Although we may be teaching from a distance, we are still touching lives...
We had many thoughts of what our first year co-teaching together would look like -- planning together, fun activities, field trips, and lots of laughs. However, no one could’ve predicted what was really in store for this school year. On Friday, March 13th, we left school with sub plans on our desk in preparation for a professional development seminar we had looked forward to for months. Unfortunately, that weekend, our plans drastically changed. Our school doors were shut and our homes quickly became our new classrooms.
A Little About Us...
Our names are Maria Ball & Gina Sparaco. We are co-teaching in a
5th grade classroom of 26 students together in Freeport, NY. Although this is our third year teaching, it is our first year teaching together. We were thrown into this crazy world of digital learning this Spring and had no idea what to expect. As time went on, our love for
our students hadn’t changed, but our comfortability with the e-learning platforms did.
We're Overwhelmed Too!
As our digital journey began, problems quickly arose. Students craved the social interaction that school provided them. Suddenly, 10 and 11 year olds were asked to learn on their own -- something that is typically guided by us teachers in school. We had experience managing an in-person classroom, but other problems arose when trying to manage our students virtually, all the while keeping parents involved and informed. Additionally, having students with IEPs and English Language Learners in our room made assigning valuable work that could meet their needs that much more difficult. Lastly, we struggled to find a way to make e-learning more personal for our students. Throughout this process and the help of our district, we were able to put our best foot forward and find valuable solutions to the problems we faced.
Digital Classroom Solutions
Virtual Classroom Management
Our students were accustomed to a routine in the classroom, and we tried our best to keep this routine throughout the digital learning process. We utilized the same slideshows, provided students with a daily breakdown of assignments, and were immediately available during school hours to help with anything they needed.
Shortly after we began, it came time for our first Google Meet session as a class. We were unsure of what to expect. When we first logged in, we were met with 26 students talking at once, questions we didn’t know the answers to, students playing video games, students on cell phones, etc. We soon realized that we had to treat Google Meet sessions like we did our actual classroom. The next session, we provided our students with rules and expectations, just as we would on the first day of school. We expressed the importance of muting microphones unless called on and not talking over their classmates. Additionally, our students gained access to various Google Extensions that have helped the learning process tremendously.
The Google Nod Extension enables students to raise their hand virtually and silently. Additionally, they can provide feedback with emojis -- also silently! This helps monitor student understanding and enables them to become active participants in the digital learning lessons.
We also introduced our students to the Jamboard app on Google. This helped students, who do not have access to a pencil and paper at home, be able to show and share their work just like they would in school.
More than ever, parent support is essential to education. To help with this, we utilize the Remind App to communicate with parents. We are able to send out announcements to all of our parents together as a group, rather than having to communicate individually.
Additionally, we have invited the parents to our Google Classroom using the Guardian Feature. This helps parents see what is assigned and what their child has or hasn’t completed.
Lastly, Google Voice is a great tool to communicate with parents and families, while keeping your phone number private. You can create a free phone number and use it to text and call parents. They can even respond to you within the app!
Making e-Learning Fit for All Students...
We teach together in an ICT setting. We have 11 students with IEPs, many of whom are English Language Learners as well. Through the use of various apps and extensions, we have found ways to make our e-learning lessons meet their needs.
The Read & Write extension for Google Chrome allows the material to be read aloud to students who struggle to read on their own. Additionally, students can use the voice typing feature on Google to assist with their writing.
We utilize IKnowIt as an interactive math practice site for Grades K-5. This has been a lifesaver for us because we can assign individual lessons to students on any topic or grade level. It also is a great progress monitoring tool! Normally, this is utilized in our classroom as a Math station, but it has transformed into one of our favorite e-learning tools! Although it normally costs money to utilize, this website, along with many others, is offering free accounts to schools that are closed due to COVID-19.
A Personal Touch
As time went on, we missed our students more and more and wanted to show that we were there for them, even virtually. We found some tools and tricks to not only keep students motivated but add a personal touch to digital learning to give our students a sense of normalcy.
Although students may not be able to see our real faces all the time, our Bitmojis make them feel like we are with them throughout their learning process. The Bitmoji App is our absolute FAVORITE! We have created joint bitmojis and utilize them in our slides, emails, assignments, and more -- both in school and out of school.
The Screencastify extension for Google has enabled us to create video lessons and embed them in our slideshows for our students. Through this, we are able to show them examples and provide instructions and guidance when completing their e-learning lessons. These videos can be added to your Google Drive and embedded into slides, or even uploaded to Youtube!
In order to create fun, eye-catching, and captivating lessons for our students, we also utilize themed Google Slides templates. These are available FREE on the internet! A favorite website of ours is Slides Carnival. This also simplifies the process of creating presentations for our lessons and ensuring they are engaging for our students.
Although teaching students the content is important, their mental and emotional health is as well. Our daily morning work consists of an assignment where the students privately identify and describe how they are feeling that day. We downloaded a freebie from one of our favorite TeachersPayTeachers accounts. Click on the link Teach Create Motivate and subscribe to her email list and you will have access to her Today I Feel activity. We are able to comment and communicate with students on this assignment, and this helps continue the close relationships we had with them while in school.
We're in this together!
Although this has been a trying experience, we will come out stronger because of it. Problems always arise when facing something new and unexpected, but if we share and work with one another, our students will come out stronger as well!
Please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments, or if you just need to chat with people who understand what you’re going through! Remember, we are in this TOGETHER!