Listen in as a teacher and parent share with Steve their experiences with hybrid and virtual learning through both lenses. Hear the importance of their communication to support each other in maximizing learning opportunities.
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Steve [Intro]: 00:00 Hello and welcome to the teacher edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. For over three decades, I’ve had the opportunity to learn with teachers in and out of their classroom settings. I have a great respect for the complexity of teaching and I know that all great teachers are continuous learners. I invite you to join me as I explore my thoughts and insights on a variety of topics, connected to teaching and learning. Thanks for listening in.
Steve: 00:33 A look at teaching and learning through the eyes of a teacher and a parent. For today’s podcast, I’m joined by my colleague at PLS 3rd Learning, Andrea Brown. Andrea is a past special education teacher and at PLS 3rd Learning, now she’s a program leader and learning designer. And joining us is Andrea’s kindergarten daughter’s teacher, Joanne Loewerr. Joanne is a teacher in upstate New York. Welcome Andrea and Joanne. Joanne, I wondered if you’d start us off by telling us a little bit about your pre-COVID teaching background and experience?
Joanne: 01:21 Certainly. I have taught here at this elementary school for 28 years. 10 of those have been in kindergarten and 18 of those were in third grade. I hold degrees in elementary education, special education and a master’s in library science.
Steve: 01:38 Great, great. I did do five years in first grade so I’ll have a little piece of understanding there, although, that was at a time when probably first grade was more like what preschool is is today going back in my history. And so, know that you’re here because Andrea has bragged on you as to what she’s seen you do working virtually with her daughter. And so, I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about the the thinking and planning that goes on in your mind as you’re preparing to teach in this virtual world.
Joanne: 02:27 Yes. In the spring it was different because it came on so fast and we had very little prep time and a lot less guidance as to how we were approaching that. So I’ll speak to my time with Andrea’s daughter now, which it started in September, and we had a lot more time to prepare and think about how we would handle these four and five-year-olds starting instruction if it went virtual and what it looked like actually in the classroom as well. So it was a lot of adapting. Adapting our physical enviroment, removing a lot from a kindergarten classroom that it breaks your heart to take away. You know, play corners and dress up clothes and sand tables. And then, you know, installing plexiglass and desks six feet apart and trying to make that engaging and fun so that first learning experience for little ones was exciting. And I think that we succeeded in that being that this was their first elementary experience and I don’t think they really knew any better.
Andrea: 03:30 My daughter loved her truck or car.
Joanne: 03:30 Yes. One day my aid was telling a student while I went to kindergarten and I was in this classroom and he looked at her and he said, “really, what color was your car?” And then I knew we had done it right because they thought that was the norm. And we had taken the plexiglass and created it into a car front with the windshield being their view out to the front of the room.
Steve: 03:52 Oh, very cool.
Joanne: 03:52 Yeah, yellow tape on the floor so they follow the lines to follow the traffic and get through the classroom safely. So, you know,
that in and of itself was a whole new experience for me. Once we thought about what does that look like if we go virtual, our district, and I know every district was different, but ours was looking at two half day cohorts and those would be about two hours and 45 minutes.
Joanne: 04:16 And if we went remote, they would remain two hours and forty-five minutes. And that two hours and forty-five minutes was really dictated by our district. How much wass ELA, math, science, and social studies and special areas and breaks in between if we could fit them in. So we were really using that as a guideline but you’re looking at a five-year-old in front of a screen for two hours and forty-five minutes and trying to maintain their interest to build an activity for them while not losing them. And their focus when they’re at home where all their toys and their dogs and their grandmas and grandpas are, that was a challenge. So that became actually, a whole lesson and reprogramming ourselves to organize our instructional materials because we said, okay, if we’re going to do two hours and forty-five minutes of instruction, we need kindergarteners to have glue sticks and scissors and crafts and, you know, hands-on activities to build all that fine motor and keep them interested.
Joanne: 05:21 So actually I have a file system in my classroom. I went out and purchased tubs and I have four of them. And each of them has a file folder with the child’s name and crafts were pre-prepped and put into plastic baggies and sorted by name. And we did the same with science and social studies and math and word study and reading and writing. And so that became, pull everything out, put it into a folder that has that child’s name so we now can get that to them when we went to remote instruction. But they came home that last day with two big envelopes full of a lot of things.
