From Home Learning Packs to Online Lessons: Reaching Students During School Closings


Let’s take a moment to applaud educators and families who are working tirelessly to help students stay connected and continue to learn throughout these tumultuous times. 

Here are some emerging tips, suggestions, and ideas to support all those suddenly involved in distance learning.

First and foremost, let’s make sure to get the message out. . .



Deciding How To Reach Students Isn't Always Easy!

The digital divide is real, and it's affecting students now more than ever before. The following chart is designed to share some options, based upon availability of resources and technology, for connecting with students in this difficult time.

With all forms of communication, adhere to school and district policies. Factors involving some forms of communication may vary related to the students' age.

For instance, to text a message to kindergarten students, a teacher would most likely send the message to parents or guardians, who would read it to their children. 

For older students, there could be additional factors to consider. One possible solution: Copy all messages to a parent or guardian. 

  


A "Recipe" For Home Learning Packs

In the best of cases, home learning packs are not just about sending work to be completed.

Ideally, these packs are about staying connected, keeping kids engaged, offering activities, and sharing ideas.


Flexibility is the key word. 
It's about doing what we can with what we have. . .

Graphics Courtesy of Scrappin Doodles
  
  • To stay connected, consider offering a little glimpse into your personal life.
  • Mention good memories from earlier in the year and things you miss about your students. 
  • Provide reading material. Books can be ideal. Engaging reading passages also work well. 
  • Consider activities, such as math games, that can be played repeatedly.
  • Suggest activities using materials families are likely to have at home, such as coins.
Note: Fair does not always mean equal, and not every home learning pack has to be the same. Have a child you doubt has ever owned a high-quality, hard-cover book? Pop a copy of a special book, just for him or her, in that "care package." (For a kindergartner, this might be The Very Hungry Caterpillar. For a second grader, perhaps a Magic Tree House book??) 

A Tip for Creating A File Including Selected Pages From A Larger Resource


Using a PC and/or Windows Operating System:
1) Open the resource.
2) Click Print and select the pages you would like to include.
3) Under Printer, click the drop-down menu, and select the option for Print to PDF. 
4) Click Print. This will bring you to a prompt to name the new file. 
5) Print to this file and your document will be ready to use. 

Using a Mac:
See the directions in this post by Marsha McGuire at Differentiated Kindergarten. 


Now, for some emerging thoughts regarding web conferencing. . .

Video Conferencing: When It’s Available

In many ways, video conferencing is the next best thing to seeing students in person. It may be educators’ only chance to see their students’ faces and hear their voices. 

It’s essential, however, to be aware of privacy and security issues when using such a platform. 

Why? Sadly, there have been cases of "intruders" finding the links to meetings, and showing up - very much uninvited and not with the best of intentions. 

Adhere to your school's policy regarding which, if any, platforms to use.  Prepare to protect student privacy while web conferencing. 

In response to school closings, some video conferencing platforms are now offering free upgrades to school accounts.  These accounts may offer enhanced security features. Ask your provider about this! 

Note: Some platforms have recently released updates, focusing on both features and security. Make sure to download (or access) the latest version!

On many platforms, the student does not need to set up an account. In these instances, the teacher is the sole account holder. This allows educators a much greater degree of control over the interactions. 

Treat your video conference as you would treat a public event. Family members may very well be watching so they can stay up-to-date with lessons and continue to support their child's learning.

Protect Your Meeting Links and Invitations
  • Only provide the link to your meeting through a secure channel.
  • Communicate to students and parents that it is important to keep these links secure. 
  • Note: Do not use students’ full names.
  • Recommendation: Require a password to join each session.
If your school uses a secure Learning Management System, consider posting the link or invitation to your web conference within this system. 

Practice Using Account Settings and Security Options Before the Need Arises. 

Recommendation: Set up a meeting with one or more colleagues.  It can be great to see each other again!
 
Shared With Permission From Each Educator Shown
In this meeting, explore the security settings of the platform you are using, and consider  your stance on the following features and recommendations. 

Note: Unless your web conferencing platform allows you to authorize more than one session administrator, the person who initiates this session may have to share his or her screen so all participants can view these features as they will appear during class meetings.

Utilize a waiting room: This is a virtual spot for participants to wait until you start the meeting. In the waiting room, post a "sponge" or “bell-ringer” activity to introduce the lesson.

Even in the virtual classroom, the educator is responsible for monitoring interactions. By using a waiting room, you can assure that students are not “in the room” without you.

Know how to disable video and voice for an individual participant:  Find this feature and practice using it ahead of time. Imagine the situations for which this could come in handy. . .

