COVID-19 Diaries: Tech Tools for Distance LearningApril 6, 2020
With COVID-19 closing her school and teachers diving into distance education, technology integration specialist Jennifer Reaves (WV ’18) is in high demand. She shares the strategies and tools that are helping her team at Morgantown’s Mylan Park Elementary.
Being an educator is hard. We are constantly thinking about differentiating our instruction. Planning for standards-based instruction. Giving meaningful feedback to students, teachers, parents and administrators. Creating a safe and equitable classroom. Preparing paperwork for IEP/SAT meetings. Meaningfully integrating technology. Progress monitoring. Providing re-teach and intervention. And, on top of all that … teaching our students!
Recently, our teaching world has been turned upside down by COVID-19. Educators are feeling more overwhelmed than ever, planning and working in this digital age when so much of what we do every day is about meaningful face-to-face teaching, interacting with our students and each other. As educators, we know that building relationships with our students and creating a safe and loving classroom environment are the most critical aspects to student success. When teaching from a distance, how do we continue to build community, reach out to students, create meaningful content and meet the needs of our students when we cannot be face to face?
COVID-19 has forced us to rely solely on technology to interact, teach and meet the needs of all of our students. This in itself provides unique challenges. Some students have devices to use at home and some do not. Some students have access to the internet and some do not. Some families cannot be reached as they do not have working phone lines. Unfortunately, across the board this is creating an equity gap for our students, as some can access the resources being curated and shared by our staff online and some cannot. As a teacher, this can be disheartening as we want to, but cannot, reach every single one of our students with just technology. We have to think “outside the box.”
My role is in high demand
As a technology integration specialist my main role is supporting the teachers in my building (as well as other teachers and coaches in our county). Since we have dismissed schools due to COVID-19, that role has increased each day. I am facilitating virtual professional development; managing our social media to keep parents “in the loop”; meeting online with other educators in virtual professional learning communities (PLCs); developing an e-Learning website to provide parents with resources and activities for their students, appropriate by grade level; and, all the while, still supporting my teachers with the new challenges of teaching online.
Working with elementary students presents its own challenges, as most of the learning that takes place in the home needs to be supported by parents. I have been working closely with teachers to plan for and facilitate standards-based instruction that is accessible to parents and students, and has a low floor but a high ceiling to differentiate for all learners.
We continue to meet in PLCs weekly, now through Google Meet, to talk face to face about instruction, student concerns and plans for the upcoming week. Our teams collaborate with our administrators, social worker and counselor to arrange home visits to drop off work, food, and other supplies families may need to be successful during this time. We try to focus on the “whole child,” not just the student’s academic needs. This strange new climate has fostered collaboration, working smarter not harder, and camaraderie within our teams as we work through this “new normal” together.
I have gotten many requests for on-demand personalized and group professional development for our staff to prepare them for teaching and learning in a fully digital environment. I meet with staff and other coaches via virtual platforms like Google Meet, Teams and FaceTime on an as-needed basis as they work to continue building relationships and pushing resources out to parents. Much of the professional development I have facilitated so far has been on tools to stay connected with students and families.
Here are my four favorite tools to stay connected:
- Flipgrid. Flipgrid’s mission is to “Empower Every Voice.” It is a free tool, using your camera and microphone, that teachers can use to connect to their students and continue to build classroom or school community. We have been using Flipgrid weekly as a whole staff to connect with our entire Mylan Park family. Check out our latest topic, and click here for an educators’ guide to using Flipgrid for remote learning.
- Google Voice. Our staff members now make weekly phone calls home to check in on students’ academic progress and overall well-being. I am also using Google Voice to provide technical assistance to students and families. Using Google Voice, educators can sign up for a free account, make and receive phone calls and text messages through the internet to protect their personal phone number. Check out this “getting started” guide here.
- Google Meet or Zoom. Using Google Meet or Zoom, educators can send out “Join Codes” to allow students (and parents, for younger kids) to join a virtual classroom meeting. This has been a game-changer for our teachers as they are now holding weekly classroom meetings to continue to build community and relationships. You can check out getting started resources with Zoom here or Google Meet here.
- Class Dojo or Remind. These platforms allow teachers to communicate with parents to keep them “in the loop” about what’s happening in the classroom and open a communication channel similar to text messaging for communication. This has been a great resource for our teachers (especially at the elementary level) to stay in contact with parents and push out assignments, reminders and resources. Learn more about remote learning with Class Dojo here and Remind here.
COVID-19 has uprooted us from our classrooms and completely changed how we are teaching and meeting the needs of our students. I am constantly in awe of how educators adapt to change but continue to think of our students first. I am incredibly proud of how they have stepped up to the plate, embraced this “new normal” and have fully integrated technology into their curriculum in a meaningful way. Not only will this make us better educators in the future, but will allow us to meet the needs of our students today.
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