Episode 1 – The distance learning opportunity
Welcome to The Teacher Mama podcast and website! I am Roberta Kightlinger; and I am an educator, a wife, and a mama. Welcome. Explore, like, comment, and reach out with questions. I feel like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of all of my pre-COVID19 plans and expectations. Life is different. But I am stronger. I am empowered. I am excited for this next season.
Welcome to episode number one! And I couldn’t be more excited, I really couldn’t. I have been talking about this for a while. And I am just so excited to get started. So the sound quality will get better over the course of the next couple of episodes. I will get a better microphone. But for right now, I am working with what I’ve got. So just give me a little bit of grace as I work on figuring all of this out.
So! Episode 1, we find ourselves in September of 2020. But let’s rewind for a moment to March of 2020. I was teaching Kindergarten when we needed to shift our normal teaching model to distance learning. From the very beginning of our journey with distance learning I have had one pretty fairly simple viewpoint. We have an amazingly unique opportunity to differentiate learning and to build community unlike anything we have been able to do before. I believe we have a unique opportunity to individualize learning in a way we have never been able to do before. We have the opportunity to teach each student exactly what they need. And that is powerful.
Right away in March, I told myself and my families: I am here to make this easier for you, not harder. Talk with me, reflect with me and help me make this a positive experience. Did I think my choice to view distance learning in this way was going to make my life easier? No. But it was right. But as author and activist Glennon Doyle says, “I can do hard things.” And I will continue to do hard things, as long as I think what I am doing is right and best for our students, for our kids.
I am going to take a moment to share with you how I navigated distance learning and some of the lessons I learned to help make this new season possible. My families and I worked together to find a method of learning that worked best for their child and family situation. We worked together to find what worked. We found that virtual learning can be powerful.
We did one-on-one virtual chat lessons daily. We used Zoom. Because there is just a lot we can do with zoom. Those lessons were 30 minutes. So those 30 minute lesson times would be split-up. And I would teach, for example, maybe 15 minutes of reading type lessons, and 15 minutes of math. And then Fridays we would do maybe science that went along with some of the topics we talked about during the week. But it would always connect with what we were learning in math or reading in some way.
Those 30 minutes were incredibly powerful, because it was unbelievable to me, how much I could get done with a student – how much we could learn together- in just a 30 minute chunk of time. We would go through an entire days worth of lessons in 30 minutes. And that is Direct instruction lessons, of course. That brings me to my next point.
We had 30 minute lessons. They were incredibly intentional, and I will talk about that in a minute. But then beyond those 30 minute virtual lessons, we also encouraged learning beyond those video lessons. And I provided a choice board for families. So there was a list of many different things they could do. And a lot of them were fairly open-ended. Like: read a book. Or practice writing your name. Or write a story. And for some kids writing a story would mean drawing a picture and telling someone about it. Or have your child notice different shapes around your house as you set the table. Or go on a walk and what kind of shapes do you see when you are out and about? Or how many trees can you count? Or have your child play with legos and then have them count how many legos they used to create something. And then graph the number of colors they used.
So there were a lot of different options, and they changed weekly in small ways. So then on the choice board we used the app SeeSaw. So I would post the choice board for the week and then every day prompt family and students to share with me what they chose to do. So I would say, “Here is a big list. Choose 2 or 3 things. Plus reading.” Reading was something that was mandatory every day, they didn’t get the choice. So, every day you are reading and then choose a couple of things to do from our choice board. And then let me know what you choose every day.
I mentioned earlier I had to be really intentional with the lessons. And I am going to explain what that means. So, that opportunity I was talking about. We have such an opportunity to differentiate learning. And that is what I really strived to do.
I’ll provide an example of what I mean when I say I was intentional with lessons based on individual needs. Let’s say I had four students and we will focus on math. Student one needed to work on counting to 20 without error. Student two needed to work on counting sets of objects without error. Student three was what we considered to be “on grade-level” and was working on adding and subtracting. Student four had mastered all of the kindergarten math standards and was being challenged with first grade math.
All four students learned and grew so much during our time virtually learning. What amazed me and excited me was the amount of growth I saw in the first two students. Re-teaching the areas on the math continuum where they had some gaps in their learning was a powerful opportunity. These students had fifteen minutes of devoted time with a highly qualified teacher practicing and expanding their math skills.
By the end of kindergarten, student one could not only count to 20 without error; but also: count to 100 without error, count sets of objects, subtilize (I just love this concept), and add and subtract within 10. Student two caught up as well. Both students were considered “on-grade level” by their last day of kindergarten.
These students and their families inspire me. I believe every child deserves to reach their full potential. Working alongside parents and other caregivers to create a learning plan for their child was unlike anything I had ever experienced. We built a community that built each other up and offered support during an incredibly difficult time. This community didn’t break apart on the last day of kindergarten, we are still going strong. I know these families are there for me and I hope they know I am here for them.
I miss seeing my students face to face. But I am also excited to build a bigger community. A community working together to make learning fun. Make learning more enjoyable and less stressful.
This season has taught me to be flexible. Has taught me how to adapt, modify, and adapt again. But change doesn’t mean less. In my mind I imagine a forest. At the other end of this forest is a sunny beach. Summer, calling our names. The next grade level calling our students names. A shining and brilliant future calling our names. Directly in front of me is the well-worn path. This path has been paved, and re-paved. I can see cracks in the pavement, but I can also see the glimmer of the water on the other side. In March, a pretty large tree fell over this path making it impossible the journey pretty dangerous to continue in the same way. We had to veer off the paved path and into the dense forrest. Sometimes I had to duck and dodge. Sometimes I walked on smooth ground. Sometimes I stumbled. But I never fell. We still made it to the sunny beach on the other side. We didn’t need to use the paved path to get to the same destination.
Join me in viewing this next season as an opportunity. We can do hard things. We will do hard things. And we will wear down a new path, making it easier for everyone behind us.
Thanks for reading!
So this all really inspired me to create The Teacher Mama. And so what The Teacher Mama is going to do is provide virtual tutoring for young learners. And what I mean by young learners is kids that are in preschool all the way through 5th grade. So if your child is struggling in either reading or math, this is the perfect place for them to be. Connect with me to get more information on pricing and options.