Andrea: 06:01 Sure did.
Steve: 06:01 Yeah. A lot of things for parents and students to manage, and it was a little bit overwhelming. So that was our start to that. And then, you know, how we manage and the children manage all those materials at home became a whole new problem.
Joanne: 06:15 Now I know I’m going to teach tomorrow for two hours and 45 minutes. How do I let the parents know what they need and how to find it? So that’s where programs like Seesaw and e-mails came into play. And I would set all the materials out once I planned it out on a table, snap a picture, send it out through Seesaw with a detailed list of what they would need so that they could prep the night before because essentially they were doing my teacher prep at home pulling everything out and having it ready. And also having that workspace with the colored pencils and crayons and the scissors and the glue sticks. It was a lot to balance both here at school and for families at home.
Steve: 06:59 I just finished doing some work with pre-school and kindergarten teachers in a large district and they have a rather large school
that’s just preschool and kindergarten. They’ve been virtual since March and they haven’t been back. And they don’t think likely they’re going to be back very soon. And one of the conversations we were having was that the teachers had to build parent education into their preparation. And I’m wondering if you could respond to that a little bit?
Joanne: 07:37 Absolutely. For many parents, it’s the organization part and having those materials prepped and ready but it’s also in the moment. Parents being able to jump in and assist with what they need or help them locate items. But I think probably the hardest one has been maintaining their focus and attention and behavior. In the spring I had some children who were really struggling making the switch into remote learning. Behaviors were way off, they weren’t complying with parents at home. So it became creating behavior programs with parents. And that meant sticker charts that were dropped off at the house or whatever happened to be that helped. It meant driving out and leaving prizes in the front yard as they earned them. Whatever would work to help these parents find a comfort level in what they were doing to help maintain the behavior. Because I think that was probably one of the most difficult things was the children who could not maintain the focus and were really starting to emotionally act out.
Steve: 08:47 Andrea, I’m wondering if you’d want to jump in and respond to some of the things that Joanne has pointed out in her planning and her delivery as you saw through the parents’ eyes.
Andrea: 08:59 Absolutely. One of the things that’s been so, so beneficial and helpful has been those messages every night that tell me what to get out for the next day. I’m not running around in the morning, or if I am, it’s my own fault because I didn’t do it last night. And Joanne has sent us a photo every day so when the things have names that don’t make sense to me because I’m not a kindergarten teacher, it’s okay because there’s also a photo so I can match.
Steve: 09:26 [laughter] I was wondering about parent education. I hadn’t thought of that being part of it but it totally makes sense to me now.
Andrea: 09:32 Right. So when I’m looking for the sight word page, it’s in the sight word folder and whether it’s something that makes sense to me or not, I can always find it because there’s a photo that comes with it. And even the crafts are in that photo so I can kind of match up what the bag looks like. This morning, I know I was going, “everything is brown. I don’t know. I’m pulling out bag after bag.”
Joanne: 09:57 Sorry. [laughter]
Steve: 09:57 That’s okay, it was gingerbread day.
All: 10:00 [laughter]
Andrea: 10:00 And just knowing that that’s there and that piece of – that I can hold on to it, that’s been so wonderful. And the support of being able to send a message and say, you know, I’m sorry, I’m in a meeting all day today. I can’t help it, whatever she does, it’s it’s on her. And then knowing that Joanne is backing that up. I know that I was presenting one day and I heard later that she was saying, you know, I know mommy’s busy. Can you put the hamster back?
All: 10:29 [laughter].
Joanne: 10:32 True story. Yeah. That communication between parents really was a big part of the success. And as a teacher on this end, being able to know that parents who didn’t sign up for this, because there was a big difference in our district of parents who signed up for remote, knew it fit into their world and knew that they could commit to it. And the parents who were thrown into it and trying to manage jobs and multiple children and everything else going on. So it’s been key to communicate with each other.
Andrea: 11:07 Absolutely.
