May 21, 2020 | Abby Liu
Rebekah Lowe is one of the seven second and third grade teachers who teach the 56 second/third grade students. She shared with us her experience of distance learning.
The second and third grade classes use Seesaw as the main platform for distance learning. On this platform, Ms. Lowe and her fellow teachers post assignments and asynchronous video instruction. Second and third grade teachers collaborate on the lessons that are posted for the day. Students then respond through writing, drawing, or video. Each day, teachers upload a welcome video for their class and also math, Spanish, writing, reading, music, art, and physical education lessons. There’s also a worship video post where a teacher tells the Bible story and message for the day. And Ms. Mauldin, one of the music teachers, leads singing. Ms. Lowe enjoys the comfort and familiarity of daily worship. Although it isn’t the same as gathering in person, she finds that it’s a wonderful element of the school day that’s been well translated to the online environment.
When Mustard Seed School first began distance learning, Ms. Lowe didn’t immediately have the option of providing live classes. Once the school standardized on Zoom, the second and third grade teaching team slowly and steadily added class meetings, teacher office hours, and reading groups. Live interactions online provide opportunities for students and teachers to connect. Her class especially enjoys moments when they can share jokes and laugh together. Ms. Lowe savors the smiles! Her students also love to listen to a read aloud story at their closing meeting. The Swiss Family Robinson has been a particularly meaningful read aloud book during this time, with tales of a family marooned on an island.
As time has passed, Ms. Lowe has settled into a routine with distance learning. She’s learned how to be more effective in planning her lessons for the online environment and helping students be successful. Working together with the second and third grade teaching team has made the process easier because they share in the work. Together the teachers decide what elements of the curriculum are important to prioritize, and divide up teaching responsibilities.
One major unit of study that the teaching team adjusted for the online environment is the Global Expo. Typically, this is a project-based unit where students choose a country to study over many weeks. The culminating event is an evening with parents that celebrates student work with presentations, displays, and a shared meal of international foods. This year, Ms. Lowe and her colleagues created videos to model each component of the unit: researching a country and writing facts about it, creating an artifact, producing a reproduction of a famous piece of art, and drawing a map. Students practiced presenting online, and each had a day to share their learning with their class. While some students were sad not to have the in-person Global Expo evening, Ms. Lowe says that teachers did the best they could to make the project deep and meaningful. And the end results were quite beautiful.
Distance learning has its challenges. For Ms. Lowe, it’s been hard to not be able to help students immediately, as she would in the classroom. She misses stopping by a student’s desk and working together to solve a problem the moment that it presents itself. She misses seeing her students’ faces in real life. Her students express sadness at not being able to celebrate their birthdays together or experience the end of year celebrations. They worry about what school will be like next year when they move up to the next grade. Ms. Lowe reassures them that it will be okay. That the school community will still celebrate their work this year. And that next year their teachers will teach them everything that they need to know. Ms. Lowe hopes to provide students with a sense of peace.
Distance learning has also brought some pleasant surprises. For example, Ms. Lowe has been surprised at the level of independence her young students have been able to achieve. They often complete their assignments with minimal parent involvement. She’s also amazed at her own ability to learn so many new technologies and adapt to a new way of teaching in such a short period of time.
If she could tell parents anything, it would be this: that she sees their care for their children and their learning. She’s grateful for the way that parents have been balancing so many aspects of life during a difficult time. For their helpful feedback that has shaped the distance learning program. More than anything, she wishes that she could be there in the room with their children, teaching them.
In fact, her hope for next year is this: that she will greet her students in person in the classroom. That she will see their faces. Welcome them. And build a safe, strong, and beautiful learning environment. She recognizes that some aspects of school might be different next year. Still, she hopes that the school community can be together again, in person.