Distance Learning with First Grade at St. Paul’s First in North Hollywood, California

Commission on Lutheran Schools asked Ms. Barbara Hartel a first grade teacher at St. Paul’s First in North Hollywood, California to share her distance teaching and learning experience.

March 13, 2020 was the start of a new concept for the country and for teaching.  The news came from the governor of the state of California, that all the state was to go into a stay at home order.  At 2:00 p.m. the teachers were told that the students would be sent home and may not be returning. We were to send home books and items that we thought the students would need if we were to be locked down for a while.  I quickly wrangled together some books and papers that I thought could get the distance learning started. That afternoon, we said goodbye and the children were gone from the classrooms.

During the next week, we teachers were encouraged to come up with some ideas of how to continue a quality education, help the parents to become teachers, and stay connected to the students.  I thought about what first graders needed. I know that with first grade a lot of learning takes place in this crucial year. The children would quickly fall behind if they were not taught the concepts.  I knew that I needed to come up with an idea to teach them from home. Parents are able to do the worksheets, but the concepts would need more lessons. The first week, I jumped in trying to send a few taped videos of myself teaching a concept.  I knew that my students needed visual clues, interaction, and review. This was not going to happen in a 30 second taped video. This was not going to teach them in the way that I wanted.

I decided that I should try to do this live with them. I am fortunate to have a small class of six students and that perhaps I could find a way to be with them all one on one. I was following the ideas on the WELS COVID-19 Facebook group and saw that some teachers were talking about Zoom, so I decided to check it out.  I asked the parents if they were interested in trying Zoom as a teaching option.

My first thought was to just meet over the lunch hour and let the children socialize.  However, I really wanted to actually teach with them.  So I came up with the idea of a morning and afternoon live classroom. I was able to capitalize on what my students already knew and did daily in our regular classroom. Throughout the year, I keep the classes very fluid, engaged, active, and use a lot of various avenues to teach the students. I decided to have a Bible and learning arts morning hour and a math and sciences afternoon each day.  The parents were all in. They would just have to set the children up on a computer/tablet device.

During the regular year, the children have weekly computer classes with me and they already knew how to navigate a computer and an ipad.  Both the children and parents also used Dojo, Spelling City, and other games during the beginning of first grade & last year in kindergarten. I knew the students would be able to do this. Not only were my students familiar, but also my parents used the Dojo app daily for quick text messages, sharing pictures and videos of daily events and lessons in the classroom. The students used the Portfolio pages to do some projects and share among themselves and parents every week in computer classes. Now with all this as my bank of resources, I was ready to begin live teaching. I had a Zoom meeting with parents to inform them of the new routine, discuss the new schedule, and practice with Zoom.

I went to my classroom and made up weekly packets of the papers, etc.  I put together everything needed for the next three weeks. The parents would now have all the pages, books, and magazines that the students would need to follow along with every class. Parents went and picked up the packets from the school.  I also made a packet for myself so I knew exactly what pages the students had in their possession.

On Monday, March 23rd, LIVE distance learning began. The students were SO very excited to see one another and they were able to talk amongst themselves for the first 20 minutes.  We shared what we had been doing, how we were feeling, and about what was going on in this new normal.  We had to learn how to take turns talking, raise our hands, and how to watch, interact, and learn in this new technology.

As the weeks went on, I became very good at using the screen sharing and whiteboard that are included with Zoom. I would use the whiteboard feature to type and write the concept as they were learning, exactly as if we were in class. I would ask for answers and then write on the board etc. I also got the app for my phone called CamScan. I could use this to photograph a page and send it to my computer where I could share the PDF of the page we were talking about use Zoom share screen. I purchased the professional Zoom and my class could go on for the full 90 minute sessions, both morning and afternoon, without being kicked off.

Was there something that made the transition to learning from home easier for students?

  • As I mentioned earlier, the students and parents were already familiar with many of the technological items I use during my regular year. This was a big advantage as this was already taught.  I added many more things over this home teaching, but it was easy to implement since we had a great base knowledge.

What has been the students’ favorite assignment over the past couple weeks?

  • I just had that vote on my Kahoots quiz this morning, Deskercize and Gardening are two of the top choices.  They also love Sharetime and Mystery Doug.
  • We have had a few dress theme days that were fun. Pajama Day and Star Wars on the May 4.

Any lessons learned or take-aways that would benefit other WELS educators?