Steve: 11:07 Joanne, another piece ghat’s emerged is the discussion of the independent learning skills that kids need to develop to be to be successful in the structure. And with some of the folks, we’ve talked about that being a piece of the education to the parents. So part of it is having the parent know what to do and I guess at the same time, what not to do. You know, when does the parent help actually interfere with having the child engaged in the behaviors that you’re looking to have developed?
Joanne: 11:49 Interesting questions, lots of information there. At the beginning, this school year, we knew that we were going to need to provide programming that parents could utilize friendly and that students could too. So having the children here was really helpful to get them used to using Seesaw programs. These are kindergarteners who really needed to learn how to push a lot of buttons and find apps and then figure out how to send the picture to their teacher. And then they had to teach their parents as well. So creating little cheat sheets for parents was one way that we were able to get them into those apps. You know, Andrea talks about pictures, I mean, I remember us taking a picture of every app and printing it out and putting it onto documents so they could see what the app looked like and then our explanation words made a little bit more sense.
Joanne: 12:37 So that was really, really helpful. One of the funny things, and we were just – I was just talking with my aide about this today because hopefully with luck, the children will be back in January. And it’s very interesting to see how different I’m going to use writing as an example, their independence and writing is right now because they’re home and there’s someone supporting them. And often the parents are like, “no, no, you spelled that word wrong.” And the teacher in me wants to go, “no, no, no about them spell it wrong. It’s okay.” You know, so I find myself just hearing what’s happening at home and then just building it into my instruction. “Oh, you know what, your words don’t have to be all spelled exactly right.” Listen for the sounds that you hear and let’s write what we hear.” So that information built into my instruction, I quickly learned that parents were mimicking what I was doing and saying a lot at home. So it made me more aware of what I was saying and how I was presenting it so that it was being carried out at home in a way that wasn’t building more frustration for parents or students. Building that in and saying, “you don’t need to do this all the time at home. It’s just a skill we’re learning to use today,” helped parents to understand they didn’t have to push that.
Andrea: 13:52 With a teaching background, sometimes I feel like I know what they’re supposed to be able to do in kindergarten, but sometimes I’m
wrong and it’s nice to be reminded. Like, I know she doesn’t have to spell her words all right. But when she was writing Christmas cards and notes for the student teacher, it was really hard to just like, let it go and let her spell Mary with all of the E’s.
Joanne: 14:17 And I did – that one I did ask, I specifically in an email said to parents, please let the children write it as they would normally. Let it be genuine and let it be who they are in this moment because I knew my student teacher would embrace that and love that and she did.
Steve: 14:35 It’s interesting that you used the word mimicking because that early childhood group that I was just working with, talked about giving kids feedback so that the parents would begin to hear the teacher gave the feedback and begin to copy that feedback. So I see that as a
powerful modeling strategy.
Joanne: 15:01 Yeah. It’s interesting from our perspective because you’re looking at a screen of eight little faces and that’s who you are presenting to. But you have to remember that there’s a whole stage at every house. And in that stage on the sidelines, are grandparents and parents and brothers and sisters, and it is – when you think of that whole big world that the remote teaching opened up, it’s a little nerve wracking to think that everyone is listening to you and kindergarten and preschool, I mean, you’re standing up and you’re singing songs and you’re doing silly dances and you’re wearing ridiculous clothes and you’re hoping nobody’s judging you.
All : 15:40 [laughter].
Steve: 15:43 Increased vulnerability in the openness of your classroom.
Joanne: 15:50 Yep.
Steve: 15:50 Joanne, I know that one of the difficulties during this virtual time is teachers figuring out assessing where students are at and I guess, to guide where the teacher should go next. Got some responses to how you’re coping and dealing with that?
Joanne: 16:09 Yes. Well, luckily, before we went remote this time we have quite a good schedule for assessing kindergarteners and it happens multiple times throughout the year. And we were fortunate that we were coming up on our report cards and looking at possibly going remote. So we worked like little busy bees to get all of that in because in kindergarten it’s very, very much a one-on-one assessment in many, many ways. You know, you’re flashing their letters and their sounds and their sight words and that’s difficult to do over a computer because you can hear someone whispering in the corner.