Know How to Quickly Remove a Participant: Under settings or the control panel, there is likely an option to remove a participant. Find and practice using this feature. 

Consider Muting, Video, and Chat Permissions

One option: Start the meeting with everyone who joins muted, and with their video off. (Doing so can help minimize the risk of disruptions.)
  
Muting: I recently heard, “The mute button can be a teacher's best friend."  

At first, this statement bothered me. I loved the idea of being able to hear kids as they share thoughts, ask questions, etc. . .

On further consideration, I see the benefits of thoughtfully using the mute feature.  Students can not control the sound level within their homes. A student could be sitting right next to a crying baby, a loud vacuum cleaner, etc.

When all students are muted, except for when they are "called on," we avoid the potential embarrassment of muting a single child. We also minimize the likelihood of broadcasting conversations of family members who may be nearby.

Most platforms offer a "Raise Your Hand" feature. When a student clicks this button, you will see a raised hand (beside his or her picture if video is on).  Much like calling on a student in class, the teacher can unmute this student, allowing him or her to share or respond.

Video:  Recommendation – Always offer students the option to participate without utilizing the video option.

A student could simply feel camera shy, and be better able to focus knowing the camera is not upon him or her. 

It is possible that not all families want everyone in the class viewing the interior of their home. 

Consider: Seek permission from parents to have their child utilize the video feature. 


Graphics Courtesy of Scrappin Doodles


Chats: Some web conferencing platforms have an option for private chats. Left open, this could be a bit like sending notes during class.

Recommendation: Unless you are using this feature for a specific purpose, consider turning it off.

Screen sharing: Most platforms have an option to allow only the host to screen share. Consider whether, or not, this is the best option for a particular session. 

If you will be enabling students to share their screen, look for a question (within settings) such as: 

Who can start sharing when someone else is screen sharing? 

Recommendation: Set this to Host Only.

Note: Be open with your students about the features you have selected. Focus on the fact that, like in the classroom, you want to create a safe and welcoming environment.

Recording Lessons for Students to View Later 

Recommendation: Select the option that allows only the teacher to record the meeting.

In an effort to make lessons available to students, there is a natural tendency to want to record sessions and share these recordings with the class.  It’s important, however, to consider issues of student privacy in regards to this.

Emerging Best Practice: Record and share only what you, your school district, each of your students, and their families would be comfortable having posted publicly (keeping student privacy policies in mind). 

Avoid recording question and answer sessions. If a student were to  answer a question incorrectly, a recording could lead to embarrassment.

There is a fine line between a discussion involving questions and an informal assessment. Sharing video of an assessment would violate numerous policies. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

It can, absolutely, be beneficial to record and share segments of your teaching. However, it may be best to avoid recording portions of the lesson which include students' faces and voices.

Sharing Screenshots of a Web Conference

A screenshot of a group of students in a video conference can be beyond adorable. But, the current recommendation is to avoid sharing these photos. 

As with any guideline, there may be exceptions, based on permission from each family, as well as the school district. 

Hope For The Best, Prepare for the Worst: Virtual Fire Drills 

 
Graphics Courtesy of Scrappin Doodles


Even when teachers are adept at using security settings, there is a slim chance that an uninvited participant (a troll) could find a way to hack into a video conference. Here’s one thought. . .

Practice a Virtual Fire Drill.  Keep it light and non-threatening. Perhaps mention how this really is school, so we'll still have Fire Drills. (Certainly wouldn't want to stress kids!) 

Teach your students, if you see an unannounced stranger enter the 
room, exit the meeting immediately.

Instruct students to inform a trusted adult. In this case, have students tell their parent or guardian that this is a Virtual Fire Drill, for practice purposes only. 

Tip: Let families know ahead of time that you will be holding Virtual Fire Drills.

Have students practice several times, in a fashion similar to practicing a fire drill in a traditional setting. 

With security precautions in place, it is unlikely that an event such as this will occur during your class meeting.

However, students will be online in a wide variety of situations (beyond online education).

Teaching them now, in a supervised setting, what to do when an issue arises could help them prepare for other situations they may encounter in the future.  

As educators, we need support from one another, now more than ever.

It can be very helpful to meet with colleagues to discuss and explore security settings for the platform you will be using. 

Bonus: While you are chatting, perhaps take another look at options for dividing tasks. For instance: Could one teacher develop an online math lesson while another focuses on the ELA lesson and a third teacher prepares home learning packs for those students who will not be participating online?

A Final Thought, Regarding Equity:

Though educators are doing their best, not all students will have equitable experiences throughout these schools closings.

Consider whether plans could be put in place so that - after these closings - extra support can be provided to those students who were not fully able to access remote learning opportunities.

