Behind the Shelves: Loving Distance Learning

I’m learning that I love the way online learning allows unique learners to thrive in so many different types of mastery simultaneously.

My summer courses started this week, and they are open to the wider community, which means that many of my campers are students that I’ve never met before in person. I’ve found myself worried about how to engage students exclusively online without the history of learning together in person. What a surprise to learn that there’s so much to love about online learning!

I’m teaching two classes this session, and today, I’m writing about Graphic Novel Club. I have a wonderful group of warm and curious readers. We start everyday with a collective grounding exercise and a getting-to-know-you game or greeting (there was an article from Edutopia called How to Forge a Strong Community in an Online Classroom that was so helpful, but seems to have disappeared – this one about keeping attention in a virtual setting has been helpful, too), and a video answer to one of the collective wonders that we shared on our first day. These short videos (today’s was a quick History of Graphic Novels) seem to really engage and excite the group, and get them talking, questioning, and eager to dive in.

In today’s meeting, we were all about setting – the where and the when of a story. In one hour (we meet for one hour, three days a week, for two week sessions), we had so many opportunities for different learning styles to thrive.

Here are a few of the activities we tried today:

Discussion: First we talked through setting together, sharing both the definition and other initial thoughts. We looked at a few examples of setting and the way it can inflence a story (like the cover of Sanity and Tallulah – what is the setting here? Why is that Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 11.56.50 AMimportant?; and The Graphic History of Gettysburg  –  what do we need to know about this setting as we read? Will we see any cars or iPhones here?). My favorite thing to do is include some funny slides with obviously wrong settings, like this photo of dropping Dog Man into an alien world from Amulet… always a big hit! In my experience, many outspoken kiddos love questioning and learning in this way.

Read and Wonder: We are lucky enough to have free subscriptions to Epic!, a digital reading platform for kids that has been generously been giving free access to schools closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Epic! has a pretty impressive selection of comics and graphic novels, and I have learned that my group LOVES to read. So for this section of class, students had ten minutes to read, online or from a book they have at home, with these questions in mind:

  • What is the setting? When and where? How can you tell?
  • How does it impact the story?
  • How would the story look different if it took place in another place or time?

Students have their choice to turn their camera and/or sound off in this flex time, but we all stay on the Zoom call together. This allows them for some privacy, if they’d like it. I leave my camera on (while I read with them, of course) so I’m accessible for questions or discoveries. I’m sure to give lots of warnings so I don’t surprise anyone with a deadline. I’ve seen quiet and slower processors really dig in and get the hang of the topic with this approach.

Teach: When we gather back as a group, each reader has the chance to share what they found and teach the group the answers to the setting questions. Because we are all logged into Epic! together, they can even give us titles and page numbers so that we can all navigate to the examples to see what they found. Learners that thrive on feedback and peer attention can really shine when they teach and share.

Draw: We closed with a directed drawing of Big Nate (thank you, @artforkidshub!), in IMG_4286the middle of a blank page. Tonight’s “homework”? Draw a setting for Nate, one that gives the reader an idea of what the story will be about. If an artist doesn’t want to share their work with the group, they can post it privately for me in our Google Classroom. The link is also posted on Google Classroom, so they can try again or draw more than one if they’d like. It is so great to see artists light up when they have a chance to express what they’ve learned in creative medium. Here’s my drawing, with the setting taking shape. (I cheated by adding some thought bubbles, but hey, I figure artistic license is fair game!)

All in all, it made for a very quick and fun hour – and from where I was sitting, it looked like every camper left engaged and excited. (Now whether I can actually assess accurately via Zoom… that’s a whole different story!)  I know that distance learning isn’t ideal. But I love pushing myself and learning new things about teaching and learning in this format. For example: Now I know that drawing karate studios is not my forte 😉

Are you teaching this summer? What tools and methods have you tried in distance learning that have given your students a chance to shine?

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