Tips for Teachers and Classroom Resources

Following up with Tabitha, “Teaching from home.”

By The SHARE Team

Editor’s noteLearning 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.

Tabitha, our first return guest, walks us through the learning packet she recently received from her kids’ school and how parents in similar situations may supplement such resources schools across the country are sending home.


Click or tap here to see the full transcript.

Patrick: Welcome to Learning in the Time of Coronavirus. I’m Patrick York, Head of Learning Design for 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 a return guest – our first – Tabitha Wiedower, who is a senior instructional designer and also an at-home teacher now that her schools Decatur have been closed indefinitely.

Welcome back, Tab.

Tabitha: Thanks! So, yesterday we picked up our student packet. And you can see it’s pretty thin overall. When I go through it, the first assignment is on homophones.

Patrick: Can you please describe to me what that packet is?

Tabitha: It’s a packet of learning [materials]. I’m not sure if this is supposed to be something we pick up every week. I would imagine no. So I’m uncertain about whether or not this packet is to get us through the rest of the year or just the rest of the week. I don’t really understand exactly what the purpose of the packet is. I don’t really know. I don’t know if it’s supposed to give parents an idea of where the students are and what they’re supposed to be learning at school. The packets are also optional, which I did appreciate because not every parent is going to know what to do with these packets.

The packet includes an activity on homophones. And it has something for “Reader’s Theater.” I have about four or five book summary pages where.. actually it’s more than that; it’s on both sides. On the book summary, [the students] would put the title of the book and then a summary of the pages read; any keywords. This is more like a reading log, so I would think that students can use any paper for the reading log, and you don’t necessarily need to use this from the packet.

Patrick: Got you. To clarify, this packet is something that was provided by your school and it’s not really clear for how long a period [the packet] is supposed to apply, and if you’re going to get one in the near future. And it seems to be a collection of mostly handouts?

Tabitha: It is handouts. Now, there is one that has prompts; eight writing prompts. You would give the student or child a prompt to sit down and write. One example: Write about a time when you were able to be helpful to someone else. This might help some parents think to themselves, “Okay, it’s that easy. All I do is tell them to write about something and they write about it.”

And then the back is three pages of math. I did appreciate the math because of what I’m currently doing. But before I go into what it is I am currently doing, which is my mini-school where I have my students here so I can give them two and a half hours of core content instruction, I think [the packet] would have been much better if [the school] included some manipulatives. And what I mean by manipulatives are dice, a deck of cards, counters, a dry erase board with a dry erase marker.

Patrick: .. physical objects that people can..

Tabitha: Physical things! Whatever the teachers have that they use on a daily basis – those items would ideally go home. Not very many families, I would think, are going to be familiar with what they could use. It has made me consider, if our city goes on a full lockdown, where you have to, what do they call it.. you just stay in place…

Patrick: Shelter-in-place.

Tabitha: Yes, yes, shelter-in-place. If that happens, I’m thinking if I want to use Zoom, because they’re not stopping you from recordings beyond 40 minutes at the moment, if I use Zoom to teach the group of students, really thinking beyond their technological needs. Of course, everybody needs to have access to a computer, but what else is important? I think they need to have a quiet spot, and they need to be ready. That means that when I begin my lesson on math, if I need [the students] to use counters for a ten frame, what else could I have them do? Well, I could provide a ten frame – printable, so that the parents could print out – or, if they had a dry erase board, they could draw one. You know, I have to think beyond what you have in the classroom and how you could adapt it if needed at home.

Patrick: I think it should be said that, in every state, in every county, maybe in every city, they have different regulations or recommendations for how many people should be gathering together for these situations, educational or otherwise. In my county, San Bernardino County in southern California, they have encouraged everyone to stop gathering in any amount of people. So the likelihood of getting people together in a physical space is becoming less and less likely. And it sounds like what you’re describing in getting set up for digital learning experiences, with sometimes very young kids, requires people to think about the situation their learners are in; and to think about ways to provide physical, as you call them, manipulatives for learning.

