A friend of mine posted a photo of her kindergarten son sitting down using the restroom while also using a step stool as a desk with an iPad resting on top. As his mother walked by, he shared that he told his teacher and classmates he had to move his Zoom meeting because he had to use the bathroom. Our teachers are getting way more insights into our youngest learners than they ever imagined!
Students and teachers both are working to make the most of new learning structures for at-home, hybrid, and face-to-face learning experiences. In speaking with a second-grade remote teacher, I discovered that the biggest challenge she faces is how to successfully support students in reading and writing. For example, if a teacher is conferencing with a student about a narrative he is working on during the class’s literacy block, how can she also provide guidance to other students?
Another difficulty she faces: connecting with students and building meaningful relationships with them and their families virtually. These are challenges any teacher may face in a more traditional setting, but they are further complicated with a lack of proximity.
There are no easy solutions to the challenges presented by remote learning—if there were, every teacher would be doing them. But as we think about our youngest and often most vulnerable learners, there are ways we can build support to ensure success and maximize student learning in a virtual setting.
1. Create a daily routine.
It's absolutely critical to set a clear routine for a typical day of remote learning. This includes providing students with opportunities to congregate virtually and share information about their lives, feelings, experiences, or likes in the morning, after lunch, and before the end of the day. We know that our primary students love to talk about themselves, so we need to create space for this to happen. A daily schedule that is distributed to students’ families over email or regular mail—perhaps one that parents could print out and put on their refrigerator—is the best way to ensure students arrive on time, stay focused, and get accustomed to a routine.
Here’s a downloadable sample online learning routine for Grades K–3.
2. Hold read-alouds.
Your daily routine should also consist of at least three read-alouds for your students. Even though the kids are not in front of you on the floor listening to the story, they need to have stories read to them—and often. As you read, stop periodically and ask the students questions. Consider creating simultaneous response sticks that you can send to students’ homes and have them use to answer your questions. Take various emojis and glue each of them to a popsicle stick. Then, ask the students to show how the story made them feel by holding up one of the various emojis. It’s a quick and easy way to get a controlled response that asks kids to use their hands and other objects.
3. Use various instruction models.
Your routine should have whole-group instruction, small-group learning, and independent work each day for reading and math. This is where the routine is important. We know that for our youngest learners, there is likely an adult in the home. Share with parents or caregivers in advance that you may need their assistance during independent work time. Doing independent work during the same time of day offers structure for the student as well as the family member who's helping. Independent work should be a reinforcement of prior skills taught and practiced. Utilize tech tools like BrainPop Jr. or Epic to support independent work time. Just be sure to vet your tools and be intentional in what you design.
4. Create videos for instruction.
Even though your teaching may be mostly live, we all know that watching and interacting with a live person virtually can be draining. Consider creating and sharing some recorded videos throughout the day that students can access for additional learning. The videos could supplement independent work assignments or be standalones for students to do right after lunch. After watching each video, students can return to class and discuss it, answer questions, and share their own thinking.
There are ways we can build support to ensure success so that we maximize student learning in a virtual setting.
5. Hold frequent brain breaks.
Frequent brain breaks can allow students to stretch and play. We know that sitting for long periods of time is nearly impossible in the classroom, especially for our youngest learners! Therefore, you should have breaks built in between every activity to get students moving and letting out some of their energy. With my kindergarten daughter, I’ll often say, “I’ll time you to see how many jumping jacks you can do in 15 seconds,” or if we are on a walk, “Let’s see how high I can count while you run to the next light post or fire hydrant.” They love games. Make each brain break a game or fun activity. It doesn’t have to be long, but it should get them out of their seats!
6. Assess with checklists.
The most challenging part of remote learning is trying to determine what students know and what they don’t. Work to develop a checklist for each priority standard that you can use as you monitor the progress of your students. In small-group instruction, ask students to demonstrate their mastery of a particular concept or skill. Use the checklist to assess for process and skill development. For example, if I am conferencing with students on writing a complete sentence, I may ask each student to write a sentence about what they did last night. Then, I would have them show me their work on their screen or take a picture and send it in to me. I can quickly use my checklist: Does the sentence include use of a capital letter, period, noun, and verb, and does the idea match the prompt? Or did they provide evidence to support their main idea? I quickly assess what is missing and what is present, and I can group my students for their next small-group session the following day.
7. Start and end the day with a family meeting.
Finally, it’s important to start and end the day grounded in expectations and agenda. For our youngest learners, have a family meeting 10 minutes before school starts and during the last 10 minutes of the day. Have a parent attend with each student so you can share the goals of the day, remind parents about the independent work times, and answer questions families may have. Be sure to keep to your remote teaching schedule, but having 20 minutes with adults during the day is important. Then, if an issue should arise with a student, you have built a strong relationship with your family members.
Let’s be fair. Remote learning is difficult for both the student and teacher. There are so many variables we cannot control, such as students in their bedrooms being distracted by their toys, a pet in the home, parents working in the house, and the challenge of redirecting all learners at one time. But when we take hold of the variables we can control, we increase the likelihood of success for both the students and teacher.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.
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