Teachers adopt new methods for remote work
May 28, 2020
The school year is beginning to wind down for the teachers, students, and parents of Wahkiakum School District, who have experienced a rather unusual period of remote learning brought on by a pandemic.
It has been eye opening for parents, and a learning experience for all involved at J.A. Wendt Elementary and John C. Thomas Middle Schools. One thing is certain. These teachers care for and miss their students, and some of them have been working longer hours, and harder, to make sure students are getting the education they need.
Nicole Wilson, Second Grade teacher
Students in Nicole Wilson's second grade class at Julius A. Wendt are learning about methods of measurement and how to use the different methods to solve problems. They are also reading a lot of books.
Wilson has been posting reading assignments, math game links, and occasionally a Flipgrid question online in Google Classroom. Flipgrid allows students to record their responses on a phone, and the answers are uploaded into a grid so all their classmates can view their answers.
Wilson has also been preparing packets for parents to pick up, and her students have been working through them at their own pace.
"I think parents are doing a great job of keeping kids engaged and keeping me in the loop," Wilson said. "I'm so thankful that parents are sharing what our students are working on and sending me pictures of smiling faces."
Wilson, who has four sons, is seeing remote learning from both sides of the computer screen. It hasn't been easy, but it's brought blessings, namely, she's learning a lot more about her own children.
"Parents are in a really hard place right now. They are working harder, longer, and under more stress than they've ever experienced before," Wilson said. "I'm learning how to be a homeschool parent myself. It's been stressful and rewarding all at the same time. My kids amaze me with their resilience. This has to be hard on them and they hardly complain. I'm getting to know them as students as well as the individuals they are."
Wilson is missing a lot right now. Her students and colleagues. Sports. Normal. That's what makes getting pictures of her students baking, helping to take care of their family's animals, working, and playing even more special.
"The best part of my job is seeing those little faces everyday," Wilson said. "I miss those faces."
Jamie Brown, 4th and 5th grade teacher
Jamie Brown teaches fourth and fifth graders at JA Wendt. She gained experience using Google Classroom, Zoom, and another application, PREZI, while teaching middle and high school history and agricultural education in Colorado. She's continued to use both platforms to reach out to her students during the pandemic, but has had to make some adjustments in order not to overwhelm them.
"This is great practice for them as they go into the next level of middle/high school and use more technology for assignments.
Students are able to work at their own pace, listening to instructional videos that Brown posts daily on every subject, set around a different theme each week. She sends a daily email to students and parents highlighting the day's activities.
She is also preparing packets to supplement instruction that can be picked up at the school
"Students that were needing the challenge before are really getting an opportunity to work at a higher level," Brown said. "Students that were struggling are able to do what they can to manage and are interested in more because of the variety of choice provided."
She is just asking students to do a combination of what works for them for 90 minutes a day, with a big focus on core subjects including English Language Arts, reading, math. Students also get a bit of social studies, science and a mix of art, physical education, and music.
One week students learned about biomes, narrative writing, and the history of baseball. Another week, they focused on fish, and students learned about the life cycle of a salmon playing interactive games on the Department of Natural Resources website. They wrote different styles of poetry, read stories about salmon life cycles, had a drawing lesson using fish as a subject, and learned about the food pyramid with the Salish Sea as a focus.
She's been using Zoom to meet as a class, but also for one-on-one instruction with students as they need.
Students are learning to use Flipgrid, Kahoot!, PREZI, YouTube, Google Slides, education.com, PBS Kids, Readworks, and Newsela.
"I'm learning that students are never too young to learn how to use technology," Brown said. "The resources for young people are endless. If they learn the proper ways to use technology, they learn a lot and love it."
She's also learning a lot about them. She provides a writing prompt each day, and they respond using Google Slides, which gives the students license to be creative in designing and editing.
"When they get to middle school, these kids will understand how to create a presentation and already know the logistics of Google Slides," Brown said. "I'm impressed by the quality of work and the growth I've seen in writing skills during this time. They aren't distracted and can be very open in their journals. It's been amazing to read their work."
