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Parent Response to the Pandemic: Supporting effective feedback from a distance

It’s a little challenging to have a parenting blog and not talk about Covid-19 and homeschooling, mainly because DadsforCreativity explores topics related to early years education (my eldest is 9, and my youngest is 3).

As I reflect on the transition to homeschooling in March, I break into a hot sweat – it was intense! And I’m an educator. I’m supposed to be good at this stuff, right? In reality, we know the challenges we faced as a society were immense. We all experienced an increase in anxiety in response to the challenge of delivering on very different work commitments while also supporting our child’s schooling. We had to organize schedules for the home computers, identify work areas, setup daily zoom calls, and submit assignments on Google classroom. All this excludes the everyday parenting that equally intensified, as our children became quickly agitated by events.

See Also: Learning from Home: Shaping Small Education Opportunities

Some of us have begun to repeat this experience as schools return to another turbulent year. Given this situation, I thought I’d put together some articles that explore relevant topics in response to the increased responsibilities that we now experience (though in different ways). The first of these articles focus on supporting effective feedback during the lockdown, which we know can be highly effective for constructing knowledge.

Take Away: We’re not educators, but we can provide information so we are supporting effective feedback from a distance.

During the initial stages of the outbreak, useful feedback was one of my significant concerns as we made the transition, especially when introducing new topics (e.g., fractions). Although feedback comes in lots of different ways, I’m sure we all recognize the teacher’s important role when it comes to administering feedback. I’m not talking about grades, they have a role to play, but they are not considered an effective form of feedback from a learning perspective. I’m talking about the human interactions we experience in the classroom, the moment when the teacher poses a question and responds to the puzzled look on the child’s face, or when they discuss a problem presented on a worksheet and see an opportunity to elaborate. There’s also the conversations in groups that a teacher overhears as they make their way around the classroom—fellow students sharing misunderstanding about the material, which is then quickly addressed under normal conditions. Finally, a good teacher routinely evaluates their success in administering instruction, and this typically includes tapping into a sixth sense regarding engagement.

 

I thought there were some great moments of teacher creativity from a distance, but I think we all still developed concerns on how much time children spent on the computer. This information only seemed to become apparent through communication from parents.
I thought there were some great moments of teacher creativity from a distance, but I think we all still developed concerns on how much time children spent on the computer. This information only seemed to become apparent through communication from parents.

 

How well did we do at replicating this level of feedback during the lockdown? I’m not sure of studies that have explored this question, but I remain concerned as we begin the new academic year.

As I think back to my role as a parent during this situation, I think the most significant contribution I made – from a homeschool learning perspective – was reviewing my boy’s work before submitting to Google Classroom and maintaining communications with their teachers. I recognized when my eldest had rushed through a worksheet and not addressed the questions correctly; I could pick up signs that my middle son needed more support toward the concept of estimation. And I concluded I don’t know enough about fractions to help my eldest son in any way when he was beginning to struggle. Consequently, I engaged with the teacher and shared my interpretations of how my child was progressing in response to the new material. These communications were sometimes short notes added to worksheets or more direct emails when necessary.

This final sentence addresses the main point I’d like to make. I believe that lockdown brought me closer to my boy’s schooling. Over the summer, I continued to challenge one son on his sight words, another son in his letter sounds, and another son on his multiplication. I was precise. I knew what they had done during the final semester. I knew their ability level and utilized this information during reading sessions, selecting apps for the iPad, or engaging discussions during dinner.

This new knowledge of my children is something I continue to cherish. I believe it brought us even closer together as a family. It certainly expanded my understanding of their learning beyond quarterly grade reports. However, as we begin the new school year, I think it’s important to highlight that parents are not teachers. We can’t effectively deliver feedback on our children’s work. We also don’t have time. Consequently, I recommend focusing our efforts to support one of the most crucial components of learning – feedback.

As parents, we have an opportunity to observe how our children respond to the temporary normal of formal schooling. We can review their worksheets, ask them questions, and, most importantly, communicate our observations to the teachers. They need our support. We need to be their eyes and ears as they deliver the instruction from a distance. They need this information to provide useful feedback, which I feel remains challenged under these current conditions.

We also know when our child has had enough time on the computer. We need to find ways to address this situation; a bored, hungry, frustrated, and fidgety child will struggle to master new concepts. As we communicate the information to teachers, we also need the patience to recognize they require time to process the data and consider a solution. What time of the day is most productive for your child? When is it appropriate to introduce new material? How might you revisit this material later in the day?