All: 16:48 [laughter]
Joanne: 16:51 And you’re like, “no!” So here at school, we got lucky enough to at least get that assessment in the fall prior to going remote. And we’re hoping we come back come January and are able to do our next assessment rotation here at school, because that is a bit of a challenge to try to do your ELA assessment, your math assessment based on that. It does help to have programs like Seesaw, where the children are sending me pictures of their math each day. And sometimes you cringe and you go, “oh, why’d you do that in crayon or marker…
Andrea: 17:26 I did, I did. [Laughter].
Joanne: 17:26 But then you’re like, let it go, let that go and just, you know, take a look at where that child is and note to yourself, I’m seeing the reversals again in the numbers or I can tell they’re not forming their M’s correctly.
Joanne: 17:43 And for me, it became knowing that I’m hopefully coming back in person. Those are the little that I need for where we pick up when we come back. If we stay remote, that creates a whole new world for me of not necessarily breakout rooms, but maybe individual meetings with students so I’m one-on-one with them and a really deep understanding with parents, let them get the wrong answer and let me get an accurate insight as to where they are right now, because I do worry about how much our lower children are losing not getting intervention here in class that they were getting every day and not having the guidance that the classroom and I were able to provide at home.
Andrea: 18:29 Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s so hard to watch them get things wrong. Like, I know she needs to because she’s only five. She doesn’t know what she’s doing yet, but it’s hard to remember that it’s okay and you need to know what she doesn’t know or you can’t teach her effectively.
Steve: 18:47 Exactly.
Joanne: 18:47 Very well put.
Steve: 18:50 As I move to to close out the podcast here, I kind of wanted to look at giving you both an opportunity to explore something. So,
Andrea, I’m wondering if you have a question you’d like to ask Joanne, and then Joanne, I’m going to give you a chance if there’s a question you’d like to ask Andrea as we move to wrap up. So Andrea, you’re up first. You got a question you’d like to put to Joanne?
Andrea: 19:14 I guess I’m just interested in how different what the instruction online is from what it would have looked like in the classroom. So they are going for the whole two hours and 45 minutes and they just – she holds up her hand for a glue stick or a pair of scissors and they’re moving. And is that what it looks like for you in the classroom? This year, I know this year is different, but in general, how different is it?
Joanne: 19:40 It is a pretty fast pace. It’s a surprisingly quick pace. And being that we went to a half day, we found that we are engaging them in every second we have. We have no minutes to spare. And as a kindergarten teacher, that’s a bit painful too, because that means there isn’t time to play and to explore and so we’ve tried to build that into our instruction. The instruction definitely looks different online. I think it’s easier for me to do math online. I think giving them tools and they can manipulate and they can draw is a little bit easier, math-wise. I worry about the reading and writing more. I feel like that instruction looks very different here in the classroom than it does when they don’t have a physical book in their hand and they’re not working with me conferencing as they’re writing and really at this critical stage where they’re taking those letters and sounds and beginning to independently write them and explore them. So that I think has been one area that I’m curious to see how we are able to pick up in January.
Andrea: 20:43 Yeah. I think that’s – writing is the thing I think hardest for Amelia. You know, she’s able to – she knows so many words that she gets really upset when she thinks the words are wrong and she really just wants me to spell it for her.
Joanne: 21:00 Yeah. And Amelia is a very high functioning child when it comes to reading and writing.
Andrea: 21:04 Right, and I know that, it’s just so frustrating for her and I don’t have the time to sit with her and help her sound those words out while I’m trying to work and manage my son and do everything else all at the same time. So I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been sorry about that it’s just hard for you to do it and it’s hard for her to do it online.
Joanne: 21:24 Yeah. It’s a very – it’s not so concrete. Math is much more concrete at kindergarten level. Those letters and sounds and blends, stretching words and gripping your pencil right, those are the things that put us into panic mode. How are we going to proper pencil grip? How am I going to know if they’re holding the scissors right? What do I do when they start crying because they can’t get the glue to come out? I just want to crawl through the wires and help.
Steve: 21:52 As I’m listening to that, I’m thinking about the – I describe the need to get the struggle at the Goldie Locks spot. So as a teacher in the classroom, you know, you’re watching the struggle and you’re knowing when to move in and help and you’re knowing when to hold back and that’s almost impossible for you to do over the the internet trying to watch the eight kids and then difficult for a parent to do because they’re not sure what that spot is.
