Reflect & look ahead: Tips to make distance learning work for you!
We can all agree that we, as teachers, made the ultimate pivot in our career. We were able to bring the love and joy of learning to an online format.
Everyday wasn’t easy and came with challenges. From March until early June I felt like I was in a whirl of checking in with my students, assigning activities, recording read alouds, checking emails and messages and taking time for myself when I could. A month away from the first day of school, I finally had time to breath and visualize what distance learning could look like in the fall.
To be ready for fall, I did two things. In June, while it was fresh in my mind, I wrote down everything that went well during distance learning and what I wanted to tweak. Each of these takeaways were informed by what I was seeing, trying, and reflecting on in the Spring. Let me dive into three of these many reflections.
#1: Figuring out the Best Way to Post Assignments:
Finding the best way to post assignments was equivalent to Goldilocks finding the right bed. My students and parents all had varied schedules and I would have students accessing schedules as early as 7:00 a.m. and as late as 10:00 p.m. My first few weeks I tried posting a daily schedule with time frames, but it was stressful for me and I would get messages from one student, Riley’s parent, around 8:00 a.m. asking for the day’s work.This was the time they were engaging in the work and I had to rethink how I posted the assignments. I then tried using Class Dojo’s Events to post our assignments and meeting times. This again was lacking the flexibility my families needed in order to complete their assignments on their own schedule. Finally, after having spring break I figured out the best way to give my families flexibility and have everything live on one platform: I created a weekly schedule with “Must Dos” and “May Dos”. By not having a set time frame students had the flexibility to complete the assignments when their parents could support them. This took a lot of pressure off of me as well as I only had to post on Mondays and that was it! It also gave students like Riley the ability to go beyond just my expectations by having the “may dos” available as she would finish the “must dos” quickly.
#2: Keeping the Joy of Reading Aloud Alive:
At the start of Shelter in Place, videoing read alouds was something I enjoyed doing. I would often spend time outside of live teaching recording myself with read alouds I had brought from school. As the weeks turned into months, I could tell I was becoming more and more reluctant to record read alouds. However, right before schools closed my first graders were working on reading like superstars by recording themselves reading a book. Remembering this activity from before Covid-19, I asked my students for help. I started to use their videos as guest readers and in turn it motivated other students to record themselves so they could have this honor while at home. One student,Tiana, who was a newcomer at the beginning of the year stepped up to the plate. At home, she grabbed book after book and recorded herself, even stopping to ask questions as I did in my read aloud videos. She did this hoping I would use her videos as my “Guest Read Aloud” student. Her persistence was seen and celebrated by having her as a “Guest Read Aloud” twice during our last few weeks of school. Tapping into our students as lifelong readers is something we should celebrate and embrace to keep the joy of reading aloud alive in our classroom.
#3: Creating Spaces for Adult Learning not just Venting
Every Wednesday Montalvin Elementary School teachers would collaborate for an hour from April to June. We would start with someone highlighting something that had been working for them in distance learning or a problem they were having. We would then ask the person questions and venture into grade level collaboration. In our grade level collaboration, we looked to each other for ideas and instructional practices to try. It wasn’t always this way. At the beginning, it was hard to come to collaboration without thinking about what was going wrong with distance learning and letting it consume the meeting. My principal had set up this space to learn from each other and at the beginning this was hard to do. After a few weeks, we finally found a balance and understood why we were engaging in this adult learning space weekly. We began to share successes and resources. Looking forward to the fall, it is essential we find balance to not only vent but bring back the format of Mills Teacher Scholars collaboration time virtually. This is important to our Montalvin community to set aside adult learning time weekly because having a goal that everyone is working towards leads to time to gather ideas and reflect on our own practices, share in the successes and approximations, and time to grow as a professional educator not just a teacher. Instead of doing an hour and a half once a month, we are hoping to hold an hour each week by combining our Mills Teachers Scholars collaboration goal with our grade level meetings ensuring that these valuable meetings happen more frequently as we launch distance learning. After working with Mills Teacher Scholars going on our sixth year we believe we are ready to make a greater and deeper impact for our students.
Being in Distance learning again in the fall, it is hard to now dwell on all we achieve by being in the classroom and what we lose being distant. As a school we are discussing prioritizing standards and I prefer to ask the question: “What do we want to invest in during live teaching during Distance Learning?”
This thinking and question continues to push me to think about what I want to invest in during our live teaching time. I made a list with student needs and skills I know students in first grade need in order to become successful readers, writers and mathematicians. I also made a list of teacher wants that I would like to include daily but could be recording instead. I want to invest in the whole child and this includes time for community building and check-ins with students during morning meetings as well as hitting those core standards students need practice in during our time together. By being reflective and asking myself the right questions I was able to have guidance and clarity for this next school year.
My name is Martinique Perry and I am a first grade teacher at Montalvin Manor K-8 in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. I am a Teacher Leader for Mills College as well as representing first grade at our school on our Instructional Leadership Team.