  • Have a parent ZOOM night where they can practice the use of Zoom, Kahoots, and the various other things that the teacher will be sharing in class.
  • I send home a daily email after we close for the day.  It tells them everything we did both morning and afternoon along with the links to review at home.  Also includes the homework for the night and I write what we will be doing for the next day including all the papers the students will need, so parents can prepare the students workspace before the day’s classes begin in the morning.
  • I use Dojo text to send quick notes to parents, send photos that I took during class, and chat by individual messages to any one on one parents.

Any silver linings or unexpected benefits you or your students have experienced?

  • Many of the students have BLOSSOMED during this time as they are not distracted from the in class activities. I can mute them at will and cut off the video feed if they are not acting appropriately (within seconds they are invited back).
  • Children are really into technology and this was mostly fun for them.
  • After the first few days, parents left the room and the students are in their own office space.  The kids were very independent. If they got stuck, I sent them to go get their parents.  It is usually a quick fix.
  • Parents loved the fact that they could care for house, family, or their own jobs and I did the teaching. They did a minimal amount of homework each night, just as we did all year long.
  • I have reduced the amount of papers and work due to the remote classes, but I know the students are on task and on schedule and will be basically ready for next year.
  • I have the parents photograph and send the homework to me online. I correct and write back comments about where they need help and praise for their efforts. This way of correcting is tougher, but I only have six students. You could have them drop off packets to the school.

Final things to share?

  • Special projects I assigned included:
    • Recycling project – they invented and made at home, sharing the item online Zoom the next science class.
    • Covid-19 Time Capsule Book – They filled in a preprinted book that was returned to school that will be laminated into a keepsake book.
    • Dinosaur diorama and report that we do every year in relation to one of our reading stories. The children picked a dinosaur, researched it with parents by book or Google. We then used that information to write sentences and write a small report about our dinosaur. The parents and children also made a diorama with the habitat of their chosen dinosaur.
    • Gardeners mailed students seeds to plant at home.
  • Be sure to include the parents:
    • Evening Zoom nights or get-togethers.
    • Kahoot game for parent night.
    • Thank you cards, notes, and gifts, especially on Teacher Appreciation week.
    • Ask parents for suggestions or comments throughout the weeks.
    • Encourage the parents with God’s Word.
  • Grow and change with every day, subject, and activity.  Just like in your classroom, you have to be ready and willing to adapt and change.

Thank you for letting me share what I have learned that works for me and my class.  I am thankful that God has blessed me with a good class of students and parents. I am very thankful that during this time, my students continued to grow socially, emotionally, academically, technologically, and most importantly spiritually! Bless you and all teachers today and in the future.

In Christ,
Ms. Barbara Hartel

Encouragement and Reminders to All Teachers Especially Those with Special Ed Students

As we make efforts to lead in our congregations during a time of the unknown, we can start from a firm foundation of the known. We know the Lord through scriptures. We know his love through what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross and in his rising. We know he is all powerful, all knowing, and always present. We have certainty in uncertain times. Let this be the foundation we start from and the foundation that is at the heart of every interaction of our instruction through distance learning.

From this place we can give ourselves grace and patience. Every educator, from our first year teachers to our most experienced administrators, is being challenged at this time. The Lord has given us strength to meet each day with resilience and grace. Remember to take care of the body and mind that he has given you by pausing, breathing, naming our feelings and emotions as they arise (it’s okay to feel ups and downs, let them out by speaking the emotion), exercise, take breaks, and forgive yourselves and each other. Check in on each other. Remember the Lord created us to need human connection from the day we were born across our lifespan. Connection is healing at a time when we all need healing. We are in this together and together is how we will come through this.

Our students and their families will need us to share our peace, patience, and grace too. They feel the uncertainty of the space in their homes – they are more aware than we know. Often their human nature and brain’s reaction leads them to act out because they are hurting and confused inside. Help all adults take a deep breath before reacting, offering love instead. They are looking to see you because you are a vital part of their lives. As often as possible, have real back and forth interactions with them. We need it as much as they do.

Recommendations to Educators:
What is Distance Learning and what should it look like?
Distance Learning is learning for all students through access to appropriate educational materials and daily interaction with their teacher(s).

All Teachers

  • Create opportunities for students to connect to the Lord through time in the Word with you, their teachers, and the congregations (connect students to congregational opportunities through their classroom platform).
  • All teachers are still teaching to the best of their abilities.
  • Local school districts are doing distance learning. Follow suit and use them as a resource.
  • Document in your lesson plan book what you are offering for distance learning. Keep your own documentation and upload to the internal documentation link.
  • Ensure continued differentiated instruction for students who need it, especially as it pertains to distance learning.
  • Be mindful of the needs and circumstances of varying families: employment, mental health, socioeconomic, internet connectivity and technological hardware issues.

