What a difference a month makes. The last time I sat down to make sense of my world as a librarian I was a little frantic. I had just learned we would be teaching and learning from home for a number of weeks. I was revising my approach based on new learning environments that I had barely experienced with my students. Now, with the certainty that we'll finish this school year teaching and learning from home, my attention has shifted: what role can I play given our current remote environment and students' needs?
Assessing Our Current Situation
If there was any doubt about the disparity in educational resources, the current situation has illuminated it. Communities' realities vary greatly, so it's beneficial to assess the ways that you can contact your students in this moment. My reality is that all of our K-2 students have iPads at home and upper-elementary students have Chromebooks. Software varies between the two devices, but Google Suite is a resource for all students. Families without WiFi have worked with local providers or have been loaned hotspots by my district.
I also want to assess my students' needs. Two areas that my colleagues and I have focused on are giving students connections and voice. We want students to continue to feel connected to our school community. That has been a challenge given asynchronous learning and varying home schedules, but the majority of students have been in touch with their teacher and/or classmates through Google Meet or email. I have offered open library times and recorded read alouds, with positive responses from students and parents.
I also want to support students using their voice as many are isolated from friends and trusted adults they saw every day. As a way to encourage the sharing of their day-to-day lives and validate student voice, we have been working with our state history museum to have students document their experiences right now. I have multiple grade levels participating in this program by keeping diaries or writing memoirs. Students' reflections will be collected and donated to the history museum as part of a new collection about personal accounts of this event.
Utilizing Technology Needs to Meet Students' Needs
As we enter our last month of school, I have a desire to do more to support students in using their voice and feeling connected, so I turned to Stacy Brown's new book, The School Librarian's Technology Playbook: Innovative Strategies to Inspire Teachers and Learners (Libraries Unlimited 2020). While I'm assuming Stacy thought of this technology being applied face-to-face, it provides valuable ideas that will help me extend the work I'm doing with students while we're at home.
There are several technologies that Stacy explores in her book that can be brought to the current remote learning and teaching environment:
Podcasting: This may be the most direct way for students to share their voice with their teacher, librarian, or other students. Creating podcasts could complement our current project of documenting life during this time of stay-at-home orders. It could also connect students through literature, emboldening them to talk about favorite eBooks and audiobooks and inspiring other students to pick up suggested titles. The lesson "Podcasting to Document Student Experiences" explores students creating their own podcasts in different technology environments.
YouTube: Over the past weeks, I have been sharing read alouds via unlisted YouTube links, following guidelines provided by publishers. Students and parents have shared that it is a favorite part of their days. Over 1500 views and 135 hours of viewing support that claim. How can students be active users while continuing to respect student privacy? Guest readers, with parent permission, can record themselves reading a story to share with their class or grade. Videos can be shared with me to include on the unlisted channel and shared out to Google Classroom.
Video Conferencing: Many schools where students have devices at home have adopted a video conferencing platform (we use Google Meet). Even kindergarten students are taking part in class meetings through video conferencing. While not all students are able to participate every day, sessions can be recorded and watched by anyone from the classroom, or even parents. While the teacher is typically in charge of these sessions, there is no reason students can't plan and run a Google Meet with other students. For security reasons, an educator must be present, but having a librarian available while a small group of students collaborates together provides those security measures and gives the librarian insight into where students may need assistance.
While learning and teaching from home may not be ideal for everyone, it doesn't need to be a learning environment where students don't feel connected to their school or where their voice isn't heard. Assessing our current reality can help us address those needs using available resources and creative approaches.
Brown, Stacy. The School Librarians Technology Playbook: Innovative Strategies to Inspire Teachers and Learners. Libraries Unlimited, 2020.