Thanks for reading! Stay well and best wishes throughout this tumultuous time.

P.S. - Here are a couple FREE resources for our youngest learners:


FREE Sink or Float Science Experiments: Ideal for Use During School Closures

Home Learning: Simple Text Messages for Kindergarten Math


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Create A File with Selected Pages from a Resource


Need to create a file including selected pages from a larger resource? 

Using a PC and/or Windows Operating System:

1) Open the resource.

2) Click Print and select the pages you would like to include.

3) Under Printer, click the drop-down menu, and select the option for Print to PDF.

The option that shows up for me is "Microsoft Print to PDF."  The wording is slightly different on various computer systems. 

4) Click Print.  This will bring you to a prompt to name the file.  

5) Print to this file and your document will be ready to use.

Using a Mac:

See the directions in this post by Marsha McGuire  at Differentiated Kindergarten. 


Need to combine a series of PDFs into a packet?  

1)  Search Merge PDF Free. There are several programs avaiable. 

2) Select and upload the files you would like to combine. These can include a cover sheet, an introductory letter, etc.  You can drag and drop files to change the order. 

3) Click Download

4) Open the merged file. Right click and select Rename.  Type in the name for your new file, and it's set to go. 

Best wishes throughout this tumultuous time!  Please reach out to me at Annegardner4@gmail.com if I can be of any help. 


P.S. - Here's a FREE set of Alphabet and Phonics Charts that may be useful for Kindergarten and First Grade students.






  
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More Time for Recess ≠ Reducing Instructional Time

Teachers know. . . Recess can support students' physical health, social skills, and ability to focus and learn.   

Two thirds of our children don't get enough exercise every week. This lack of activity contributes to a myriad of behavioral, health and academic problems.


In many districts, schedules are determined - in large part - by administrators. Often, time allocated for recess is sorely lacking. 

What will it take to bring a sufficient amount of recess back?


Could this work in your school - or does it spark other ideas that might work? 

Focus on the amount of time, per child, that is available for recess. This can be a very different mindset than scheduling by class.

While teachers conduct small group lessons, could it be beneficial for paraprofessionals to take some of the other kids out for recess (instead of supervising independent work)? 

The teacher would have a smaller group to supervise while working with reading and/or math groups.

If there is not currently a paraprofessional available, is it time to ask administrators to re-consider use of staff? The health and well-being of our students could depend on it!

In this scenario, a paraprofessional might take one half of the students in each of two classes out for recess, then return to take the other half. 

Some possible benefits:

No direct instructional time would be lost. 

It could be easier for the students in the classroom to focus (as there would be less distractions). 

Kids might be able to see friends from other classrooms. 

Would this have to be the only recess?  Absolutely not! Since instructional time would not be lost, the "other block" of recess could still take place. 

Before schedules are set for next year, let's brainstorm ways to increase recess for our students. If we can provide viable options, without significant cost or reduction to instructional time, I believe most administrators will buy in.  

Notes:
1) As with most educational issues, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This won't work in every school. (But, could it spark other ideas that might?)

2) To protect student privacy, the images included in this post are not taken on school playgrounds. They are pictures from my own camera roll, taken long ago. Feel free to pin or use them.  

3) I would love to hear your thoughts for increasing recess time for kids. By sharing your ideas below, you might help teachers and students in another location. . . 

Thanks for stopping by and taking time to read this post!

Sincerely, Anne Gardner (NBCT, Literacy)
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What Reading Levels ARE For and What They're NOT For

Sharing reading levels with parents has become a controversial issue.

My personal belief is that this is valuable information, as it can help parents select books their child will be most likely to experience success with.
As a parent, I always wanted access to any information that could be relevant to how I could support my child's learning!

This FREE Parent Handout clarifies what reading levels are, how they ARE meant to be used, and how they ARE NOT meant to be used.

After sharing such information with parents, I believe it's best to provide their child's reading level each time it is assessed. 

I hope you find this parent letter useful. I'd love to hear your thoughts on sharing reading levels with parents, if you'd care to comment!

Thanks, Anne Gardner (National Board Certified in Literacy)

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Ten Tiny Teaching Tips To Try Today


From the minute the kids arrive, to the time you get home at night, we've got some Tiny Teaching Tips That Can Make a BIG Difference! 


       

Help your kids feel seen, from the moment they enter the classroom in the morning!


1. Use Photos and Binder Clips to Make Movable Pieces! These can be used as kids sign in (attendance), or even to select their lunch choices. They are also handy to show whether someone is in the restroom or for playing pieces for board games. Another thought. . . Personalize magnets, like Kadeen does, and use them to display center rotations. The possibilities are virtually endless!       