Tabitha: That’s right. And there are so many things that people have in their homes that can be used for manipulatives. You can use beans or little grains of rice. Those could stand in for counters. If [families] have a regular deck of cards at their homes, you could use those. Ideally, since the school did have parents come and pick up a packet, that would’ve been a great opportunity for them to also have you pick up some manipulatives so that you have those [supplies] readily available when you’re home.

Not everything can be taught using apps and websites. A lot can be done, but really, even with that, you would need some guidance. You need some sort of facilitation. If I have a lesson where we’re going to read together, I might just go to YouTube because YouTube has almost every book. Every children’s book has already been read by somebody. Or they use a projector that shows the pages. Or they use some other tool so it’s very easy for students to follow along. So I would probably begin a lesson with a book that I don’t even need to own because I could just use YouTube. Half the students could watch that, and I could pause and bring the camera back to me and try to make those special connections that you do in guided reading.

Patrick: The pattern I’m seeing here is that, regardless of the materials that you’re using, what’s really important is to make a connection with your learners.

Tabitha: Yea, I think the most important ingredient here is the teacher. You really need somebody that can communicate with the students in a way that the students understand. And someone who understands the value of sequencing a lesson, you know. Just giving somebody a stack of papers or pointing to a bookshelf, or saying, “Hey, go jump on Compass Learning, or Epic, or Brain Pop..” that’s not enough. That’s just not enough guidance. You really need to plan the entire lesson, which can include all of those pieces, but it has to be sequenced in a way so the students will actually learn. Because there’s no value in it if they’re not learning.

Patrick: And for those of you who don’t know where to start, Tabitha has put together an example curriculum she’s using with her students that can be used both physically in places where people are still gathering, or digitally where people are not gathering.

On another topic, Tabitha, in a previous conversation, you had mentioned that your husband found a creative place for manipulatives i.e. dice?

Tabitha: Oh! Yes.. Dungeons and Dragons! I did not have enough dice for my students because I have five – including my own child – five second-graders. And one of the things I noticed on the first day we were together is that they really need to strengthen their fluency with addition. One of the best ways to do that is with dice. You just roll the dice and they add the numbers together. But, of course, once you go beyond 12, you need to add a third dice. Well, enter the Dungeons and Dragons dice that’ll really help me with that [need]. So they can have one of these [dice] that counts up to 15.. 15 or 16; and then another die that counts up to six. And now they can work on their addition while playing games. There are solutions.

I think that it’s useful for instructors to provide a high-level lesson plan. It doesn’t need to include all of the state standards, or the Common Core standards. It doesn’t need to be overly complex because your audience is now the adults, because you’re expecting the adults to facilitate the learning. It really seems like the only way, to me. So provide some lessons that are easy to follow so that [the adults] understand and the adult can look at this and say, “Oh, I need dice, but the teacher recommended these other alternatives.” You can download apps where you’d hit the button and it rolls the dice for you. So there are lots of workarounds using technology, but also using the materials available to you in your home, that will make the learning palatable for the parents and fun for the kids.

That last bit is probably one of the most important things to consider when you’re working with your children at home. It really needs to be fun. If it’s not fun, you will have a lot battles. See if it’s possible to keep things engaging, because a parent teaching a child is often a struggle in and of itself. If you’ve ever worked with your child on their homework, it only takes a couple of minutes before everything shuts down, hahaha. And the kid says, “No! You don’t know what’s going on.” I think whatever you can do to put the parent at ease, but also include something that is engaging; something that’s physical. Let the kids have the freedom that being home allows. If they learn best sitting in a special chair, let them sit in the special chair.

Patrick: Sure. So in a time when schools and some districts are sending home resources, it’s important to remember that learning has to be fun; that parents who are teaching their children at home need to think creatively, use the materials around their homes, and really explore what’s available on the web because, now more than ever, there are tons and tons of resources for people to use creatively. And it is essential to connect with your learners, whether they’re your children or you’re communicating digitally with other learners.

Thanks for the guidance today, Tab. I’m sure we’ll talk again before too long.

Tabitha: Alright, thanks!

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