a poem that you love. It can be one that you’ve written yourself or a poem from another poet.
  2. Decide how you want to share it. Will you create a piece of artwork inspired by trees? Write your poem and take a photo of it in a tree? Sit at the base of a tree and share your poem? Climb a tree to share from up there? We left the activity wide open so students could use their creativity and enjoy.
  3. Document your poe-a-tree with photo or video and upload it to SeeSaw.

In the meantime, I started a special poe-a-tree padlet and sent it to the Upper School Poetry Club. They spread the word to other upper school students, faculty members and families, and the Padlet started filling with their favorite poems, artwork, and videos.

As a bonus, our amazing K-4 science teacher joined the fun and added a tree-themed lesson and activity to the science offerings for the week. She challenged students to use their senses to explore trees more carefully, and mentioned how this could be helpful in writing poems, finding the right tree to share a poem, or just enjoying a poem in a beautiful, calming space.

Over the course of the week, I downloaded poe-a-tree photos and videos from SeeSaw and added them to the Padlet. It was really fun to see the poems from the little ones mixing in with poems from upper school students and adults. I loved the range of artwork and creativity, and especially enjoyed the students brave enough to share their own poems.

Week 2:

The second week, I extended the invitation to participate to middle school students through emails to advisors and families. Because I knew I might not have the chance to interact directly with these students to answer questions, I looped them in the second week when there were already plenty of examples on the Padlet for them to look through.

I also shared the link to the Padlet with the school, inviting them to look through our Poe-a-Tree Forest to find their poems and enjoy the submissions from others. Some more submissions trickled in this week, and I added them to the Padlet as I found them. You can take a look at our Padlet in the screenshots below, because embedded Padlets can be tricky on WordPress. If you’d like a closer look, you can also visit the page here.)

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Outcome:

A lot of easy poetry fun! With more than 30 poe-a-tree posts, I’d call this optional activity a success. This collaboration was simple to put together and required minimal prep and behind the scenes work. I love that younger learners got to see upper school students passionate about poetry, reading, and sharing the power of the written word; I also love that older learners got to see the lower schoolers’ bravery in sharing their own work and really putting themselves out there. As an added bonus, this fell right at the end of National Poetry Month, so many students had fresh poems to share and poetry on the brain. It was also the week that our school shared its virtual Poetry Night – a perfect fit!

The high point for me was seeing a bright, creative, generous group of students see their idea come to fruition. This fun collaboration would never have happened without Ellie and the Poetry Club, and I was so happy that their enthusiasm for poetry could spread and inspire so many learners.

(Note: One thing I would change for next time: An extra guideline about making sure you ask an adult for permission and help before climbing any trees! A couple of student videos really had me on the edge of my seat. As far as I know there were no broken bones or upset parents, but if you decide to try this out with your school community, I suggest that added caveat.)


What successes have you seen in your Distance Learning and teaching so far?

See another successful Distance Learning Project here. (This one had robots!)

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