Tips: If you don't have binder clips, send an email out to your fellow teachers to see if anyone has a box they can donate to you. There seem to be A LOT of these in school closets. Need photos? Ask parents to send one in. Then, just snap pictures of the kids who don't bring one. 

2. Project Digital Images: Many of us now have a way to project digital images. Ask parents to email you a digital copy of a couple favorite pictures to share. In the morning, have one on display! Pop another picture up after lunch or as kids get ready for the buses. Better yet, create a slide show that can run during these transition times!        

Note: Take pictures of those kids whose families don't send them in. (These may be the kids who most need help building a collection of photos!)

3. Help Kids Feel Seen in Math Class: When working with word problems, include students' names, along with their favorite topics. It can make the task so much more meaningful.
  
4. Have Some Pencil Top Erasers in Your Closet? I love how Karen Wasdin, from Laugh and Learn with Silly Sam, uses these for number line addition and subtraction!


From Karen: I give these little smiley erasers to my students for Addition and Subtraction Number Line Jumping practice. They stand up and stay securely on each number spot as students record their answers. I use them throughout the year as a little gift or treat. Like in a Valentine's Card! 

Karen offers tips on Number Line Addition and Subtraction, as well as FREE Number Lines to 20 here! 

5. Turn Flashcards into FUN Learning Tools! 
  
  
Flashcards sometimes get a bad rap. But, this blog post features simple and engaging ways for students to develop fluency with math facts while actively using flash cards.  
   
6. Build Stamina for Writing! Working with clothespins is one of the best ways to help kids build fine motor skills and strengthen those little hands! (The Dollar Store usually has bags of 50 clothespins for $1!)     
    
Use clothespins for building shapes. Get the free shape cards here. 

 Want to use clothespins for an ELA center? Write letters instead of numbers so kids can build sight words!

7. Who Doesn't Love a Scavenger Hunt?  I really want my kids to "see" how word study connects to reading favorite books. Here's a simple way to help kids understand those connections.
 
This girl went on a scavenger hunt to find words with a long vowel/silent e. Next, she read the page she had selected, stressing the highlighted words. Want to add in a little writing? Have kids list the words they find. 
 
Tip: These bingo chips are helpful in SO many ways! They are like tiny little treasures. One boy was feeling intimidated on the playground and was nervous about approaching an adult (which made it worse). Bingo chips to the rescue! I gave him a red bingo chip to keep in his pocket. If he was having a problem, he could hand the bingo chip to one of the adults. Then, they'd know to step away with him, give him their full attention, and work through the issue together. Once he knew what to do, things didn't bother him so much!

8. Tattle Trash - A Tip from Kadeen:  In a friend’s classroom, I saw this little trash can. I thought it was the cutest thing ever. Instead of tattling to her about the more insignificant things throughout the day, students write the issue down on a piece of paper and throw it in the bin. 

Make sure kids write their name on their paper, so when you look it over, you'll know who it is from.

9. Try Calming Music! From Kadeen: When it’s getting a bit loud, I love to put on some calming music to get everyone’s mind relaxed and settled. It could be the sound of raindrops or soft jazz music. Sometimes this makes kids a bit sleepy, but it’s a great alternative to me continually telling the whole class we are getting louder. I use this even during small group time. It’s so soft that it doesn’t get distracting and kids have told me that it helps them focus and concentrate. (You can see more teaching tips at Kadeen's blog.)

Speaking of calming music, I love this video - and it's a great review of 3D shapes! It features images of dancing people created from 3D blocks. Kids absolutely love to watch and chorally whisper the name of each shape as it appears while the people are being composed. 
For a quick brain break, kids can join in the calming dance movements of their favorite character. Finally, the blocks are sorted by shape.  We quickly point at each set and name the shape once again.  So simple and relaxing.  A great combination!
  
10. Communication Logs: A tip from Kadeen - Use communication logs in homework folders to keep track of your communication with parents. Parents send me quick little notes. I send them back quick little notes and reminders. Place a few sheets in each child’s folder and get the communication started right away. You will have a trail of your communication with parents. You can get the log for free here  


And A Parting Thought. . . When it's finally time to put your feet up, consider one of these Movies That Will Inspire Teachers.  Pat, from Growing Grade By Grade, offers a list of 35 recommendations. 



Here are just a few to get started: 
  1. Kindergarten Cop
  2. Freedom Writers
  3. The Miracle Worker
Now that's a task I could handle at night. . . If I could just stay awake!  


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Factors to Consider in Regards to Retention & Editable Parent Information Forms and Letters

I just read a Facebook post from a teacher stating: "This is the toughest time of year for Kindergarten teachers at our school. . .We have to meet with parents of students that may be retained in Kindergarten. . ."

