Category: COVID-19

Backstories + New Learning

One of the challenges to creating a unit chronicling our time of living through this historic pandemic was that we were already 4 weeks in. The big “reveal” if you would of e-learning, plans changing, and emotions high had already happened. We knew that what we all experienced prior to the beginning of the unit was important, but we also knew that we wanted to focus on the now and the what happens next. It was with this thinking that we came up with the idea of having students tell their “backstory” through an emotional timeline.

Backstories are often presented as prologues in the books students are reading and so we began there to gain buy-in and stress the importance of the work they would be doing.  I’ve used emotional timelines quite a bit in the past for students to analyze character change over time, identify defining moments in characters’ lives, as well as to identify and discuss theme. Students in my class were familiar with them and so we thought this could be a great entry point. After meeting with our amazing counselors, we decided to have students scale their emotions from when we first went on Chinese New Year break (Jan 22nd) until our current time (March 5th). We began with this question:

  • “How can we share and record our experiences of living through a historically relevant time period?”

We divided out our time into sections that were meaningful in some way to our shared experience: Jan 22nd (CNY Break)- Jan 26th (e-learning), then Jan 27th-March 1st (the date we began the emotional timeline), finally March 2nd-March 6th (when timelines were due). The final draft would end our journey into our backstories and bring us to current day.

To kick this off, I teamed up with our amazing teacher-librarian, Jessica Levitt. We met via Zoom as we were in two separate countries-each with 2 kids of our own to be caring for as well. I found these meetings to be helpful, not only for planning purposes, but also for my own mental health. Being quarantined and not seeing anyone has been the hardest part of this whole time. Jess was amazing and so supportive as she listened to my frustrations as we worked through, not only how we would teach these lessons together, but also my personal emotional state. (Side note: it is beyond important to have people you can trust and reach out to during this time!)

We began with having students plot their emotions using a 10 pt scale: 1 being horrible, terrible, no good to 10 being Amazing!

And providing examples of our own to help students gain an idea of how we were doing at first as well. We were encouraging students to use whatever they were most comfortable with: digital or analogue.


As we continued, each day provided a new focus. We had the students go back and use resources available such as: China Daily, Newsbank, CNN, etc to look up what was happening in the news during that time period of their emotional timeline. Students identified articles, cited them, and identified central idea. All were added onto their timeline to create a mix of narrative and nonfiction.

For each section added, students continued to look for articles to shed light on what was happening globally, as they shared their emotional timelines. We created lessons around naming emotions and had those added as well. At one point, I realized how I was choosing to share my timeline was not going to work long-term and so I made an adjustment. Every step of the way, the G6 humanities team shared their work and thinking with the students.

created with Visme

The final products included: articles cited with central idea, plotted moments with brief description, and clearly identified emotions. It was a mixed bag whether students went digital or analogue but every single emotional timeline submitted was telling. It painted an amazing picture of how our students were feeling along the way and what their backstory was comprised of. Frustrations I previously had with students who weren’t submitting work or were not communicating regularly were eased after viewing what life had been like for them over the past few weeks. Not only were the students creating a primary source of living through this time, but they were also offering us a glimpse into how they were doing emotionally. Feedback to students became more about making sure they were okay than the quality of the work they submitted. This week’s learning was not just on the students’ end, but also on mine. My thinking shifted and as a result, I hope I have become better for my students as well. It was also helpful for me to see that others are struggling and having extreme lows. I suppose I know that, I’ve heard it enough times, but it does take on a different power when you see it 40xs over from 11 year olds who are so open and honest. With openness and honesty comes vulnerability and as such, I did ask permission to share the examples below.



E-learning, Home-Schooling, Gates Closing

I’ve waited a long time to write down my thoughts on what it has been like to go through e-learning, home schooling my two 8-year olds, and dealing with the stress involved of increased security measures around town. As we’ve been asking students to journal about their experiences so far, I have felt unable to do so. I’m not sure what has changed over the past few days, but I suddenly feel motivated to share some of my experiences as an educator, parent, and person living through this time of COVID-19. Perhaps it’s because the virus has hit the US and in WA State, my home, schools have just been announced closed for the next 6 weeks. I’ve seen comments on social media declaring these measures ridiculous and severe, while others feel as if this isn’t enough to stop the spread of the virus. I’ve seen comments where teachers are concerned about how they will be able to remotely teach their students, comments where parents are concerned about how they’re going to care for their children while out of school when they still have to go to work, and I’ve seen comments where some are concerned about how their children are going to get the one or two solid meals they eat thanks to school based programs. In general, the stress is evident regardless of your feelings about the State of Emergency that has been declared.

