By Susan Bush
Rocco, Marissa, and Briar are at home from second grade these days but at 10 a.m. on school days, Clarksburg (MA) Elementary School teacher Colette Klein brings some school day normalcy to them and participating classmates. Klein is hosting online morning meetings, and her students are logging on and chiming in with snippets of their days spent away from their small town school.
“I like it,” Rocco said. “You get to hear what the other kids say.”
“We get to see each other,” Marissa said.
“It’s fun that we can see what people are doing,” Briar added.
“It’s going well,” Klein said recently, just before calling the March 23 Monday morning meeting to order. “This gives them a chance to connect with each other, connect with me and know that the world, their world, is still here. It keeps that sense of being part of a class and part of a school.”
Klein asked the children to check their cameras and microphones and be certain that the tools were functioning. Students gave a thumbs up to indicate that they were ready and willing to participate in the virtual meeting. Klein is using SeeSaw as a platform because it is easier for younger students to navigate, she said.
There was a teacher reminder that listening was necessary and then Maddox, a student, shared his story of playing ‘HORSE” basketball with his dad…a game, Maddox said, that he’d won.
Another student, Luke, reported that he’d received a plasma ball for a St. Patrick’s Day gift. He was able to run his hands over the ball and demonstrate how it worked to his friends.
Morning meeting is a staple in many elementary school classrooms. The gatherings give students a chance to share their lives and socialize with each other. Teachers have an opportunity to check in with the children and outline the day.
A COVID-19 pandemic has forced most students away from their classrooms through government order and into their homes, Many students are trying to complete teacher-issued work packets or benefit from online learning. Social media is lit up with parent comments, most of which involve the challenge of teaching children outside of the classroom.
Many teachers are turning to online education platforms to offer instruction, stay in touch with their students, or discover fun and interesting sites that children can utilize while the forced classroom ouster continues.
Clarksburg school colleagues are using platforms including Zoom and Google Meets to offer their own meetings and lessons, Klein said. For example, 4th and 5th grade teachers are hosting two Science lessons during school days
During the morning meeting, Klein reviewed some math work and walked the students through a lesson. There was hand-raising and giggling and student response, very much resembling a classroom atmosphere.
And just like a classroom, socializing is part of the routine.
“The first day we did this, (the students) were excited to see each other and it was hard to get them to stop chatting,” Klein said. “So now many come on (online) a little early and I just let them talk to each other. It is good for them and it’s important.”
The schoolwork isn’t being graded at this time and students who are not participating or completing work are not penalized. As school after school closed throughout many states, teachers had almost no time to assemble strategies and plans that would allow students to retain what they’d learned during the 2019-20 year and not fall behind.
“Math is probably the most challenging to keep up with, especially without the immediate (student) feedback,” Klein said. “Right now we are doing some blogging as ‘open journal’, which means the kids can write about what they want. I am doing a lot of review work with them.”
“Of course I hope the schools open up if it is safe to do so, we’ve only had two-thirds of the school year,” she said.
Read-aloud, journal writing and math is being done by students including Marissa, Luke, and Maddox, whose work was visible on Klein’s computer screen.Others are completing assignments as well.
Most parents are very supportive, Klein said and noted that morning meeting attendance has been strong, with 12 out of 15 students participating regularly. During the first meeting, parents were visible and assisting their children with logging on and the camera and microphone functions. Now, the students are handling those tasks on their own, Klein said. She is emailing parents daily and was among the thousands of teachers who, at a moment’s notice, put together packets for home learning.
“I sent home chapter books at their (student) reading level and they each got three books,” Klein said. “This type of learning can be done but it’s not the same. I can’t see right away if there is a challenge, I’m having to guess, if there is an issue, what that issue might be. I’m not there live and in person, which is where I want to be.”
As the meeting progressed, Klein showed the students a math place value exercise involving creating a computer-drawn robot. Klein introduced the lesson as well as the instructions and directions for viewing the instructions for those wishing to log on at a later time and tackle the assignment.
Another activity she reviewed was an outdoor scavenger hunt that challenged students to describe items that they found, items they searched for but could not find, and a favorite item.
When schools will reopen is not known at this time, but Klein said she and most colleagues are willing to do what is necessary to help the students.
“We are teachers and we adapt, we adjust, and we meet out students where they are at,” she said. “That’s who we are. That’s what we do.”
Colette Klein taught for many years at the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union schools, including Molly Stark Elementary and Shaftsbury Elementary schools. She currently teaches at the Clarksburg Elementary school in Clarksburg,MA .