My 8-year-old shared an honest list with me recently. It was a collection of things he viewed as positive about our time at home. The list had some expected inclusions like more family time and more meals at home (He usually eats lunch and about half his dinners in a dining hall. He has also shed real tears over missing Chipotle during the past six weeks.). The list also included “extra time to work on new things” like golf (how did he find golf clubs in the basement?), learning to type (he complains about it everyday), and getting into some art projects.
It was the art projects that surprised me the most. Art, having been deemed by him as something his sister does, has rarely held his attention or interest. We have been doing some projects online with their Gigi, and he has been able to articulate that most of the projects are things he does not feel good at, that the work is outside his comfort zone.
Even so, he keeps showing up…maybe for himself, maybe for his Gigi. When I asked him a few nights ago to pick one more task for his next day’s work, he chose an art assignment from school and said with a small smile “I already have an idea for this one.”
The next day, he spent a lot of time on this task, more than any other task that day. He thought carefully about how he would do it, got frustrated, persevered, and was so proud of his product that he slid it into the back cover of his binder so he could see it everyday. As soon as his dad entered the room, he pulled the binder back out to show him. The process and the product became a huge boost for him.
Later that evening, he read a comment from his art teacher on the photo he had submitted. Even though the affirmation was clear and present, he only seemed to take in the part about trying something more complex next time. Too big for my lap, that’s where he still sits, and I felt his whole body sink in a little deeper. And I mourned, as his parent and an educator, all that was made invisible by school playing out at home.
Invisible was his whole process. The time he spent, the effort he put in, his face beaming with pride. Invisible was how slowly he traced his circles, and how he adjusted his method to get smoother lines as he went. How carefully he selected emojis, and his rationale for needing to be ones that he liked and thought he could replicate. Instead, what becomes emphasized was his final product.
The list of what is invisible for teachers right now is huge. Entire students are invisible, as teachers still seek to make contact with families since schools have closed their doors. The resources available are home, both tangible and intangible, are invisible. Who is caretaking for sick, elderly, siblings…invisible. Who is still going to work, who has lost a family member, who is hungry without two meals a day at school, who has extra or fewer people living with them…invisible.
Even with students and teachers who have regular contact, so much of the regular interactions are not accessible. Body language is limited to a head-and-shoulders video-conference view, and voices are teased apart from the going-ons of busy houses and filtered through whatever microphone headsets haven’t yet broken. All the powerful one-on-one moments of kids collaborating with each other and teachers checking in during work in progress are temporarily suspended.
I am certain that it is these smallest moments, both the carefully orchestrated and the wonderfully unplanned, that make up the heart and soul of learning in a classroom. So much of school learning has nothing at all to do with final products.
There is also much that has become more visible. I love the peek at who my kids are as scholars, and the kinds of tasks they spend their time engaging in. I get to be more involved in the content they are learning, and draw in our own connections. I get to see all sorts of written feedback from their teachers, and work with them on how to digest both positive and constructive comments.
Still, I grieve what we have lost. In the meantime, I send good juju to all my kids’ teachers (whom I love and respect immensely), and teachers everywhere that may feel lost without their bustling classrooms.
Building community in new ways
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