Teaching from home: “You have to have some adult facilitation.”
Editor’s note: Learning in the Time of Coronavirus is a multi-part video interview series where, in each episode, we interview folks with a unique perspective on how Covid-19 is affecting education across the world – and how we can keep learning in spite of it.
In this episode, we talk to Tabitha Wiedower, At-Home Teacher / Instructional Designer, who has two kids whose school has been shut down indefinitely. She’s using her experience and resources as a teacher to provide continuing education for the kids in her community. She shares some insight and resources with us to help parents in similar situations.
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Patrick: Welcome to Learning in the Time of Coronavirus. I’m Patrick York, Head of Learning Design at SHARE professional learning. In each episode, we interview folks with a unique perspective on how Covid-19 is affecting education across the world – and how we can keep learning in spite of it.
My guest today is Tabitha Wiedower, an instructional designer, former teacher, and mother of two living in Decatur, Georgia.
You’ve had a unique experience, Tabitha, with the coronavirus’ impact on your local community. Do you want to tell us what’s been going on?
Tabitha: Sure. So, our schools shut down on Friday, March 13th.. indefinitely. And it’s pretty clear that [the school] did not have anything in place to begin teaching virtually. So their goal is to put together some tangible resources, at least for my second grader – she’ll have some resources that I can pick up from the school tomorrow. But I’m anticipating a lot of worksheets, and maybe some manipulatives.. but I’m not really counting on it.
The other information that has been shared across the board with my school system and others – they’re sending you to a lot of websites: Compass Learning, Razz Kids, Epic… These are really, really wonderful resources, but if you have worked in education, most of these, [materials], you’ll see after about twenty minutes [that] kids start to lose interest. And if it’s their primary source of education each day, I just don’t really see that as being very sustainable especially as far as what they’re going to be able to retain. Are they actually learning?
For me, my biggest fear is the kids not have any sense of normalcy. They need some level of structure. And almost all lessons, especially for K-5, you have to have some sort of adult facilitation. You know, it’s not something where you can just hand them a book and say, “You need to go sit down and read this on your own for the next half hour.” It’s going to be so much more powerful and meaningful if you can do something like guided reading where you sit down and have a conversation with the child, and say, “What do you think the author was trying to tell us with this story?” Or, “How do you think the character really changed from the beginning of the story to the middle? I noticed the problem in this story involved his entire family. How did the main character solve that problem?” So, those kinds of connections, you can’t really get by handing somebody a story and saying, “Here, read this.”
Now, granted, there are lots of ways you could do this. You could create YouTube videos where you walk students through a text and you stop; and think; and question; and you could have a conversation with students just like I did a second ago. So it could be effective. And then to ramp it up and make it even more valuable would be this kind of a conversation like what we’re having now – where I am looking at you and you’re looking at me, and I could pull out a book and I could start reading it. There are lots of sources online where you could actually flip the pages of the book. So if I could do that and share the book with you so that we’re reading together, or if I utilize a resource and then within Zoom or some other videoconferencing tool [where] I could show things. You know, kind of like what we do with our school systems that we work with; our partner universities; how we encourage them to bring the classroom alive for virtual learning.
Patrick: So you had mentioned that one of the challenges that you’re facing right now is creating a sense of normalcy for your kids. And in the previous conversation, you mentioned you were also trying to continue learning for some of the other kids in your community. What are some of the things you’re trying to do to create that sense of normalcy for the people that you’re educating?
Tabitha: Okay, so there are a lot of parents that need to continue working. I did notice that this is kind of happening in phases. First, anybody who could work remotely was encouraged to begin doing that right away. And then shortly after that, now the kids are all home. So, now you’ve got a lot of parents that realize, “Hey, I can do this. I can work from home.” But now they have all of their children at home. And that is my situation. And, for lots of people around me, it’s also their situation.
Right now, we do not have an official lockdown. And it’s been said that we’re limited to ten people. So I invited five other second-grade-aged kids to come to my home, and we have a classroom. Of course, I wipe everything down beforehand, and we follow all of our safety practices to limit the germs that are spreading. I can actually show you briefly – I have created as much of a classroom setting as I can.