I write this article with a recognition of my boy’s privilege; during lockdown, I had the knowledge and time to support their schooling. This situation is not the same for everyone – which is why I believe we need all children to return to school ASAP. But I digress!

My point is simple. I hope that as the new year begins, we as a system of schooling can develop more robust methods of communication channels between parent and teacher. This communication channel is not one way; it must be a back and forth throughout the year. It’s something the system has always needed; we might not have an opportunity to be better.

Enough said. I’ll be following up with a 3 Question Interview with an expert in this space very soon.

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Learning at Home: Shaping small learning opportunities

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been up in the mountains for a few years working on other projects that have given me little time to blog about my three boys. I’m now back and looking forward to sharing new stories on how I try and promote creativity by shaping small learning opportunities at home.

For the most part, this blog has focused mainly on content about my eldest son. As my firstborn, I had a lot more time to engage him in creative activities while Mommy worked on the weekends. Once the second and third boys arrived, and I transitioned into a mid-career professional time became more challenging. I now have sports and extra-curricular activities to contend with; I have intense sibling rivalry, making it difficult to partake in collaborative tasks. If I record a video with my eldest, my middle boy demands a video, which is soon followed by my youngest – who’s three, by the way.

See Also: Daddy’s Day Out: Creativity is about making connections

Consequently, with increased time, I’m hoping to establish a schedule that allows me to engage my boys at the individual level. Today, I felt like I began this journey by taking my youngest to a small farm not far away from our home in Connecticut. He’s recently taken an interest in nature. I suspect this has come about from his oldest brother, who loves flowers, plants, and animals almost as much as his iPad, and parents. However, the walk itself, and focus on insects, was initiated during a one and one reading session that took place a few days before. This article reflects this experience, intending to highlight how we can shape small learning opportunities that take place in the home.

REFLECTION OF EVENTS

  • Read a book about bugs
  • Engaged in a discussion based on questions initiated from pictures
  • Focused questions on interests of the child
  • Continued discussion about insects during the week
  • Went on a walk to find insects
  • Reviewed pictures of the insects we found

These short learning events combine into a somewhat formal education experience that occurs as a consequence of sustained parent/child interaction. It is these types of experiences that can help shape the small learning opportunities that take place in the home. 

During the week, we read a book about bugs—no scrap that. We didn’t read a book about bugs. The book was a pop-up book that made sounds and didn’t have many words. What’s great about these books is they facilitate discussion between parent and child – something we know from the learning sciences is crucial for human development. As part of our conversation, I was able to identify his interest in butterflies, his fear of bees, and recognize he was ready to identify some of the characteristics of insects. We counted the legs and looked for the antenna, but skipped the three-body part characteristics because I felt it would be a little too much. My goal was to present insects as a subgroup of bugs.

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This little antidote is helpful because it highlights the decisions I made as a parent educating my child within that experience. The pictures and pop-up features of the book initiated questions he had about bugs. In my responses, I was able to test his existing knowledge while introducing him to new information about insects. Information I controlled based on what I felt was relevant to his questions. For those of you who are familiar with the learning sciences, you’ll probably now thinking Vygotsky, scaffolding, and possibly the zone proximal development. However, the key take away from this story is the importance of child and adult interaction when storytelling, and how engagement in these discussions can shape learning opportunities at the home.

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A picture of my eldest taken during a similar walk when he was young. His love and curiosity for the Earth Sciences is still as strong today.

As I referenced in the opening, I took my youngest to a farm to look for insects. We took our insect box and went on the hunt. It quickly brought back memories of when I did the same activity with my eldest. I didn’t do this activity with my middle boy, because he never expressed the same interest in nature. Children are different, but today’s visit was a deliberate visit to build on the conversation we had during the week. It’s about connecting the dots as we promote curiosity and learning at home. Sometimes we may decide what we want to expose our children to in the world, but other times we should listen to their questions and let their curiosity dictate the experiences we offer.

Later that night, we reviewed some of the photos we took during our walk. I also showed him the pictures of similar walks I had with my eldest, which hopefully gives me some brownies points in the future when it comes to discussions about “I loved him more.” (For the record, I love all three of you the same. Only as a parent can you understand that!).

As I write this, I hope my youngest takes up the same interest in butterflies. My eldest and I generated some fun stories raising butterflies when he was young. Repeating the same experience with his youngest brother would be great. Only time tell, but he did ask me to snap the picture below, which he described as a “beautiful butterfly” I only wish he had also referred to it as an insect! Here’s to Learning at Home: Shaping small learning opportunities.

