PETERBOROUGH — In the midst of a pandemic, ConVal Elementary Schools have managed to harness the talents of sixteen staff members to provide quality remote learning experiences for students in kindergarten through fourth grade to help students build relationships and gain new skills.
United Remote Learners (URL) consists of eight classroom teachers, seven paraprofessionals, one school counselor and 110 students from all of the towns in the district. Additional staff members including special educators, occupational therapists and speech pathologists round out the team to provide cohesive instruction for all students. The students’ daily schedule includes a morning meeting, whole and small group literacy, whole and small group math, and science and/or social studies, plus time for additional academic support as needed. Students have a choice menu and work independently to complete specials. The school counselor schedules boys and girls groups and supports teachers with social skills instruction.
Each day begins with community building during Morning Meetings. Students greet their classmates and learn about upcoming lessons for their day, just as they would in the classroom. Throughout the day, URL students engage in new learning through Zoom or Google Meet. The size and length of literacy and math groups vary across the grades in order to meet the students developmental needs. Independent work is done at home or in small groups over Zoom with a teacher or paraprofessional available for support. For most students, the day concludes with more personalized instruction to meet students’ needs as well as a closing circle where students are able to share the best/hardest part of their day. While the structure of the day mirrors in person learning, the means for teaching and student learning is quite different.
Google Classroom is used to communicate with students and families. Teachers share a morning message each day to provide an overview for learning. Students are reminded to complete independent work, attend speech lessons or simply have a good day. Throughout the week, teachers provide video instruction, demonstrate lessons and offer feedback to students on their work using tools such as Google Slides, Nearpod, and jamboard.
Teachers and school counselors integrate social emotional learning that children need throughout their day and week. Students have the opportunity to build friendships and share bits of themselves during social lunches, Friday social times, and counselor-led support groups. Through wonderful conversations and shares, the children have built wonderful friendships with students with whom they would not have met until high school.
The URL teachers have learned the importance of prioritizing what they will teach. In order to minimize screen time and maintain student engagement, the instructional periods in remote learning are shorter. As a result, the teachers find that academic time has a heightened importance. Rather than try to do everything, the teachers use their Flex Friday to carefully analyze the standards and craft lessons that incorporate multiple priority skills and ensure future success for students. In addition to decreased instructional time periods, the staff have learned that some of the valuable time with children must focus on teaching them how to navigate technology.
Learning remotely requires students to learn how to navigate platforms including Google Classroom, Google Meet and Zoom. While the children may have used these platforms previously, they now need to be problem solvers and independent users with the platforms. URL students have become adept at organizing their materials, logging in and out of virtual meetings, fixing screens that go black and downloading and uploading assignments.
Bumps in the road have taught all remote students to be independent, resilient and persistent. Students have learned to take a deep breath and log back in when they get bumped out of a Zoom meeting and to mute their microphones when their home becomes noisy. They have become excellent problem solvers when technology is not cooperative and have gained many new computer skills. Students must advocate for themselves when they can’t hear the teacher or the teacher is frozen on the screen. It is extraordinary to hear a second grade student say, “I need to leave the meeting and come back because I can’t hear you.” Of course none of the successes students have had could happen without the cooperative relationship between home and school.
The URL families and teachers share the responsibility of teaching. Parents listen to the instruction and are able to use the same language when helping their child with independent work. Teachers talk with parents regularly to better understand the children. Students are aware that parents, students and teachers are one team working together.
Across the country we hear how the pandemic will leave students with significant learning gaps. The instructional staff of URL feels differently. We are finding that most of our students are thriving. More importantly, the URL students are learning to be lifelong learners. As one of the URL parents, Diana King said, “I believe my daughter will be more than ready for first grade, not only with her academic skills, but social skills.”