By G. FAITH LITTLE
In a recent letter to the community, CPET Director Roberta Kang shared her childhood memory of the Challenger Space Shuttle’s explosion, and her experience as a teacher in the classroom during 9/11. She wrote, “As educators, we are not unfamiliar with working through a crisis. We know that some crises are visible, and some are invisible. We know that some are explosive, while others are slow burns that dismantle a sense of safety bit by bit. We know that some have villains attached, and others are just, well, science.”
Our children will have strong memories of this time. They will recall what it was like when their school closed, when they had to wear masks, stand far away from people, or when open air parks were locked to visitors. Already, children are telling stories about when they went to school, “before the virus came” and what they want to bring to school, “after the virus is over.” Having conversations with children about what is happening around them and within them will support their growth and learning during this challenging time.
Although COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus, talking with children about scary situations is not new. To support our conversations, we can lean on reliable resources and use age-appropriate methods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) connects their general principles for talking to children to the National Association for School Psychologists guidelines:
There are many resources online to support our conversations, and it can be overwhelming to sift through for “the perfect one.” During this time of emotional, mental, and physical overload, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as perfect. Using a reliable, science-based option will give you a starting place for you and your kids to generate questions and keep the conversation open.
Pre-K — Elementary
Support your younger students with ready-made resources from PBS. Sesame Street’s Caring for Each Other page has informative, age-appropriate videos and free e-books to support your conversation about what COVID-19 is and what we can do about it. Use their infographic to prepare for your conversation if you are feeling concerned about what to say.
Older elementary students can learn more about germs and build their vocabulary by reading an article together, like What are Germs? — available in English and Spanish, with an option to listen to the article while you read.
Middle school students are moving into a space where they question the answers they are given. Use this natural developmental stage to engage kids with inquiry cycles. Consider not only a focus on COVID-19, but a student exploration into a simple history of viruses.
Whether you adapt lessons from online sources, like three lesson plans for science, math and media literacy focused on COVID-19, or you set students on a path to conduct their own research, trying out an inquiry cycle can help students gather information and generate real questions that lead to deeper exploration.
Don’t have a template of your own? Give ours a try — within this template, students can share their findings in discussion groups while you use the written information as formative assessments, make adjustments to lesson plans, and provide supplemental materials or advice for students as they explore.
During this time of distance learning, we have the opportunity to see what happens when self-discovery and experimentation places learning in our students’ hands. As students get more autonomy, we get to see firsthand what teaching looks like when students are at the front of the class.
Students at this age can do their own research on the topic starting with the CDC’s Coronavirus-19 page (available in at least five languages), which covers symptoms, how to protect yourself, slowing the spread, daily life, and coping and is updated regularly to include subjects like cloth face coverings.
As new questions arise, students can create a simple art project, like an infographic. With them, you can research to find answers, add them to your infographic and draw, color, or paint for emphasis. If infographics aren't your thing, consider having kids create one of the following to illustrate their research:
By G. FAITH LITTLE
When designing professional development projects, we’re constantly examining how our promising practices can be solidified as we support educators. Through this examination, we’ve come to identify five principles of practice: Communities of practice, Contextualized practice, Critical reflection, Cultivating strengths, and Cycles of inquiry. As part of our series investigating each of these principles, let’s dig deeper into cycles of inquiry. (You can see previous entries in this series here.)
We believe in and utilize a cycle of inquiry with school teams as a powerful means towards transforming and improving practices and school structures. Our approach is inspired by the notion of social inquiry, as developed by John Dewey and C.S. Pierce, which privileges reflection and action, and articulates a process to identify a problem and investigate it through collaborative experimentation and exploration to develop a clearer understanding of an issue.
We’ve got more to say on our foundations and theory, but my three-year-old nephew demonstrates the practice efficiently and effectively with his very favorite question: Why?
We aren’t going to go swimming right now.
Because we’re going home.
It’s late, and you need to get dinner and a bath before bed.
[Pause] Is the pool open?
Yes, it’s open.
Can we get bath at the pool?
I suppose we can, yes. But what about dinner?
Because you’re going to get hangry soon.
Remember, when we don’t eat and then small things bother us, and then we get mad easily, and sometimes we throw a tantrum?
And we have to sit to think about it?
[Pause] McDowell’s! (yes, he says McDowell’s) I see it. Maybe can we eat then go swim?
Then we can eat and swim and be happy to swim.
The conversation continued. We went swimming. On the way home we talked about swimming and why it makes us happy. My nephew asked, “Why?” at least a dozen more times. His pauses helped me see that he was thinking about the answer — he remains curious no matter the subject.
Previously, I shared how our team goes about exploring our questions and challenges. Once a month, we gather together for Fiesta Fridays, which involve self-directed team-building activities that allow us to use play to surface larger challenges. Last year, our team began a cycle of inquiry focused on our Fiesta Friday experiences by using a simple structure to capture what we were curious about:
I am studying (topic): norms and consensus within the Fiesta Friday (FF) experience
because I want to find out how: FF partners should perform
in order to better understand: the goal of FF
so that we will know more about: how well we are meeting that goal.
From this starting point, we introduced letter writing as a way of passing along our learning from one Fiesta Friday to the next. Planners from January’s experience wrote a letter to those planning February’s outlining their goals for the experience, how it connected to the previous FF goals, and what, if anything, they might have changed following the experience. After a few months, we had some data we could use to loop back into our original question about FF partners and FF goals.
Our inquiry process is informed by Dewey’s and Pierce’s descriptions of three cyclical stages of the inquiry process: deductive: identifying an issue and developing a hypothesis or approach to try; inductive: testing a hypothesis and noting implications; and abductive: returning to adjust and hone a hypothesis or strategy based on experimentation.
With our partner schools, we see that by engaging in a cycle of inquiry to improve instruction, educators can identify the problems specific to their contexts and engage in a cycle of exploration to seek promising practices that address their particular needs, as opposed to relying solely on experts for “answers.” We turn the focus toward the questions that are bubbling up for teachers and for students. Where is the curiosity? What questions do their questions lead to, and what can they learn along the way?
During our inquiry process, we may refine the question or gather information that leads us to a new question, but we start with curiosity. We wonder. We ask, “Why?” We imagine.
What are you curious about today? Perhaps you’re interested in giving it a little thought through writing:
I am curious about ___________________________________
because I want to find out (what/how/why) ___________________________________
in order to better understand (what/how/why) ___________________________________
so that we will know more about ___________________________________.