Change can be scary, and it’s not uncommon to be resistant to change. It seems that 2020 brought us a leap day that still doesn’t seem to have ended and that came full of change, whether it was welcomed or not. As a former 3rd grade teacher, I keep wondering how I would be handling my virtual classroom in light of schools being ordered closed for the remainder of the school year.
I believe that I’d be stressed, missing my students, and wondering whether or not I was doing all that I could to keep the learning, engagement, and feelings of value going. I believe that I’d be in need of more collaboration with colleagues and my professional network than I once thought possible. I believe that I’d need more support than ever from my student’s families and support systems to best set my students up for success. It’s the latter that really has got me thinking and deeply reflecting on the role that our student’s families and support play in their lives, especially when it comes to learning.
After some conversations with friends who are working from home and parenting, it solidified for me just how difficult this time is for everyone. Almost no one was prepared for a flipped script like this, and to make it through, we’ve got to rely on one another now more than ever- parents/families on educators and educators on parents/families. That said, the educator in me has begun wondering how well parents have been armed and trained to support their student(s) in a learning environment at home, and how we can boost supports for our students during continuous learning, over the summer, and in the future through a solid, cyclical partnership with parents.
If you find yourself reflecting and parsing through the same notion, consider reaching out to parents/families through a survey to find out how things are going, what they feel they need, how the teacher/school/district could better support them, etc. This information could facilitate a stronger parent/family and teacher relationship in these uncertain times and as we move into the future. Quick surveys can be created in Google Forms.
You may also find it beneficial to reflect on what’s been shared with your student’s families to figure out where there’s room for improvement. Some questions you may ask yourself are (in no particular order):
- Do families know how to download apps on their devices?
- Do they know how to login to school-wide systems?
- Do they understand how to use the tools/apps/websites that their students are using for schoolwork, including how to submit work or join a virtual meeting?
- If not, would tutorials, virtual office hours, a school-wide Facebook page, or other means of information sharing be beneficial?
- Do they know how to reach you, when you’re available, and how quickly to expect a response? Over-communicating is better than under-communicating.
- Has creating a learning environment been discussed with families?
Upon this reflection, you may find some gaps between what you’d like for parents/families to understand and what they actually do. For example, I’ve been working with a gentleman who sells pavers for a patio we are considering installing, and without asking the obscene amount of questions that I must in order to clearly understand his explanations, I’d have no idea what he was talking about. This is because he knows his pavers inside and out, but I’m lacking his background knowledge; therefore, I’m thrown for a loop with each new brand or term he throws out.
To avoid this type of confusion, let’s explicitly share information, provide clear instructions, and teach our students’ parents/families how they can support their student(s) at home now, over the summer, and every year, emphasizing that many of the following are ways to create stronger relationships, to instill values, and to spend quality time with their student(s).
To begin, let’s consider the learning environment.
- Share examples of working/learning environments, understanding that this must be flexible to fit the needs of individual families
- Share sample schedules that include building in learning and screen time breaks for students
- Include ideas for breaks:
- Physical play or activity
- Listening to music
- Playing board or other non screen games
- Mindfulness activities like deep breathing or yoga
- Share and adhere to time limits for virtual learning
- Times suggested by the Indiana Department of Education
- Elementary Grades K-1: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 5-10 minute time spans, a total of 45 minutes
- Grades 2-4: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 10-15 minute time spans, a total of 60 minutes
- Grades 5-6: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 20-25 minute time spans, a total of 90 minutes
- Grades 7-12: Minimum Daily Learning Time: 30 minute time span per class, a total of 3 hours
- Provide printable or print versions of visual cues to support directions
Consider how you’d like to see your student’s learning supported at home and maybe break it down, sharing specific ideas with students and families subject-by-subject.
- Turn on the captions for all screen time
- Turn on captions in YouTube by selecting the CC button in the lower right-hand corner of the video. Check to see if the captions are accurate.
- Model reading newspapers, magazines, books, recipes, cards
- Read together (use different voices for characters, stop reading at the climax to drive engagement, change where you read)
- Guide parents to support comprehension skills with digital or printable graphic organizers, to connect stories to students’ lives, and to show genuine interest in the story
- Act out a skit
- Turn on podcasts (age-appropriate podcast can be found in a quick Google search) or audio books in the car or on a home speaker (Try the Libby app, books on tape or CD)
- Read aloud to pets, siblings, or stuffed animals
- Identify words, letters, phrases when out for a walk, drive, or trip
- Use dice or dominoes to play and learn with numbers (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing)
- Provide printable visuals like a 100s chart
- Practice counting any and all things. If basic counting is mastered practice skip counting items
- Cook and bake together (supports following directions, fine motor skills, measurement, fractions, and more)
- Sort indoor or outdoor items by color, shape, texture, weight, size, and talk about the sorting method
- Practice budgeting, set up an economy system for chores, or play store
- Play card games
- Write/make words or letters with magnetic letters, Wiki sticks, pipe cleaners, chalk, shaving cream, hair gel with food coloring in baggie
- Daily journal entries. Everyone is living in a time that will undoubtedly be added to the history books. Journaling will offer great daily reflection as well as future reflection on this life-changing time.
- Play Mad Libs
- Guide parents to provide writing support by modeling real-world writing tasks- making lists, writing invitations, writing in cards, writing to-dos on a calendar, writing thank you notes to our first responders and hospital workers, filling out forms, etc.
- Ask students to create labels for household items, for organization purposes, etc.
- Guide parents to support writing through positive and specific feedback and not to concentrate on spelling, grammatical, or punctuation errors, but to celebrate their students’ writing
- Publish students’ writing on the refrigerator, in a window, or digitally (Book Creator, Tarheel Reader)
Science & Social Studies
- Take a walk around your neighborhood, noting different types of architecture, structures, designs, plants, trees, flowers, etc.
- Conduct at home science experiments
- Share and discuss age-appropriate current events
- Research and make paper airplanes in different styles
- Explore any maps (theme parks, state parks, atlases, city, state, etc.) you may have laying around, noting the compass rose and key
- Go on a rock, flower, or plant scavenger hunt
- Make homemade dough for play
Art, Music & PE
- Add daily drawings and art projects to a dated sketch journal
- Make music out of different household items
- Explore different genres of music
- Go for hikes, walks, or bike rides
- Make collages with newspapers, pictures, magazine cutouts to illustrate different feelings, ideas, concepts
- Start a fitness challenge between family members
- Make homemade puppets for a show
As summer nears, I encourage you to continue your reflection, thinking about all of the positives that have come from this change, this new teaching experience. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but we’ve learned so much. Though we may be anxious to get back to life as we once knew it, let’s, instead, grow from this experience, taking the amazing things that you’re doing (maybe once even thought impossible) and grow from this experience to better serve your students by considering:
- What tools will you take into next school year?
- What strategies have you learned that you’ll forever hold dear?
- What bonds have been created?
- In what ways have you increased the universal design and accessibility of your teaching to better meet the needs of your students and their support systems?
Please share your answers in the comments, reach out for more resources, and keep on, keeping on!