We are teaching in a pandemic. I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience. I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person. Maybe it will help others too.
31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher
- Make it engaging (fun too!).
My goal early on in my virtual teaching was for kids to eagerly sign in to Zoom each morning. I had heard a story from a friend in the spring of last year. She had told me that every day starting at about 8:00, her daughter would start reminding her that she needed to sign in to school. She was a kindergartener, spending the spring of her first year as a student on a computer. But she was enjoying it! She would say, “Mom, remember to get my computer ready to go!” or, “Mom, Mr. S starts right at 9. Is it almost 9?” and, “Mom, I don’t want to miss the read aloud. It’s SOOOOO fun!” So when I started as a distance learning teacher this fall, I set this as my goal. I wanted kids to be begging their families to sign in every morning.
So…I had to find ways to make Zoom learning engaging. Not just fun, but fully engaging. I decided to start each day with a few minutes (5 or so) of open chat. Just saying hi. Just welcoming students to the day. Just checking in to see how everyone was doing. Just giving kids a chance to share something or ask a question. Just giving parents an opportunity to pop on if they needed something. Well they do share! Every morning, someone has a new tale to tell, a new toy to show, a new question they want to ask. It’s a nice way to start a day. We all look forward to it.
Then there is read aloud. I’ve always believed that read aloud may be THE most powerful way to build a learning community. When we share stories, we share so much of ourselves. We get to know each other, our likes and dislikes, our lenses, our identities, our passions. We learn from our characters. We enter the story, together, and experience the events side by side. When we read nonfiction, we learn about the world around us. When we read poetry, we laugh, cry, and pause together, taking in the power of words. So read aloud is a daily experience in my DL classroom. We have read picture books, chapter books, nonfiction texts, articles, and lots and lots of poetry. The kids are entranced….and highly engaged. Learning too, by the way.
I’ve also tried to build in some fun! Our time is precious and limited, so I am careful about prioritizing student learning above all else, but I want these children to have as much of what in person school offers as is possible through a computer screen. So we have Spirit Days (Crazy Hair Day, Comfy Clothes Day, Wear Your Favorite Color Day) and field trips (We’ve been to an apple orchard and we are heading to the International Space Station!). We have class parties and time for games and crafts. We have celebrated Valentines Day, the Winter Solstice, and The 100th Day of School. We have Free Time Fridays where kids can choose what they want to do for about 20 minutes at the end of the day (They sign in on Monday already talking with their friends about what they will choose to do during this time on Friday!).
And of course the experience of learning and feeling themselves grow stronger every day (academically, socially, and emotionally) is one of the most engaging experiences I can offer these children, these pioneers of distance learning.
I don’t know if my students start bothering their parents at 8:00 am to get ready for the day, but I do know that all of my students show up each day at 9:00, ready to tackle another day or learning.