A month ago, schools across the country shut down and teachers prepared themselves and their students for eLearning. Many teachers and school leaders across the country scrambled to find resources to support their students. During this transition, Brigid Krause, a third-grade teacher at Community of Saints Regional Catholic School in West St. Paul, Minnesota, was concerned with acknowledging her students' needs while recreating her classroom community in an online setting. She followed a set of simple teaching practices to guide her transition to eLearning.
"Every morning, I send my students a morning message using ClassDojo." Brigid makes sure to have the morning message posted by 8 a.m. for her students to start their day. "It is exactly what I'd do in the classroom. My students would come in and start their day reading a message from me." She also includes instructions for students and parents to complete assignments for the day. The pdfs Brigid shares with her students and families are in the same format each day, so they are easy to follow. Brigid also uses Seesaw, which allows her students to easily communicate with her about assignments.
Brigid regularly communicates with her families and coordinates with her principal, Briget Kramer, for her messages to families. "Briget gives us a video to share so the kids can see her face and hear her voice, too."
During this pandemic, at best students are experiencing an extreme disruption to their daily routines. At worst, students might be experiencing this as traumatic. Research on trauma-informed instruction suggests that teachers should create environments of "safety and consistency." Creating safe and consistent environments is tricky during mandatory eLearning. However, Brigid has found ways to create consistency for her students and families. On Mondays, she hosts a morning meeting to bring her whole class together to start the week as a group. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, she holds a read-aloud session right after lunch. "It's just like what we would in our class." (They're reading Flora and Ulysses).
She has also created ways for her students to celebrate Fun Friday. "Their favorite thing that we would do at the end of the week was always Fun Friday. And they just had free time. The goal was that you earn Fun Friday for having all your work done." Brigid decided to continue the Fun Friday tradition even though her students were apart. So, each Friday afternoon, Brigid facilitates a zoom meeting with her students to celebrate the end of the week and enjoy each other's company.
Finally, Brigid has worked hard to be adaptable to the needs of her students and their families. Within the first week of eLearning, Brigid realized that her students and families were getting frustrated with Google Classroom because "typing was taking too long." So Brigid adapted her eLearning to include Seesaw. Seesaw has been particularly beneficial when Brigid is working on math in small groups. She adapted lessons to allow students to choose how they show their work: pen and paper or an option on Seesaw. She noted that this small change increased her students' engagement during zoom meetings.
Brigid also adapted her classroom community by how she groups her students during small group instruction. Usually, Brigid groups students by ability. But for eLearning, she grouped students based on parent availability. "I figured it was more important [to group students this way] so if a parent had to work in the afternoon they can [join a zoom group] in the morning so that they could help their kids get on." And, "if they missed one of their zoom calls, [students] can come to any of the other ones throughout the day."
Instead of grouping students by academic ability, Brigid adapted her classroom to meet the needs of her parents. As a result, she has had strong attendance for her small groups.
Brigid is a model for any teacher who seeks to foster a classroom community during eLearning. She says that "we all know that technology isn't replacing our classroom community; it's just connecting us from afar... It doesn't matter if a student is curled up working in our reading corner, or sitting at their kitchen counter at home, they're able to continue their learning and feel connected to me and their classmates."
Are you doing something innovative to foster a classroom community during eLearning? Please share a comment below!