I was working with students this morning on number stories. (Sorry about my dog, hahaha!) I was working students on number stories, and we also read a book called “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs.” It’s from the perspective of the Wolf; you know, he’s the victim. After we read the story, we talked about plot, setting, character; and the students started working together to write their own fractured fairy tale. And so my goal is, each day, we will work together on reading lessons that are fun because readers’ theater is a lot of fun. They get to act it out; they get to create a set. They get to do things that are very interactive. My goal is to make this as fun as I possibly can but also educational so that they at least feel like they’ve walked into a school setting.
And this only goes on for two hours each day. The tradeoff with the other parents is, I will teach your students, your children – I will teach them reading, writing, and numbers and operations for math because that’s a skill that is best scaffolded regularly every year. I’m doing that, and the trade is that each day, one of the parents takes the entire group of kids back to their house, and then I pick up my children between 4 and 5 [in the afternoon]. It’s a win-win for everybody. They’re getting 10 hours of very small group, very content-focused learning. And then once these packets come home, they can be considered enrichment [the parents] can be doing with their children, but [the parents] wouldn’t feel like [the education] all falls on them. Teaching is not something that most people are able to just snap their fingers and understand the process of teaching. Whereas for me, because I was an educator, I still remember it and I still consider myself an educator. So I’m actually having fun doing it. And I think the kids really had a good time today as well.
Patrick: Yea, so it sounds like, if I could distill it into a couple of points… To create a sense of normalcy, you’re keeping it interactive. You’re interacting with the students in more ways than just handing them a book and telling them to go read it. You’re making it fun so that they feel engaged and that they’re as excited as you are about the opportunity to learn despite the disruption. And then the third, it seems like you’re creating a sort of quasi-classroom environment so that they’re walking into a place of learning.
Tabitha: That’s right. And there are some apps that are really fantastic that I’m utilizing. One is called “GoNoodle.” And GoNoodle is fantastic, I highly recommend it for everybody. It has meditation, recess, dancing… It’s really, really fun! And they’re only about three or four minutes for the most part. They do have some for, if you wanted to replace PE, they do have some that are 30 minutes. It’s a great way to get the kids up and moving. And we didn’t use it today, but I’m sure we’ll use it when I am in need of letting the kids get their wiggles out because they sat still for about 45 minutes before I had them do an activity. Normally, that’s a long time. And I think that’s another thing parents might not recognize – the younger the child, the shorter the one-on-one learning session should be. You would only have focused mini-lessons for about 15 minutes before you allow them to move around.
Another recommendation is to let your kids lay on the floor if they’re doing writing. Whatever makes them comfortable. Don’t try to treat it like a classroom setting. You don’t want to confine them in any way. You want to make it relaxing and comfortable for them.
Patrick: Sure. Would you feel comfortable sharing some of the resources you talked about? I can just post them onto the site so that other parents or teachers can access them.
Tabitha: Yes! I can share everything I’ve created so far. Right now, I have a pretty big set of files, so you might want to go through them and decide what works. But yes, I’m happy to share anything that I have!
Patrick: Great. Well, thanks for your time. I’m sure we’ll be talking to you very soon.
Tabitha: Alright, thanks.
Learning in the Time of Coronavirus
See all of our interviews from the Learning in the Time of Coronavirus video interview series:
- Research tells you one thing, your emotions tell you something different
- Teaching from home: “You have to have some adult facilitation.”
- Turn off the news!
- How do I capture the presence of my classroom, online?
- Following up with Tabitha, “Teaching from home.”
- Education is changing. How am I going to change with it?
- Staying Resilient: The Simple Pleasures
- Across Borders: A Multi-Cultural Perspective on Responses to COVID-19
- Keeping Up the Routine for Kindergarteners
- Making Social-Emotional Learning Tangible for Students — At a Distance
- How Instructional Design Can Help Us Teach Online
- Creating "Caroline Conquers Her Corona Fears"