Joanne: 22:28 That’s exactly right. And then there are times when, you know you need to help them and you can’t. You can’t get there and help them because they need you physically within their space to do that.
Andrea: 22:41 I will say though, that I think you do a really great job of catching them when they’re about to need help and saying like, “hey, you know, it looks like you’re using the wrong crayon” or “you don’t seem to have your scissors and I think you might need them.” And, “do you know where those are?” And, “is there an adult who can help you find them?”
Steve: 22:58 We got another definition of a teacher with eyes in the back of her head, huh?
Andrea: 23:01 Exactly.
All : 23:01 [laughter].
Joanne: 23:03 And that probably, I will say 100%, my biggest frustration has been technical glitches. There are days when I am staring at my monitor and I have eight frozen faces or eight black screens. If I did not have my classroom aid at home being my extra set of eyes, I would have been sunk. And I appreciate that my administration was smart enough to know we’ve never had an aide with us all day in kindergarten, but she was smart enough to know that if we go remote, you’re going to need this support. And I cannot thank her enough for that safety net because I’m sure has heard me a million times, “Mrs. Kaufman, I can’t really see anybody right now. Can you let me know if everybody’s got their glue stick?” Imagine just teaching into a black abyss and you don’t know who’s watching and you can’t see them. It’s frustrating.
Andrea: 24:02 Right.
Steve: 24:02 Joanne, did you have a question to give to Andrea?
Joanne: 24:06 Andrea, I have been so curious – it’s interesting to hear your input as a parent and you always wonder, am I doing enough, have I given enough, was there a way to have made this easier? Is there anything, I mean, insight that you could give us that you are going along this process would have said, “oh, I wish they would have just done this?” Anything that we could use.
Andrea: 24:29 You know, the things that we need at home are not things that you could have given us. Like, I need a better workspace for her. I need, you know, more glue sticks because we have glued all of the things and I keep forgetting to buy more. But your organization has been so fantastic, like with everything labeled in the envelopes and in the right folder, it’s been so easy to find things and that I’ve really, really appreciated. I’m not sorting through a stack of unlabeled papers going, “which one is that? The three snowmen – is that a story, is that a worksheet? I don’t know.” So I think that you’ve really done the best you could have in this situation.
Joanne: 25:13 That’s really great news to hear because I have to say that my team, my grade level team here at our school is fabulous. And putting that brain power together and figuring out the best way to meet student needs, parent needs, teacher needs, administrative needs, assessment needs, it’s huge snowball to try to put together. So I appreciate that input.
Andrea: 25:39 You know, the day that we heard we might soon be going remote, that every kid came home with stuff in their backpack, hers was so organized and so well labeled. Like, I knew exactly what I needed to send back and forth until we went remote and I knew exactly what I could keep at home. And it was just so clear and that wasn’t necessarily as clear with my son so I was just so thrilled to be able to say, “oh, this goes on the shelf. We’ll clear off the shelf. This will be your learning shelf. We’ll keep this here. This goes back and forth.” And then when we came home, it was obvious what I needed to pull out for her.
Joanne: 26:18 And that is a good point. We had to really, as teachers had to say, “okay, they have to take it home, but you know what, if there’s school tomorrow here, they need it all.” So what do we do? So these poor little babies had big envelopes labeled, November, December, sight words, reading, writing, and it had to sit next to their desk every morning when they brought it back from school and we would literally walk around and pull out everything we needed for the day anticipation that tomorrow we would be remote.
Andrea: 26:45 Right. And I think that period of confusion and when we weren’t sure what was happening was hard for them but she knew she had everything and she felt pretty comfortable about that.
Joanne: 26:59 Excellent.
Steve: 27:01 Well, thank you to both of you for sharing your insights and your stories with me here. I ran through some of my old memories back in my first grade classroom as I had a chance to listen. I’m just gonna say to listeners, if you have a question that you’d like to get to Joanne or to Andrea, just drop a note to me at barkleypd.com and I’ll get it off to them and get a response back to you. Thanks for listening folks.
Steve [Outro]: 27:36 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean and please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.