Like Wilson, Brown misses her colleagues. She also misses the classroom and the "buzz of activity."
But she also enjoys seeing the students respond to the challenge.
"I do enjoy seeing students learn in a different way," Brown said. "It is empowering to witness."
Some students are ready to go at 7 a.m. or using FaceTime or instant messaging to send Brown pictures relevant to what they are learning.
"Mostly, I love the personal letters," Brown said. "These kids are amazing and so heartfelt. They miss their school family as much as I do."
Jamie Cothren, First grade teacher
Jamie Cothren, who teaches first grade has been reaching out to families every week, using her phone to text or call, or contacting them via email or another application called Remind. She also posts free resources on a Facebook page that parents can use to keep their young ones engaged. Like the other teachers, she has incorporated packets that include grade level work for reading, writing, and math.
"The response from parents was amazing when the first round of packets went out," Cothren said.
She too misses her students.
"I love getting pictures of my students working on school stuff or something that they have been up to beside school," Cothren said. "Mostly I wish we could go back to the classroom. I miss their smiles and hugs and our classroom family. I miss how hard they worked to achieve their goals.
Jennifer Berry, Middle school science teacher
Equity in education is really important to John C. Thomas Middle School science teacher Jennifer Berry, and like a lot of her colleagues, she was concerned about whether students had good access to internet and devices to use. Some didn't.
"That was a big question for me, and that has been a major push by the district as well," Berry said. "I think nationally we are really identifying inequities in access, everywhere. I wanted to make sure our students could learn just as well as everyone else."
According to Berry, the middle school has loaned upwards of 50 chromebooks, as well as some mobile hot spots to families who needed them. And as she pointed out, while Wahkiakum High School has one-to-one chromebooks, the middle school and grade school do not.
She was thinking about the seventh graders she would be interacting with on Zoom the day I caught up with her. Some of her talkers have become shy with the online platform, and she was planning to try to combat their newfound shyness with a few games that day.
"It's nice to put eyes on them, as opposed to emailing or calling," Berry said. "Then I can really look in their eyes and see if they are doing okay."
The kids report on their cats, dogs, and horses, and then they discuss what they've been working on, what they need to work on, and any questions the students might have.
Berry has been teaching her sixth graders about phyla with a focus currently on arthropods. They are using the creatures they can find around them, with nature as their classroom. Seventh graders are learning about cell biology, which is difficult without microscopes, but luckily, Berry was able to find a virtual microscope lab online.
She encourages students to be creative. For one assignment, a student used jello to make a model of an animal cell, with candy for different parts of the cell. Another created his model using Google Slides.
Eighth graders are doing more advanced experiments using plants, and incorporating a more academic vocabulary.
"We're just reaching kids where they are," Berry said. "Families are struggling with a lot, adults are worrying about a lot. They don't want their kids to worry about it, and are trying to keep things as normal as possible, but it's not. It's weird and scary."
"I teach 29 seventh graders the last period of the day," Berry added. "Some days we just need to stand up and do 20 jumping jacks and run around outside and come back in and then we can learn. Some days work really great and some days don't. It's just like with anything. We're just asking parents and families to do what they can. It will all be good. And we will pick it up next year."
Lisa Sauer, First and second grade teacher
Lisa Sauer, who teaches first and second graders, is happy to report that so far, she's had 100 percent engagement with her students and their families. Most are in contact every day, whether it be by Skype, Facebook, FaceTime, Remind, email, text, Snapchat, or even showing up at her home, social distancing in play.
Parents have been sending videos of their children at work and sometimes the kids will make a video themselves, just to say hello. Sauer loves that, and makes time to send videos in return.
"I like interacting with them that way, you can be silly," Sauer said.
Sauer has a Facebook page for her class, where students can watch videos of her reading stories and more. One paraeducator recorded a cooking lesson for them, and a couple of story tellers who visited Sauer's classroom every week have created content for the students too.
"They are fun things for the kids to watch, and familiar faces," Sauer said.
