When Broadalbin-Perth families were asked to choose a learning model for their children for the 2020-21 school year, there were enough families who chose the 100% remote model for their pre-kindergartners to dedicate one of B-P’s five pre-k classrooms to the fully remote learning model. Amy Wurz was the teacher appointed for the task. After the school year began, some of those parents decided to switch to the in-person learning model, which meant that Wurz’s classroom evolved into a hybrid learning environment, with some students learning in the classroom and some students learning remotely from home.
Five months into the school year, Wurz says that the hybrid teaching experience has been one that has definitely kept her on her toes but also has allowed her to expand her toolkit of teaching techniques.
Wurz and her teaching assistant Melissa Perry have 18 students total — nine who are in-person and nine who are 100% remote. Her in-person students are in the classroom from 8:35 a.m. to 2 p.m. and, according to Wurz, are “non-stop all day.” She meets with her remote students via Google Meet twice a day and also sends them videos of herself or another teacher reading stories to them.
Having a teaching assistant in the room enables smaller group interaction with more focused instruction and personalized one-on-one time with students. While Wurz is teaching an ELA lesson to her remote students through Google Classroom, Perry is able to take another group to work on another subject, while a third small group does independent work at their desks. After a set amount of time, the three groups rotate their stations.
Wurz says her biggest teaching challenges this year are not being able to be as hands-on with her students as she would like, and allowing herself some grace, especially when things don’t go according to plan.
Wurz has had to learn how to make connections with her students through a computer screen, which she admits has required a different mindset.
“The pre-k classroom is traditionally a very tactile environment,” Wurz said. “At this age, kids don’t always have the words to express their feelings, so as teachers, we learn to pick up a lot from their body language. All of this is made more challenging through a computer screen, but it remains something we work on every day.”
Wurz has also noticed that her remote students are learning valuable technological skills, which she says is incredibly important as they explore their independence.
“The students have really surprised me with their amazing technology skills,” she said. “At just four years old, these kids all know how to log in and log off of their computers on their own and have no problem navigating the mute button to answer questions when they’re called on.”
The unexpected bonus, Wurz says, is the connection she has made with the parents of her remote students.
“I could not do remote teaching without the support of the parents,” she said. “I get to see and talk to them every day, and they can listen in on what I’m teaching and see how I’m teaching it so that they can continue working with their child at home.”
Wurz attributes some of that strong connection to the fact that she, too, is the parent of a pre-k student.
“As a parent, I can understand and appreciate the need for a consistent schedule and structure,” Wurz said. “My remote parents have a schedule they can follow at home with their child that allows them to simulate the experience of an in-person student. Nothing can replace the benefits of in-person learning, but we’ve really focused on giving our parents and students the necessary tools and resources to be successful at home.”