What Can A Classroom with Virtual Look Like?

I was contacted a couple of months ago by a former consultant wanting to know if I would be available to work with her grandchildren during their school lockdown. I answered ‘yes’ but I would want to connect with their teachers AND get copies of lessons from their textbooks emailed to me. Why? I did not want to usurp the teacher’s lesson plans. I wanted to collaborate and coordinate with the teacher to make sure the kids were continuing with the curriculum she was providing and not just doing busy activity work online or worksheets at home. Grandma’s response was one of disappointment. She did not want me to connect with their teachers and said she did not think that was going to work. I heard nothing further from Grandma.

I also recently had an opportunity to ask an actual student who was getting his classes virtually/remotely from his charter school, ‘what lessons was his teacher giving through the computer?’ His response, ‘oh, just some activities to do online.’

I am the first to admit, teachers, students and school districts were caught underprepared for this pandemic and remote teaching BUT…I have been providing reading intervention for struggling readers online for several years. Yes, I am teaching reading remotely through Zoom. I also know from past experience that classroom teachers are very protective of their turf and students. I am not trying to invade and replace them. I just want to help. I am retired but have a lot of expertise to offer and I have found I can do this remotely in an effective way BUT I do not see it working for the child unless there is collaboration and cooperation between the teacher with her curriculum lessons, and myself as a ‘supplemental classroom aide.’ Consistency is key when a child is learning. As I mentioned in my previous blog, it is time for classrooms to enlist more hands to help while maintaining the fidelity of the child’s school curriculum so learning can continue as designed. Disconnected ‘activities online’ is not the answer. Fun, cutesy online activities have a role in extending a child’s education but should not ‘replace’ their prescribed curriculum. There are benchmarks to be met and I say the schools of the 21st Century can better accomplish this by embracing and incorporating remote learning.

The key is to have teachers, supplemental aides, parents, and districts, trained on how to accomplish a child’s educational needs using remote classroom learning. You will notice I have not said, ‘replace’ classroom learning. No, no, no. Kids need the social interaction with other kids and have to be on site to do this.

What can a classroom with virtual look like?

A suggestion might be to extend the school day so enrichment and tutoring remotely can be incorporated daily on the child’s school site?

Another idea might be to have children do remote sessions two days a week and then divide them out into smaller groups to go on the school site the other three days for smaller hands-on group activities to extend the remote lessons? Can these groups rotate in some way to utilize the school site space optimally? Smaller break-out sessions on site will help the teachers to work with students and assess their progress and understanding better?

Teachers have to remain in charge, but did you know platforms such as Zoom offer the capability for ‘break out’ rooms? The teacher could provide the main lesson and then assign a hosted break out room for the child to join online. For example, I as a reading specialist could take a small group of struggling readers into a break-out room and do a ‘guided reading’ session with them and address their specific needs while other groups of students are split up into other hosted break out rooms for small group work. The teacher then can jump in and out of these break out rooms and check up on the child’s behavior and progress which is hard to do if a school utilizes a ‘pull out’ format for special services such as Title I. The teacher can be a part of, instead of on the outside wondering what is happening, with a student during a small group. Break-out rooms also allow for the teacher to conduct a group herself and know that the other students are monitored and constructively occupied during let’s say, reading groups. I have experienced first-hand the juggling act that teachers go through to have reading groups each day! Most teachers have up to four groups constructed by ability level. While she/he meets with one small group, the rest of the kids are assigned ‘centers.’ Over a period of time let’s say 1 hour, the groups rotate through all the centers. The teacher’s attention is almost invariably interrupted during her own group’s time by questions and behavior act outs in the other ‘centers!’ It can be a three-ring circus sometimes. With remote break out rooms or ‘centers’, the teacher might not have to be interrupted as much and she/he can roam the break-out rooms to see what is happening and how things are going. She/he is not on the outside wondering. She/he still is in control.

Well, just a beginning to more brainstorming. I hope I have at least opened the door of thought for some of you. With brainstorming, more questions and hurdles arise I realize but ‘collective wisdom’ is the answer. For instance, you are probably asking, “where are the additional personnel going to come from for a classroom with virtual?” School districts are strapped for funds as it is so how can more personnel be added? Great question!

Do not forget about me! A retired educator. What about trained college of education students? What about high schoolers? What about people from industry? What about trained senior citizens? What about our disabled veterans? Look around. The pool may be larger than thought and not as expensive as thought?

A discussion for another time. Post any thoughts you might have in my nutsaboutreading Facebook group and let’s all get involved.

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