During my first couple of years teaching, I remember a veteran teacher stressing the importance of staying flexible in this job. This Thursday with virtual literature circles was a prime example of why that principle is important. Since my 5th grade students only attend Gifted once a week we could only meet with the 5th graders in Iowa on Thursday. However, both schools have schedules we have to compete with and things come up. This week we had to deal with the fact that Iowa had a play that was being presented during their reading blocks. So what we did was hold both book talks (video conferences) simultaneously, but in different rooms to divide the sound. We had attempted to hold them at the same time and same room a couple of weeks ago, but that made it difficult to hear. Holding them in different rooms solved the sound issue, but created a few others. Since I could not leave my students alone to video conference with Ms. Hill I had to come up with a place on campus that was fairly quiet and had an adult near by so my students had supervision. With that, I asked our nurse and nurse’s assistant if my students could use this clinic for their meeting on Do the Funky Pickle. We have used the clinic for recording podcast and creating video clips in the past and these two ladies are always willing to help us out. Our later video conference was scheduled during a high traffic time in the clinic so I asked a pre-k teacher and a parent of one of the students if they could hold the video conference in her room. She too could not have been more accommodating. I am so lucky to work with a group of people who see the value of what we do and are so willing to help out. This solution did allow us to hear much better and helped keep students on task. Being off task had not been a huge issue for either group, but it did cut down on the momentary distractions we were experiencing in both groups.
Another observation, I had was that the conversations during the video conferences are becoming much more in depth. The students at first seemed willing to just share their job for the week and the conversations were a bit flat. However, as we get to know each other and make our way through the books I am watching the students interactions with each other and these books deepen. My student have been seeking time at lunch, at dismissal or just stopping by my room to discuss what is going on with the characters in their book. These brief interaction are playing a role in the video conferences as well. Rather than just sitting and listening to one student after another present their work they are now asking questions, commenting on the work presented and/or asking others to explain their thinking. One of my biggest joys, as an educator, is watching students take hold of not just what they are learning, but the learning process itself.
With that said, I believe that learning does take place in the process, but that is not without thought towards standards and benchmarks. In our laboratory, we build in as many cross curriculum learning standards into an activity as possible. As we make our way through these virtual literature circles, with our friends from Iowa, we are honing skills on the following list of standards: NETS Standards, Florida Framework for Gifted Students K-12 and Grade 5 Sunshine State Standards for Language Arts. Due to the amount of standards covered with this project and the students' engagement level this endeavor has been an amazing use of class time. I can't wait to see where the rest of our journey will take us. To our friends in Iowa, we will see see you all on Thursday.