After our walk we reviewed the photos we'd snapped during our insect hunt.
After our walk we reviewed the photos we’d snapped during our insect hunt.

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HELP!!! My boys have taken over my YouTube Channel

I started DadsforCreativity to combine my interest in creativity with my desire to be the best possible Dad. At its height I had an audience. Folks would email me about my articles. I saw monthly increases in traffic. I included the website in my introductions, and then BANG. A graduate program, a documentary, and a third child came together in a massive storm that wreaked havoc on my schedule. Since then, my contributions to this blog have been disappointing. What’s even more depressing is a worry that the decrease in output is a reflection upon my interactions with my boys – are they becoming less? The answer is no (I hope). I say this, because during the past 15-months they have pushed me, forced me, nagged me, and tricked me into the production of a variety of YouTube videos that have now taken over my YouTube Channel. Therefore, today’s blog signals a series of future articles in support of our emerging studio.

See also: What is YouTube was an encyclopedia? 

YouTube

YouTube serves as an example of the affordances offered through the World Wide Web. It is a platform where you can access information about anything and everything, while also having the capacity to easily produce and share information as well. I used YouTube to explore changes to how we interactive with information in the documentary, Class of 2032: Schooling for a Digital Culture.

There are genuine concerns we need to address when working on any open platform, and I do not mean to undermine these concerns by promoting an article that focuses only on the creating and making aspect of our digital culture. However, learning to produce content using digital technology is important, and producing videos can challenge our little once to synthesis information and articulate what they’ve learned to others.

What follows is a few anecdotes on how I’m working to organize and manage the production of all these videos, while also working to explore other opportunities for learning during their creation. As you watch the videos, you’ll see my how my boys have begun to take greater ownership of the content, with personalized openings, closing, and an increased sense of how best to articulate their story to the audience.

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Plant Videos

This is really where it all started. My eldest developed an interest in plants and gardening, and YouTube was a major source of information. YouTube videos have led to the creation of a terrarium and the purchase of a variety of different succulents that are taking over our house. Naturally, he wanted to express his learning of plants via YouTube, and because the DadsforCreativity YouTube channel already featured his work, he figured he had a claim to take over the channel.

During the summer we produced a collection of random plant videos, and later began exploring how these videos might also introduce some history and cultural topics as shown in the War of the Roses video above.

 

Travel Videos

Travel videos offer an opportunity to integrate some formal learning experiences into your family vacation. Whether it’s a visit to the museum, the beach, or a new city, have your little one/s offer a summary of the experience in a short video using your phone. Keep it short and simple. Where are we? What did we see? What did you discover? On a side note, remember to hold the phone horizontally.

I would suggest you conduct a run through with these questions before pushing play. Remember to offer clarity. It’s ok to correct errors. For example, in the video above my boys became fascinated with the death of Lord Nelson. They remember the main points about the battle, but couldn’t remember his name, so I had to remind them before hitting record.

As your skills improve you will develop your own structure, for example, I know I was going to have the boys produce a video, so I shot the introduction video before entering the boat, I then recorded them explaining different things while on the ship, and then we did a summary at the end. Using a simple editing app (like iMovie) I then sequence the best clips together, added the music and text, and then pushed to YouTube.

Our travel videos are probably the most random; they include videos about crossing the road safely, as well as travel tips for riding the London Underground.

Discovery Videos

Other videos we’ve produced include safety and travel tips, as well as a collection of discovery videos that explore random topics such as Maple Farming.

Check out our full-compliment of videos on our YouTube channel. I’ve promised them we’ll make more. I just need to get through this semester first!

 

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Media Literacy DadsforCreativity

Why parents have an important role to play in Media Literacy

My activity on Dads for Creativity dwindled to only a few articles last year because I was finishing up my documentary, Class of 2032: Schooling for a Digital Culture. This film project became a significant learning experience for both myself as the educator, as well as the proud parent of three small boys; it began with an intent to explore how educators foresee the future of schooling but instead examined the rise of digital technology and how it disrupted the traditional transfer of information for learning. Anticipated topics like how virtual and augmented reality will change the traditional classroom experience, were replaced by conversations about the ubiquity of information, and the concept of Google knowing versus true understanding of a topic. As my story emerged during post-production, it soon became apparent my most important audience was parents of young children, and therefore I present an article on why I believe we (they) have an important role to play in Media Literacy.

Media literacy is more important than ever before. Because of course knowledge again is the seed of our economy. And education is the prime way we get citizens to be able to access that knowledge, to become informed citizens. And in order to do that, educators right from the gecko, right from Preschool, really need to start explaining to students… not all the things on the Internet are true.”

