By Sharon Kebschull Barrett, February 23, 2021
Monitoring student understanding and adjusting instruction accordingly are two of the key elements of instructional excellence. Over the past few years, Opportunity Culture teachers have told us about the methods they value, such as do-now exercises, aggressive monitoring, and exit tickets that allow them to respond rapidly to students’ needs. But when students are working remotely—or even when they’re in the classroom but must stay six feet apart—what changes have teachers made to continue monitoring effectively? We’ll be exploring that question throughout the coming months; today, we hear from two Guilford County, North Carolina, elementary school multi-classroom leaders (MCLs).
Although Nikki Glenn, a first-year MCL, and her team of four fifth-grade teachers at Falkener Elementary got to rejoin their students in the classroom for in-person learning in January (with one teaching children who chose to remain virtual), the tools they relied on last semester continue to prove their value.
Glenn’s team worked hard throughout the fall to determine how to effectively monitor students’ understanding and progress from a distance—useful still in socially distanced classrooms.
“We just used stuff that was simple,” she said. Because students are not required to have their cameras or microphones on, out of sensitivity to their home situations, the team used a variety of high- and low-tech tools to make quick checks possible, including Jamboard, NearPod—both student-paced and teacher-directed—and whiteboards.
For example, they asked students to turn their cameras on for just 10 seconds, holding a whiteboard or paper to the camera to show their work.
“It was almost a game, you know, for the kids,” Glenn said. “They were just like, ‘hey OK, camera,’ and then hold up their answer. They are proud to show you their work.”
Because students must stay distanced in the classroom—and teachers are encouraged to stay up front—Glenn’s team has continued to use these practices in person, where all students have been assigned the same brand of tablet.
“What we are seeing is that [some students] are kind of like the teacher’s helpers. So they aren’t very close, but you can see them just holding up their tablet to the person behind them, and showing them how to navigate the Jamboard,” Glenn said.
MCL Kelsey Gomez leads the second-grade teaching team at Fairview Elementary, with four teachers teaching in person, while Gomez teaches about 20 students who chose to continue to learn remotely. Like Glenn, she found Jamboard especially useful.
Jamboard works, she said, because it’s intuitive, and she can make a slide with a problem or assignment, duplicate it for each student with their name at the top, and have students simply click through to find their slide. “So it’s not very cumbersome for me, and it’s pretty user-friendly for them,” Gomez said.
“Each child can be working simultaneously on it—since it’s like a shared living document—on their own slide, and then I can go from my computer, slide to slide, and see how each kid is manipulating it, working through it, and who’s just sitting there to know that they are stuck,” she said. “And then I would just talk to that one student on the call—they can all hear me, but I’ve taught them like unless I’m talking to you, just drown me out. They could actually see my cursor moving around on their page, [so] we were able to kind of have what would be in the classroom, that individual stop-at-your-desk conference, but on a slide.
“I have found that they get easily confused if I try and go between a lot of different tools, so once we’re fluent in one, I try to stay. So Jamboard is really the one that I’ve favored for that in-the-moment [checking].”
True to the collaboration that Opportunity Culture makes possible, Gomez has shared her Jamboard strategies with others in the district-wide MCL meetings.
Students also love using Flipgrid, Glenn said, because it gives them an opportunity to share orally, providing another means of assessment. And by January, teachers could use Quizlet, Quizizz, and Dotstorming “with their eyes closed,” she said.
Gomez uses the Eureka assessment platform for quizzes, and online sites such as Prodigy that allow students to feel like they’re playing a game. “I can see all of the questions they are answering, so I can see what kind of skills I need to pinpoint for my whole-group review versus my individual.”
She has also found ways to focus online time for the skills that most need in-person attention. Students can watch a video of something being read aloud, to test their listening and learning skills, but they practice reading out loud and decoding live with the teacher (asking students to record themselves did not work well). Gomez may have all students speaking out loud together, but she mutes all but one or two, to hear them without singling any students out.
Technology such as Microsoft Teams has also made small groups possible without moving students around in the classroom at all—an innovation Glenn intends to use from now on.
“The students have their own individual headphones, and when we conduct small group, the students for that particular small group will show up on MS Teams on their computers and have small groups with the teacher while the rest of the class is working on something else,” she said.
When students put on their headsets, “they just feel like they are at work. You know, they feel like a little grown-up where they put those headphones on, and they can communicate through the chat—you are not interrupting the students who are not in your small group because you can communicate in the chat.”
Her team also looks for computer programs that can drill students in an engaging way on foundational skills they may have missed, such as multiplication facts.
“We are attempting to make learning fun. So, engagement is our number one strategy, engagement that connects to the standards—we want the kids to not even feel like this is school work,” Glenn said.
“So we have created fun Near Pods with time-to-climb, quizzes, polls, we use Quizizz—which the kids absolutely love. We still use Kahoot! For vocabulary, we use Quizlet Live, where they race against each other, and if somebody on their team gets it wrong, they go to zero, and they’re like, ‘Oh man, who did that!’ And then they hold each other accountable, because you may not have seen who went to zero…what word did you miss? And then they have to teach them that vocabulary word. So we’re just trying to make it engaging and make students forget that we’re in a pandemic.”
Glenn hopes to see that focus on engagement remain long after the pandemic passes. “What teachers thought was engagement wasn’t necessarily engagement. Even playing a game may not be engagement, if the students don’t participate. So it’s not that what you’re giving is fun, it’s that every student in this classroom is engaged and participating and is learning.…now we’re looking at what is it in your lesson plan that demonstrates engagement. So I think our teachers are more intentional about what they do— it’s not just about covering content. It’s about presenting content in an engaging way where our students will learn.”
Another long-term upside to remote learning, Gomez said, was how it helped students become better acquainted with tech tools.
“It’s brought a lot of technology to Fairview—these are kids that wouldn’t have these devices otherwise. We don’t have a PTA that’s going to come buy it. We don’t have parents that can afford that or the internet and so, I think getting these tools in their hands is great, getting them so young, because that’s the world they are going to enter,” she said.
Having tools like Jamboard at hand should continue to help teachers monitor understanding, and let teachers extend their reach to students working simultaneously in multiple classrooms or locations.
Glenn and Gomez agreed that, although teachers remain exhausted, they draw from their students’ energy and joy.
“A lot of them could not wait to get back in this building,” Glenn said of her students. “Children are so happy to see other children, to see the teacher that taught them before the shutdown that they really didn’t get to say goodbye to—we can’t hug them, can’t touch them like we want, but they are ecstatic to be back in the building, and it shows. It’s so helpful to us because they are hungry for the knowledge that they missed.”