education and schools
Keli has a Bachelor of Science Degree, and a Master of Science in Education Degree. Through her life journey Keli has suffered and overcome many unforeseen changes, traumas, and upheavals. Keli has used her God given gifts to not only change her own life but others’ as well through energy healing. She has also studied Shamanism and became an Usui Reiki Master and Teacher.
Teaching virtually through the COVID Pandemic has changed the world of teaching instantaneously. I clearly remember the day that we were told on Thursday March 16, 2020 that we were going home, to take as much as we could that would be needed to teach virtually. We were told that we would not be able to return to the building for an amount of time. They were cleaning the building thoroughly.
For me personally I had two parents inside a nursing home so while being concerned and blocked off from physically seeing my parents I had to, like every single teacher, somehow learn to teach virtually. Every single teacher was being applauded at the time. The hours spent in courses just to maneuver Zoom/Google classroom alone were in the range of 100 plus hours including preparation of lessons, and how to effectively give lessons online.
I've taught middle school grades 5-8 for 9 years as a Reading Specialist. I’ve taught high school grades 9-12 for 1.5 years and was then moved to the elementary building. I really felt my strongest in the grades 1-3 for several years. I was asked to take a class of Kindergarten students to assist in remedial reading. After that I was asked to be the Kindergarten Reading Specialist working with 5-6 Kindergarten classrooms. I still assist throughout the building but mostly remain in the K-2 grades for assistance at this time. With that stated my knowledge of what is absolutely critical in ages 5-8 is very clear and that is knowledge of the alphabetic principle. Socialization skills also have to now be explicitly taught. We can not assume that they have been learning social skills because rightfully so these children may have been home, and indoors a good portion of time for protection which limits their natural observation, experiences with others, and problem solving skills.
I have an extremely unique perspective of what has happened before, during, and after the pandemic. I was able to continue working with many of the students that I was teaching during the year 2020 in Kindergarten year until the end of June but it was not as successful while we were all trying to learn how to “lift the program off the ground-virtually” so to speak.
The year 2020-2021 was unique for Kindergarten as these children hadn’t attended a pre-k (most of them) and were expected to learn “classroom behaviors” while being distracted with several different outside environmental factors. They simply weren’t designed to be “college style online learners”. The Kindergarten class that I saw in person, who only attended virtually the following year for first grade, and have returned to the building for second grade arrived with many social anxieties but quickly adapted to classroom routines. They seemed to have less anxiety and could “bounce back” quicker in learning to socialize and such than the newly arriving Kindergarten students, or newly arriving first grade students.The students that only attended virtual from kindergarten (for the first time) and returned back to the building for “in-person” classroom instruction had more difficulties settling into routine even with simple routines such as walking in a line in the hallway, or participating in instruction for 20 minutes with direct focus. Every action had to be explained and rationale given as if teaching social behaviors are now part of the curriculum. That’s not to say any student was in the wrong but they were not used to, and had not been in a social setting of returning to a building with over 800-900 people. It was overwhelming socially and overstimulating for some who had been in homes and not venturing out due to the pandemic. Understandably children were kept at home for safety. So all of the behaviors that children can learn naturally playing outside amongst each other, the socialization skills, the problem solving, etc.. have to be explicitly taught with verbal and visual direction. I recall meetings with all the teachers and the principal last year that we were losing instruction time because so many routines had to be explicitly demonstrated (socialization that is learned through life experiences or pre-k instruction). We agreed that teaching these behaviors is critical and that we may not get "as far in the curriculum we intend" and tried to figure out the new strategy to get them all the information they need in a shorter period of time.
During this time as well, students who would have been starting the process of receiving services because their child was in need was also not happening as fast as it would have been as COVID was still a threat. So home visits, or meetings or such did not take place or the process was slowed down as everything in the world slowed to a halt as well. These students who did not receive the meetings, calls, visits, help, placement, etc including speech or behavioral therapies did not happen yet. These students arrived at schools and teachers may have had to come up with new ways of managing to provide extra Reading, Speech, or Behavioral therapies while attempting the proper channels to get the much needed support for these individual students. Our school district braced for this by bringing in a team of counselors/specialists in addition to the staff we already had in place. We have counselors that make visits in the classrooms giving direct instruction to the classes focusing on social emotional learning.
As a Reading Specialist for the ages of 5-8 the most critical piece of learning is the knowledge of the alphabetic principle. They must know what the letter names are and the sounds they make. For these ages I jumped right in with a "echo approach" and went over the entire alphabet. I would point to the letter a and call out “a says /ă/”, “b says /b/”.. and complete the alphabet all the way to letter Z. Parents can do this one time a day as part of a routine every day like in the morning walking, or riding in the car, during breakfast, or even in the evening look at the alphabet touching each letter while doing this drill. I used to walk down the hallway with 5-7 year olds and randomly call out letters and say "x says..?" and they would respond with the sound /ks/. I would randomly say "what letter makes this sound /b/.. and they would know to yell the letter name "b". Then there are the Dolch sight words. These are the words that do not always follow the phonetic principle such as does, was, want, and these words are used in 50-50% of every sentence written on a page. The sooner they memorize these words the more helpful it is allowing them to spend that critical time on the more complicated spelling patterns and vowel teams. This same approach can be used on the consonant digraphs, closed syllable exceptions, welded sounds, and vowel teams when reaching the ages 7-8. For reading comprehension as we know parents often have very busy schedules they can encourage their kids to read books and discuss what they have learned with them. They can do paired reading with them where they can take turns reading pages and parents can give guided help on words that kids are just starting to learn. Practice in reading and discussion are extremely important to the development of the comprehension skills. It's not just about reading the actual words on the page it's also about understanding what they just read. The conversation with parents helps clarify that the child is understanding what they are reading hence the discussions. They can be very brief, just some interaction each day goes a long way.
Parents can take advantage of online programs as well that offer individualized practice for skills needed to develop education. I am a very big fan of the program IXL.com and lots of schools as well as our district are currently using it. Before our district had it, my son had it as a child from his school district years ago and it has skills in the grades k-12 on all subjects and practices hundreds of skills. Parents can also find online tutors which has become quite the norm for me. It's amazing what can be taught and learned virtually. It has completely transformed my way of life for sure so I'm quite sure parents can find an excellent tutor and life could be made a little easier rather than having to run and drop off and pick up a child or make bus arrangements. Nothing compares to direct one-to-one, in- person teaching in my opinion for so many reasons. However it wasn't a truly good option until the massive amount of technology and ability to teach virtually since the pandemic started.
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