Michael Lynch, Class of 2032: Schooling for a Digital Culture

Thanks to tablet devices like the iPad, young children are now able to access the world’s information. For many, this experience begins with YouTube. As many parents know, around two, most children with access to tablet devices will learn how to navigate the search bar to find their favorite unboxing videos. The image of young children on these devices might now begin to stir feelings as we reflect on what we see at restaurants and supermarkets. However, as children mature, YouTube – like many applications that access content on the World Wide Web – not only provide a source of entertainment but an opportunity for learning. It is the latter that I care deeply about. As demonstrated in the short clip from my documentary, my eldest has independently taught himself about Pangea, Climate Change, countries of the world, the solar system, and random animal facts. He is literally a walking encyclopedia on a variety of topics.

 

 

As pointed out by Jonathan Plucker – a renowned Creativity scholar and someone who I was lucky enough to interview in my film – young children seeking out information on topics of interest is nothing new, it’s the where we get the information that has changed. I remember reading about Mount Krakatoa at an early age and thinking what it would be like to see a super volcano explode. I’m sure we can all relate (though perhaps not about volcanoes). However, there would be two major differences if we replay my curiosity of volcanoes today. First, I would be less likely to access the information using the children’s encyclopedia sitting on my parent’s bookshelf. Secondly, instead of turning pages and reading a text, I would be using voice recognition and selecting a video.

See Also: Five Ways to Utilize YouTube for Learning

Here’s the problem that requires participation from parents. Many young children today* have access to technologies in their home that wield incredible opportunities for learning. Knowledge is no longer confined to the teacher and the textbook. Furthermore, our little ones are interacting with these devices ‘before’ they enter formal schooling. And even then, many are still tasked with learning for a print world, as opposed to the world that exists outside the four walls of the classroom. Therefore, like reading regularly to our children. this is why parents have an important role to play in Media Literacy – especially when at home.

 

I was lucky to interview a variety of professionals in my film. My first interview was Tom Scheinfeldt who explained our cultural transition to consuming more information via the video screen.
I was lucky to interview a variety of professionals in my film. My first interview was Tom Scheinfeldt who explained our cultural transition to consuming more information via the video screen.

Teaching media literacy takes effort on our part, and requires us to move beyond using these tools simply as devices for entertainment and social interactions (e.g., Facetime with Grandma). Tablet devices with access to the World Wide Web are incredible tools for learning, however, we must teach children to see them in this way, as well as developing the necessary skills needed to navigate their way through the ubiquity of information. This task is more challenging than teaching children how to use that encyclopedia sitting on my parent’s bookshelf, as it lacks the traditional gatekeeper charged with examining the quality and factual integrity of the content. Therefore, the challenge is not only teaching children how to access information on the World Wide Web but asking the necessary questions to determine its integrity. Unfortunately, as Xennials and early Millenials, we ourselves might be lacking some of the Media Literacy skills we seek to develop in our children. Just think about how many facts we reference come from our social media feeds (you know you do!). Therefore, we must begin practicing good Media Literacy ourselves, which starts by learning to identify quality content for ourselves, and not judging it based on how well it aligns to our existing values. Look this is daunting, and I’m not suggesting we pursue a certification in media literacy, however, I have found a few simple steps to be helpful when teaching my eldest how to use his iPad for learning.

How parents can support Media Literacy

  • I use the YouTube for kids app. This helps filter inappropriate age-related content
  • I teach him about Google search, and how it presents information based on my interests. We discuss “recommended” videos.
  • I ask him to consider who produced the content. If its a five-year-old do they really know everything about the topic?
  • We then discuss the concept of a perceived authority over a topic. If NASA made the video we can assume they know a lot about Space.
  • I then ask him to consider if it looks and sounds genuine?

I’m still learning myself. I’m not an authority over the topic myself, but I’m trying to summarize my journey as a filmmaking exploring issues that impact the Class of 2032 and beyond. The statements above were covered over a two-year period, as my eldest became more comfortable with using the device for learning. My closing statement – it’s a process, but one that needs our attention.

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If you’re interested in this topic, or want to learn more, I encourage you to check out the film Class of 2032: Schooling for a Digital Culture (as an FYI – in case you haven’t noticed, this blog is an example of potential bias, am I partially writing it to promote my film? Should that make you question the accuracy of the information? Something to consider as we begin this challenging journey of navigating the world’s information).

*whenever I write this type of statement I’m reminded that access to tablet devices are limited. However, more and more students have access to the World Wide  Web while outside of school.

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