Special Education Students or Students with Accommodations

  • If a student is on a documented learning plan such as an IEP, ISP, 504 or Accommodation Plan, collaborate with the case manager or special education teacher responsible for that plan. Each district is leading their special educators to fulfill the documented plans with specific district policies. In most cases services will continue to be carried out to the extent possible through an addition to the IEP document called an Individual Distance Learning Plan (IDLP).
  • If a student is not being serviced through the local public school district, then plan to continue supports from their ISP or Accommodation Plan to the extent possible through distance learning.
  • It is not possible to replicate your classroom instruction or supports. Carry out the goals and objectives to the extent possible. Use the accommodations as they apply to distance learning, keep in mind confidentiality. Remember, any way our distance learning design communicates their disability to anyone other than the parent and the student it is a violation of FERPA. FERPA is a Federal law that protects a parent’s privacy interest in his or her child’s “education records.” [T]hose records, files, documents, and other materials, which (i) contain information directly related to a student; and (ii) are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a person acting for such agency or institution. 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(a)(4). “FERPA would generally prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child’s education records to other students in the classroom, as well as prohibit a teacher from disclosing information from a child’s education records to the parents of another child who might be observing the classroom,” as stated by LeRoy S. Rooker, Director, Family Policy Compliance Office. Consider a parent confidentiality consent agreement for e-learning and distance learning.

Words of Encouragement for Teachers Connecting with Parents During COVID-19

As we continue to navigate these uncharted waters relating to the impact of COVID-19 on all of us, it’s been amazing to see the lengths that teachers are going to support their students and to continue their learning. Moving to a distance learning/online learning format is new to so many. What a blessing technology is during this very difficult time. The opportunity to share information and learning with students is such a blessing. Not only can our students continue to learn, but they can have a piece of something familiar each day. As you continue to delve into this new way of doing school, here are a few things to keep in mind, especially when thinking of our student’s parents.

We’ve encouraged you to stay connected to your students. They are missing you and you are missing them. That connection through whatever means, gives them a lift and encouragement. But, don’t forget about the parents. As you know, our parents are under a great deal of stress right now. The ever-changing impact of COVID-19 can create a sense of insecurity and fear. Many of our families are working still, but many are not or will soon be without work. They are concerned about the impact on their families financially, emotionally, and certainly physically. On top of it all, they are now taking on the role of teacher for their child. For some, this is a wonderful way to give them structure for their days at home with their children. For others, this can be very overwhelming. Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • As you look to stay connected with your students, do the same with the parents. What questions might they have? What tips might you have that may be obvious to you but unknown to the parents? Encourage them to contact you with any questions they have. But also, be proactive in reaching out to them as well. Most parents have no background in teaching. They want to do what’s best for their child, but many are feeling unequipped to do so. How can you support and reassure them?
  • Keep your expectations realistic. We’d all like to think our students will be in the same place at the end of this year that they would have been if school had continued. But is that possible and is that wise? We want to encourage some structure each day and have goals. But we want to avoid expectations that contribute to the stress for the students and for their families. What is best for them in the long term? We always want to inspire children to love learning, even during all of this. Continue to ask how you can help meet an appropriate balance.
  • Great teachers meet students where they are. This fall, when school starts again, you’ll do what you do every fall—get to know your students and find ways to meet them where they are.
  • The resources that have become available in the last week alone are staggering! If a parent is looking at all of these, it can be overwhelming to make choices for their children. Social media can give the unintended pressure to be the super parent with all kinds of creative activities. Perhaps you can help them sort through and narrow down a few good resources to suggest.
  • Encourage parents in the benefits of things like cooking together, board games, daily walks together or other ways to keep moving, reading together, etc. There is great learning in all of these activities and many families have more time to do them. Your voice of encouragement can help them see the benefits of these.
  • For many, daily devotions are something new. But having that time each day to be reassured of God’s faithful promises is the greatest stress reliever. Give your families very simple ways to do so. Maybe share any daily classroom prayers that the children already know. Share one or two online devotions for children that you’re seeing and that you know to be sound.
  • Encourage parents to reach out to each other, especially if you know of a parent who may need encouragement from another parent. You can be the bridge.

At some point, we will look back at this time and reflect on all that happened. That day will come. In the meantime, we continue to be flexible and caring for each other. We look for ways to share Christ and his love with our students and their families. And we pray with confidence to our faithful God who keeps his promise to be with us in all things.

Cindi L. Holman
Coordinator, Early Childhood Ministries
WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools



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