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Reaching and teaching through the screen...

Wednesday, October 14, 2020 7:18 AM

I was visiting with a young teacher yesterday and was quite impressed with all she is doing to reach through the wires and establish authentic learning connections with her special needs preschoolers. It’s no easy business trying to get and hold the attention of a three year old in the best of conditions. Now add online and the chaos of what is now normal and you have a near impossible mission…or do you? 

She and I talked on and brain stormed and in our mutual state of intrigue and relentless optimism we bagan to explore the myriad ways that a determined educator could reach through the screen. It may sound implausible or like a silly, non attainable goal but for many teachers I talk to it is crucial to the success of their learners. She sends home laminated cards and felt pads and holding her version while kids hold theirs achieves a kind of simultaneity that feels like rapport or teamwork or just caring enough to go the extra mile. All of this can seem so surreal and impossible but I’m watching teachers do the impossible every day since Covid-19 made us all new teachers again. 

Every time I am challenged by the future I go back to the past to look for clues to how humans adapted and pivoted and took advantage of new tools and evolving resources and now is no exceptiond. As an art teacher I have always been intrigued by any tool that extended my reach and the interest of my students. Looking back to the past I have rediscovered a television show  that aired from 1953 to 1957 called Winky Dink And You. At the dawn of the television age people were looking for ways to make real connections with the home audience. (Sound familiar?) In the case of Winky Dink a piece of vinyl would arrive via post at a kid’s home and they would stick it to the television screen via static electricity. Next they would watch the cartoon and wait for that pivotal moment where only their drawing contribution could save the day and begin drawing with their wax pencil. Whether they were drawing a bridge to help people cross a river or a cage to trap a dangerous lion the kids knew their input really mattered.

There is so much here to consider and the elements of student engagement haven’t changed that much. Yes technology has changed a lot and the variety of things that can help kids learn or totally distract them from the same has exploded. Terms like engagement, inclusion, rapport, personal relationships and buy in still ring true as we seek to design better online interactions. On July 23rd 2007 I uploaded my first phot to my newly created ArtSnacks network and set about creating many, many drawing lessons to give away online. Kids from all over the world were using my lessons to draw sharks, dinosaurs, cars and much more. Now I know this wasn’t Juliard and that I wasn’t minting the next O’ Keeffes and Picassos of the world. I was helping teach some basic art principles to kids who might not have an art teacher. 

My grade school teacher wife quickly saw the utility in what I was offering and asked me to create lessons to reinforce concepts she was teaching her K-4 students and a partnership began that still has me creating lessons teachers ask for today. Some of my titles can be found here if you want to use them I designed these art snacks to be short and sweet, none lasting more than ten minutes and most lasting five or less. This was largely due to two factors, attention span and how long my wife had for circles or group work. They would start one of my videos like the solar system, simple machines or the human face in fractions and work together in front of a laptop. Here is a teacher teaching live in a room while simultaneously leveraging an online resources. Not too sexy and certainly not fine arts fare as much as an additional learning tool to reinforce and buttress what my wife was already teaching. As the pandemic landed I began curating all of the resources I’d ever created because a new urgency was coursing through my teacher veins. I found my cardboard creations lessons and put them out there for teachers and families to use to bond and to add some excitement to the new homebound reality. 

What’s become clear is that we really need to to continue to seek new ways to really impact learning whether we’re home based, school based or many combinations of the two. I think that all of this effort will pay dividends after we get through the worst of Covid-19 restrictions and limitations. We’ll have new resources and ideas that vastly extend our ability to differenciate and do blended learning. There are many kids who struggle in social learning situations and our newly developed online resources might be just the ticket for kids who trigger and get distracted easily. Reaching through the screen might be as simple as what we send home and allow kids to experience or google sites we build where kids can work together as if they were in the same room. Coordinating with parents and caregivers to create a sense of togetherness so that learners don’t feel so distant might be helpful. One idea my teacher friend Cherise and I talked about was doing a survey to find out what kids like, their favorite toys etc. then using images we know they like and themed puppets to pull them in.

Whatever we do matters and we don’t have to be perfect. Perfect i the enemy of done and I know kids and families wil appreciate all we do as well as all we try to do. I ike to share this idea so I’ll end with it. People will forgive us for not being perfect, they won’t forgive us for not being present. Keep reaching through the screen and keep connecting and growing your through the screen super powers. 

Tradigital Learning

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Kevin Honeycutt

World Changer