She was seeking feedback to the following questions. I shared my thoughts on that post and decided to also share them here.

Please Note: This post does not advocate either for or against retention. It is designed solely to help teachers and parents through the process when retention is being considered. 

 What Is A Successful Retention? 

     A successful retention is one which gives the student time to mature and/or develop the academic skills needed for future success. This sheet is designed to help parents put retention into perspective. 
   
     A change of plans in not necessarily a bad thing. Taking time to re-calibrate before moving forward can lead to greater success in the long-run.

     This Parent Information Sheet is offered, for FREE, at my TpT Shop. You can download it by clicking here

   
Do you have to begin this process, actually using the word retention, this early?
 I think it's only fair to touch base with parents early on. It gives them the opportunity to think it over and prepare, and the chance to work with their child on areas of need if they feel being promoted to the next grade level is the best option for their child. (Working with their child on areas of need is more applicable in cases where academic skills are a driving factor. If maturity/general youngness is more the issue, that is a different situation.)

How do you determine which students may be retained?
 In considering the best grade level placement for the following year, I believe it's essential to look at the whole child.  Academics are a consideration. My school kept benchmark assessment results, so we could see how each child was progressing in relation to their peers and also in relation to grade level goals.
  
Your observations and notes are also essential! Does the child act young in comparison to the class?Also consider health issues - and whether an issue is likely to resolve - or whether there is a need to plan for the long-run. 
  
Please - Don't use being physically small as a consideration. . . Some kids will be 5 feet tall or under when they graduate from high school. It's not a matter of size!

What is the average number of students retained each year in your school?
 I have seen this vary through the years. There was a time at which retention was not an option at the school in which I taught. Now, a number of states have mandated third grade retention for students who aren't reading on grade level.

This is an individual decision, and truly should be treated as such. Focusing on the best interests of that particular child is always more important than considering the current trend, or where the pendulum is within its constant swing.

How do you tell parents, especially this early on?
First of all, I hope parents have already heard some of your concerns prior to this discussion.

As for how I approach the subject, I was lucky. . . I had waited a year before sending both of my own kids to school. They are grown now, and doing very well. So - I can tell parents the reasons I waited (related to time to mature, not rushing childhood, and letting them enjoy being young and carefree).  In our family, that definitely included playing in the mud, getting out in nature, long bike rides, enjoying stories each day, and lots of unstructured time. 

For the younger kids, I often mention to parents that - if the child continues with the current class and decides to go to college - he or she may well be living in a dorm at the age of seventeen.

It's essential to stress that this decision is, in no way, related to intelligence. Many of the kids who end up at the top of their class are actually among the older.

Over the years, I worked with a number of parents who struggled to make this decision - but, years later,  were thrilled that they had given their child the "gift of time." I approached a couple of these parents, and asked if they would be willing to chat with other parents in the process of making this decision. They were - and it was immensely helpful! (I'd highly recommend considering this.)

Always keep the focus on the fact that you want to work together, as a team, to do what's best for the child in the long-run. I have been known to start many sentences with, "If this was my son, I would consider. . . "

Talking With A Child About Retention: 
  
     It can be very difficult for a parent to talk to their son or daughter about retention. How a student responds to the news of retention can depend, in large part, on how the topic is presented to him or her. So, helping parents prepare for this conversation is important.
     It is always best if the child can ‘buy into’ the plan, realizing that everyone has his or her best interests in mind. Even young students know when they are struggling in school. If retention is presented with sensitivity, the child may actually be relieved to have the time to learn and grow.
This Parent Information Sheet is available, for FREE, at my Teachers pay Teachers shop. You can find it by clicking here.

I started out by creating the two parent information sheets shown above. But, this project soon seemed to take on a life of its own. I have since created a larger resource including the following resources:

Twelve Factors to Consider in Regards to Retention - This is a form for teachers, parents and child-study teams to use while considering retention. Over the years, I've found that using this form helps assure that all the important factors are discussed. 

Six Templates for Parent Letters for Use Throughout the Year - These fully editable templates are set up to systematically introduce and provide documentation regarding any concerns, starting early in the year. The letters in this series gradually introduce the possibility of retention, and continue through the notification of recommendation for either retention or promotion. 

This resource is now offered as an Editable PowerPoint, and is available for purchase here.

Funny Story: Years later, when my son was entering 8th grade, he randomly said, "If you didn't wait a year to send me to school, I'd be going into high school now." With fear in my heart, I asked if he wished he was going into high school that year. His answer was a resounding no.  Whew! 

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