Her students have been working on the standards, reading, writing, and math, and Sauer is just trying to be a good resource for the parents who find themselves teaching things they haven't given any thought to in many years.
"I've had parents who weren't sure how to teach second grade math," Sauer said. "It was something to do with place value. They didn't remember how to do that. So I made a video, a quick lesson, and sent it to the parent."
The parent, in turn, sent a video back of herself, teaching the lesson to the student.
"I'm working a lot more hours than I normally would," Sauer said. "I love watching kids and families grow. Families are struggling right now, with teaching their own kids, struggling with curriculum they might not understand. There is so much out there they are trying to juggle and now they've been handed a new job that they didn't ask for."
"I think it's all been working as good as it can," she added. "Kids aren't going to be exactly where we want them to be at the end of this school year, which will translate into them not being exactly where we want them to be this fall. But we are not unique in that way. This is going to be a problem across the country if not the whole world. So we have to ask ourselves, does it matter? Should we just be worrying about, are we all okay, mentally and emotionally?"
Stephanie Johnson, Kindergarten teacher
From day one, Stephanie Johnson, who teaches kindergarten, has been using an application called Remind to send a newsletter and updates to parents and students. It also allows them to interact with pictures and text.
Johnson is teaching reading skills. Small groups of students are working on syllables, segmenting words, and diagraphs like sh, th, and ch in mini lessons on Zoom. They are working on sight words like the, and, but, and can. By the end of kindergarten, they want students to be full readers of what they call CVC words, consonant vowel consonant, words like cat, and dog.
They are also working on addition and subtraction facts.
They all get together as one big family on Zoom sometimes, a concept she likes in the classroom and has continued to use for remote learning. She reads them a story every time, finding different ways to interact with the kids.
"We get crazy," Johnson laughed, "and then I talk to the parents."
Parents. In a way, that's who she is teaching right now. Because kindergarten is a hands on experience, when Johnson is interacting with them, sometimes that means she's really interacting with their parents. It also means she spends a lot of time teaching parents how to teach a lesson.
She recognizes how hard it has been for some.
"If learning is hard for you and you have to now teach your child, I cannot imagine doing that," she said.
Tina Merz, Middle school
language arts teacher
Tina Merz, who teaches seventh and eighth grade language arts, really thrives in a classroom and would like little more than to be there with her middle school students.
In lieu of that, students are working on their grammar and vocabulary lessons through an application called Amplify, trying to meet her Merz' challenge to read 30 books this year, and after reading a story called The Quarantine Diaries in the New York Times, are keeping journals themselves.
Every three weeks, the students read a new book, of their own choosing. Recently, Merz had them make book trailers, like the ads made for movies.
"Some of them were amazing!" Merz said. So amazing she asked some of her students if she could share their works with the others.
That paid off in many ways. Students were inspired to be more creative in their next efforts, but it also led to more reading, one of Merz's goals.
One girl wrote in her journal about one of the book trailers she'd seen, "I want to read that book!"
"I love that part," Merz said.
Merz has been using Google Classroom, but has felt a little less comfortable with Zoom. That is, until she watched another educator excel using it in one of the classes she was taking for career development, and felt inspired to give it another try.
But the educational piece is just one facet of the job that makes Merz tick. The other part is her tender heart, and like so many of her colleagues, the concern and care she has for the students and their families.
"I don't want to overwhelm the parents," Merz said. "I think it's just so hard and frustrating and challenging when you are not really a teacher, and you are juggling to find a job, or keep a job, or not having a job. It's tough. I feel bad for those people. I've had many parents who are frustrated because they don't understand it, they don't really know how to do it, and their kids aren't really up to par, or what they think is up to par, and then it's a big struggle, and it's just hard all the way around.
Merz has been calling and emailing 18 students consistently every week, but there is another group of kids that she and other members of staff are struggling to connect with.
As for those kids, she just wants to hear a voice on the other end of the line. Or to get an email. She even thinks about driving to their house.
"For some kids, school is their safe place, and their awesome place," Merz said. "I just feel bad for those."