Many Bloomington-Normal teachers are going above and beyond to connect with their students during the shutdown—even if that involves baking cookies.
Danny Tanner is a digital media teacher at Unit 5’s Kingsley Junior High School in Normal. He’s doing remote-learning lesson planning, just like everybody else.
But when his own daughter wanted to make cookies last week, he saw an opportunity. He turned the cookie-making into a group video chat with KJHS students. Over 30 students joined in; six of them baked cookies along with the Tanners. He got to ask them how they were adjusting to remote learning, what they missed most about school, and even what they were binge-watching on Netflix.
“It’s just random talking points to check in with students. It’s things that happen every day at school. But since we’re not at school, it’s just a nice way to be able to connect with them, check in with them, and make sure they’re doing OK,” he said.
Tanner said each student is adjusting differently. Some are doing great. Some are struggling with anxiety about getting all their work done. There are others Tanner has barely heard from at all.
The cookie-baking call helped students open up, he said. This week Tanner said he and some other teachers are planning to play remote Scattergories with students.
“There are a lot of things that can come through when your mind isn’t necessarily focused on me asking you, ‘What’s wrong?’ Versus when we’re playing Scattergories and it just gets brought up in conversation,” Tanner said. “It’s kind of a sneaky way to get the answers out of them that they’re not realizing they’re giving you.”
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Apr 4, 2020 at 7:19am PDT
Grove Elementary School physical education teacher Patrick Pommier has also gotten creative to connect with his students and their families.
Pommier's challenge was unique: He has around 700 students.
“That would make it impossible to like FaceTime or call each student every single day,” he said.
So he’s using a Facebook group to share daily fitness tips and exercises with his students. For Max Out Monday, for example, Pommier encouraged them to choose any exercise they knew and do it as many times as possible and report back. And they’re sharing back videos of themselves staying active, he said.
The surprising part, Pommier said, is that parents are getting in on it too. For last week’s Track It Tuesday, when the weather was really nice, he encouraged families to go for a walk, jog, or bike ride together. While out together, he asked them to answer three discussion prompts, such as sharing how they felt in just two words.
“That was something I hadn’t really thought of, but that just makes it even better. Because now it’s us as a community, not just working with students but the parents as well,” Pommier said.
So far the Facebook group has 230 members. Pommier said he may even expand his daily fitness lessons to other families across Unit 5.
Remote learning is expected to continue in Unit 5 and District 87 schools through at least the end of April.
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