What Happens If I Touch this Button? Giving the Silenced a Voice
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Introduction to the Article | N. Amanda Branscombe, Voices Editor
Teacher research, no matter the scope, is a change agent. When early childhood educators begin to reflect on and question what is happening with their children’s approaches to learning, they are engaging in teacher research. Such is the case with Garnett Booker. In his article, “What Happens if I Touch this Button? Giving the Silenced a Voice,” Booker tells the story of his decision to use a virtual platform to remain connected to his children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before COVID-19, Booker’s classroom was a welcoming, interactive, play-based learning environment that encouraged children to become confident, have a sense of identity, and have a voice. In addition, he welcomed families into the classroom. Although not opposed to using virtual platforms with preschoolers (asynchronous learning), Booker preferred having the children on site (synchronous learning). Like many other early childhood teachers, he based this preference on issues of equity, accessibility, safety, inactivity, and health.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused Booker to revisit his early thoughts about virtual platforms and question whether they provide children with increased self-esteem and identity. In this article, he recounts two instances about his decision to use virtual platforms with his preschoolers and how they gave his children increased agency:
- Children felt larger and more powerful, thanks to his platform’s “Spotlight” feature, which allowed Booker to highlight certain children and enlarge their physical presence onscreen. It appeared as if the children equated power with size, which allowed them to view themselves as more powerful.
- Children gained a sense of control by being able to decide when to mute themselves and others. They realized that through the use of the mute button, they could control the number of and content in the messages.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Booker had to revisit his approach to his curriculum and pedagogy. He indirectly used teacher research as he questioned how he could meet the needs of the whole child, provide a virtual, interactive, play-based learning environment, and help the children stay connected to him and their classmates. He realized that he could observe the sense children were making of their tools for learning. This use of teacher research is a valuable structure for practitioners as it supports them in their efforts to meet the needs of their children, the children’s families, and themselves.
N. Amanda Branscombe, EdD, is an associate professor at Athens State University in Athens, Alabama. She has served as an executive and developmental editor of Voices of Practitioners for many years. As an early childhood teacher educator, she teaches undergraduate courses in play and literacy. [email protected]
I am currently teaching at Eagle Academy Public Charter School, which is located in Ward 8 in Washington, DC. At my school, many children and families experience economic insecurity. Many do not have a choice or voice in conversations that stimulate or build from their interests. For example, a child’s “Why” question may be simply shut down with “Because I said so.” When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through Ward 8, I knew it was a matter of time before the school would move from in-person to virtual learning. I feared the impact this decision would have on the children in my classroom, who were facing isolation, fear, food insecurity, and worries about their family’s health. I knew that I had to seek ways to stay connected to my children and to make learning interactive so that it seemed like play to them.
I have always followed an approach that celebrates the whole child—socially, emotionally, physically, and cognitively. This allows children to engage not only in academic pursuits, but also in social, emotional, and physical learning opportunities. My goal is to help children prepare themselves to become confident, active citizens in a society that sometimes silences their voices. When I reflected on how I could stay true to my goal and teaching approaches during the pandemic, I thought about using a virtual platform.
I have always questioned the value of teaching young children through a virtual platform, particularly as it relates to developmentally appropriate practice. Like many other early childhood educators, I questioned the issues of active play, accessibility, and equity. I even questioned a platform’s purposeful use. However, COVID-19 caused me to rethink my views. I explored the options Zoom provided during virtual meetings and discovered that its Spotlight feature and the mute button were two ways to work toward learning goals and an approach focused on the whole child.
Using Spotlight to Build Confidence
Zoom’s Spotlight option provided me an opportunity to encourage participation in the virtual setting. This feature allowed me to pinpoint—or spotlight—an individual by enlarging their screen. They became the focal point of the meeting. The look on the children’s faces when they realized that their faces were larger than everyone else’s helped boost their confidence. I noticed my students who are less vocal had more to say when they were in the spotlight.
Teaching Children to Mute and Unmute
My second use of the virtual platform occurred by accident. The children discovered the mute icon. The freedom to press one single button during virtual learning helped them to be heard in an environment where their voices are often silenced or controlled. When children had the opportunity to control the mute button, they developed a sense of power. My students not only displayed power in their voices, but also in their sense of independence.
I had to reconsider how I viewed virtual platforms because of COVID-19. They allowed families to see the growth of their children, and the opportunity they gave children to see and hear themselves through a different medium supported their self-esteem. In the words of one of my students in the Spotlight, “Look, I am big on the screen!”
Not only did we see him, we heard him.
Garnett Booker has a master of science degree in human development and family studies. He is currently a pre-K teacher at Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Washington, DC. He has over 15 years of experience in the early childhood field. Throughout his years in the classroom, Garnett has created classroom communities in which children have a voice and choice in their everyday learning experiences. [email protected]