I’m not sure I have advice, only simply that I get it. It’s been 6 weeks here in Beijing and I’ve never felt so stressed, alone, out-of-control, and unlike myself. It hasn’t made much sense to me at all but I have learned or come to realize a few things:

  1. I am impressed and humbled by how quickly China has responded to contain this epidemic
  2. I can’t count on anything staying the same from day-to-day or even hour-hour…flexibility remains my new motto (I think this could be a post all on its own)
  3. I miss my students more than I thought possible–working with children is really where my passion lies
  4. I am terrible at home-schooling. Huge props, kudos, and all my love to those primary teachers-they deserve a massive raise!
  5. Providing students with authentic and relevant learning opportunities is even more important to me than before
  6. It takes students way longer to complete tasks via e-learning than we think–be gentle, just as we are stressed, so are our babes and they don’t always have the tools, support, and resources to work through the stress
  7. It’s okay to close your computer and step away for a while (okay, full disclosure, I’m terrible at this but I am working on it!)
  8. We’re all doing the best we can under less than ideal circumstances-time to pull out the Norms of Collaboration and presume positive intentions
  9. I really need to make time for me and I’m sure you do too. Self care is more important than ever! Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries!-easier said than done
  10. Find your tribe! Now more than ever, we need people we love around us. Check in on your friends-they could be struggling more than it appears. We got this!

Now, this list is not exhaustive and even as I write it, I feel a bit hypocritical. Some days are better than others. There are definitely days where I’ve wanted to give up and wallow in self pity and then there’ve been days where I feel good and all is under control. Some days I don’t monitor my girls on their ipads and I found out they watched music videos all day rather than completed their work-others they have a schedule and we totally rock e-learning. I think back to “Alexander’s Terrible, No Good, Horrible Day” when he says, “My mom says some days are just like that” and I’m slowly learning that’s okay.

4 Weeks in A Smattering of Images and 6-word Memoirs

To launch our new unit, we wanted students to think about what they had been experiencing over the past four weeks. For most of us, we were excited about heading off to Chinese New Year break, anxious to go on holiday to visit family, sleep in, or travel to new places. I remember the smiles and energy on the last Wednesday of break. It was virtually impossible to get the students to engage in conversation as they were amped up on sweets and excitement. I suppose I was too as I was getting ready to meet my ILCC cohort buddies in Muscat, Oman. I had visions of camel riding, date-eating, and good times ahead.

As news of COVID-19 (simply called Wuhan Coronavirus at the time) began to spread, there was anxiousness and anticipation that perhaps holiday could be extended and we would not return to school. Initially, this seemed like a great idea and in thinking about how we could begin this project, wanted to capitalize on the fun and excitement our students had prior to discussing what the hear-and-now looked like. Hence the idea of a good, ole fashion collage. Who doesn’t like collages? They’re colorful, engaging, fun, AND allow each person to tell his/her/their own story.

At first, the students responded with a lot of questions: “Can my collage be this?”, “Can I do my collage by hand”, “Do I have to include today or can it just be my break?” on and on the questions were asked and I responded: “Whatever you think best tells your story.”

Along with the idea of collages, we also brought in 6-word memoirs. The idea was for students to whittle their days down to six meager words that would end up being crazy powerful in the end. Most students talked of their struggles with the situation and almost all voiced their frustration. The 6-word memoirs were also unique and as different as can be. Some students shared the many places they had moved over the past 4 weeks, while others shared that they hadn’t left the walls of their apartment. The collages and memoirs ended up being an added bonus: I was able to very quickly and obviously tell how my students were coping with this time. I reached out to many students I was concerned about and had the counselor reach out to others. I gained a new appreciation for what my students had been experiencing throughout this time.

6-word memoirs:

  • “E-learning and food, the main stuff”
  • “Masks everywhere. Extra safety precautions. Stuck.”
  • “I want normal life. DIE VIRUS”
  • “Caged in silence. Street’s asleep… When?”
  • “Same Day, Same Week, Same Month.”
  • “Disaster is just around the corner.”
  • “First trapped, now safe but chilly.”
  • “everyday the same, every day repetitive”
  • “In and out of the pool”
  • “Elearning has taken over my life.”