When it came time to assign a teacher to teach all 31 children who opted for 100% remote learning in first grade at Broadalbin-Perth this year, Jill Becker didn’t hesitate to volunteer for the job. She’s a technologically savvy veteran teacher and she was up for the challenge. Similarly, long-time teacher Lisa Caughey volunteered to teach the 16 students who opted for 100% remote instruction in third grade this year.
So, what does a typical day look like for Mrs. Becker’s first grade class and Mrs. Caughey’s third grade class?
Becker and Caughey teach from their classrooms at Broadalbin-Perth Elementary School, where they use Google Meets to connect with their students each day. They are the only people in their classrooms, teaching to a camera on their computers to reach their students. The students’ camera streams are projected on a larger monitor for the teacher to see. Students log in between three and five times a day for scheduled lessons with their teachers and classmates. They also log on at other times for smaller group lessons or office hours to go over difficult concepts. In between sessions, the students are given independent work to complete on their own. Students are expected to maintain the same behaviors as they would in a normal classroom, including raising their hand before speaking and asking permission if they need to step away from the computer. If the teacher or student needs to show something to the class, they simply hold it up to the camera on the computer.
The teachers are able to see their students face-to-face two to three times a month — socially distanced and wearing masks, of course — when the students stop by the school for scheduled Friday pick-ups of remote learning materials.
Caughey says the Friday pick-up sessions have proven to be a very important part of building the teacher-student relationship.
“Those few minutes that we get to interact face-to-face each week are invaluable in terms of building connections with our students,” she said. “We’re almost two months into this school year and we’ve all gotten to know each other pretty well — but you just can’t replace an in-person encounter.”
Coming off of a hastily put-together remote learning model in the spring of 2020, both teachers admit they weren’t quite sure what to expect before the start of this school year.
“We knew that this would be different from the spring,” Becker said. “We had time to make sure it was a more cohesive approach, and we had the experiences of spring 2020 to learn from.”
Heading into this school year, teachers had time to research and incorporate the right technology for remote learning, with a better understanding of what methods work best for kids learning at home.
The entire elementary team that teaches remote students meet every few weeks and come up with specially themed Fridays to help keep their remote kids engaged. This past Friday, students were encouraged to wear their Halloween costumes in the car as they picked up their weekly learning materials. Future Friday themes include: ‘Silly Sock Day,’ ‘Red, White and Blue Day’ for Veteran’s day and ‘Wear Pink Day.’
One issue both teachers say is always at the forefront of their mind is the mental and social wellbeing of their students. Mrs. Caughey allows her students to log in a few minutes early so the kids can just chat with each other before they jump into that day’s lesson. “I try really hard to not cut conversations short on our Google meets,” Caughey said, noting that for some kids, this is the only social interaction they might have with people outside of their family every day.
“When kids are physically with you in the classroom, you learn their personalities quickly by observing how they interact with other students, with you as the teacher and overhearing conversations with their classmates,” Becker said. She said that the “getting to know you” process is definitely different with remote learning.”
Remote learning does bring its own set of challenges, like technological or internet issues where kids simply can’t log in on a given day. Both Caughey and Becker said that flexibility has been key to remote learning.
“Just like in a normal classroom setting, sometimes you have to be willing to throw the lesson plans out the window and work with what you have,” Caughey said.
She also noted that some days the kids find themselves in a conversation that is just as meaningful as what they’re learning that day, and whenever possible, “you have to give that time to play out organically.”