Reading interventions teacher, Claire Hamel, talks about how she was able to continue helping her K-7 students become fluent readers, even when her school switched to remote learning. Since technology was not readily available in all students' homes, Claire used recorded video, printed assignments, and lots of flexible learning options to help her striving readers continue to make learning gains.
I think what's maybe the most successful in my remote teaching and student remote learning is actually the students' ability to adapt. I'm Claire Hamel, and this is my teacher story.
Hi. I'm Claire Hamel, and I'm a reading interventions teacher. I teach grades kindergarten through 7 in small groups at St. Joseph's School in Summit, Illinois.
In March of 2020, our school had to switch over to distance learning, which was very unexpected, and our school wasn't quite ready with e-learning types of systems set up as some other ones might. We also had a school with not too much technology available to us, or not as many resources. So we got very creative. We started by using our parent contact platform to send assignments to students, and provided things like papers that they could print out. Sometimes we would video call with the students, but there was no set standard, and it was something that we had never experienced before. Someone like me is also an intervention teacher, so I don't have a whole class of my own, I would pull small groups from classes. So my role was even more confusing because I didn't know when or what times that I should be meeting with students and what kinds of assignments I should be doing, since it was very different from what I normally did.
So it all started for me with making a video each day and reading out loud, reading one of the storybooks I had at my home, and doing a read aloud that students could watch at any time while they were home. So it evolved from that to actually using the Learning A to Z products, and creating assignments that students could do with Kids A to Z, the digital platform. That also proved to be a little bit difficult, because students didn't all have technology at home. So while I had some students being able to meet with me and do assignments on Kids A to Z, many I had not heard from. So luckily, as things moved on, they improved, and more kids were able to use things in this current school year, the 2020 to '21 school year, because we were more prepared to have those kinds of options available.
Actually, one of the things that ended up working was just to drop off -- well, print out and drop off items at the school. So using the Reading A to Z programs and leveled readers -- I mostly used the leveled readers with my groups, and sometimes the foundational skillsets, so like the phonics readers and things. The thing I like most about that is that they have printable consumables that I can provide for the students, so I used those already before the pandemic. But then because of that, I knew that I could have things that I could leave for the students to pick up after a certain amount of days, or whatever it was, to make sure there were no germs. Then students could pick them up and have the physical copy so that if they were able to meet with me -- that was great. But if not, I could still write down everything that they needed to do, and they still had book in hand at that point. So it still is not ideal, but then we were able to keep moving forward.
For fun, as much fun as we can have with my students during this school year, we've had Fun Fridays. So some of my groups -- not all of them, but the upper grade ones that I work with -- we've been playing Boggle, so we used to play the board game in class, but it's great that it's a kind of game that all I need to do is put some letters on the screen, and then have the kids start making words. And it also is some literacy practice, too, so they really enjoy it. And they like competing against the teacher as well. We've just been doing some Fun Friday. Also, I like to incorporate videos in the lessons, or songs in the lessons every once in a while. Again, this is something I did before the pandemic, but I love that it's still really easy to do while I'm distance teaching and they have distance learning, because it's all digital, so they really enjoy that part, too.
I think there certainly are social emotional issues to address. With every student I've worked with, even before the pandemic happened, it's something that I think schools really should incorporate more of, anyway. So I think this is a good kind of a silver lining that's come from the pandemic hopefully, that more schools and teachers are going to be incorporating social emotional learning in their classrooms regularly. So luckily, at our school, we do have counseling services available. I know there have been students that have had some very rough home situations caused by Covid-19 or otherwise, or both, and that has been available for them. Additionally, when I meet with the students, I do allow time for them to open up and discuss anything that's going on. Also, sometimes we have to scrap a lesson for the day and just talk. Other times we might change what we're doing, and I might find a text that's a little bit more appropriate, or that might help them through whatever problems that they're dealing with.
In some students, I have seen a Covid gap, and in others I have not. My situation is a little bit different than what one would typically think about with remote teaching. I've been teaching remotely myself, but some of my students have been back in the classroom, and others have been at home. So the ones that are back in the classroom, I've seen, have done a little bit better, but not necessarily. Also, before, there was -- I can think of at least one student who we didn't see from March until September, so certainly there's a gap there. And there were many students across the nation I know also fall under that category that just had no technology and no ability to meet, up until they actually physically came back to school. So I think that's a very real issue. But what we did, luckily when that student came back, was to continue services with him and individualize and personalize lessons as much as possible, using differentiation, as I normally do anyway with my position, but also seeing further help because this student was also struggling beforehand. So we as teachers right now are really balancing, is it because of Covid-19 that this student is struggling, or is it because of the change in routine? Or is it because they actually had a learning issue? So we certainly have been looking a lot closer into cases that have come up like that, with regard to any learning gaps they might have.
I think what's maybe the most successful in my remote teaching and the student's remote learning is actually the student's ability to adapt to whatever was necessary. The students have gone from getting just video lessons from me and doing them whenever they wanted, to finally being able to meet with me in a small group via video call, but still meeting with me, and having printable things. Actually, when things got really bad and numbers went very high in the community, I was unable to go to the building, and a lot of the classes were also remote, so the students again had to adapt to being totally digital, which a lot of times we were able to make our own materials. The students would have just their pen and paper at home, scissors and cut-out flashcards if they didn't have notecards, and things like that, and they would really take it upon themselves to do whatever they had to, to be able to participate, and really looked forward to school. So I think the success has to come from the students and their parents helping them with everything that they needed to do to be able to sign on, and to be able to learn with the class. So I'm just happy that I had a bunch of families and students that were able to, and happy to, participate.
The Learning A to Z products that I have been using throughout the year, and the past several years, have mainly been Reading A to Z and Kids A to Z. Mostly I've been using Reading A to Z, because some of my students have not been able to use the technology at home, or there's not an easy way for me to have the students complete assignments and be accountable, because if their parents aren't home, for example, having them reminding them when or how to sign on -- that can be a little bit tricky. So the majority of the work that I've been doing has been a video call with my students, and then using Reading A to Z and all the tools on it to show the students the texts, as well as annotating the texts, and then using the tools like the graphic organizers and writing those in, and having students just use their pen and paper at home to follow along. That's been a lot easier, I think. And I've seen a lot more student success with the pen and paper, or pencil and paper, and then actually physically writing things out. So I think that's been helpful, to be able to have the digital component, because the kids do like earning the stars and making their avatars. But they also, when I'm teaching, I like to be able to have things that they can follow along with and actually write down themselves.
I think a breakthrough that I had with the Learning A to Z products that I use is actually just to use the phonics and decodable texts before teaching a leveled reader, because what I've seen with my students -- and this, again is for intervention, so I might not do it exactly the same way in a General Ed classroom, but for students who really need explicit phonics instruction like mine do, this has worked immensely. So I've used the decodable readers and focused on a specific phonics component. Then we read a leveled reader, and the students are not only practicing their comprehension skills, but now they can apply that phonics skill we just worked on, and we go and find words that find that phonics idea that we've been working on. And we've been doing that and kind of switching off. So I think that's been a really helpful part of instruction, and it's helped the kids a lot.
I like Reading A to Z especially for distance learning, because what I've needed as a teacher in this time is to be able to find a text for my students that they don't need to print out, because many that have had to be at home don't have a printer, or if they're back at school, their teachers might not be able to print it out for me, or I might not be able to get in the building because of other reasons. So having just a purely digital tool that I can show them but also mark up -- that has been the most helpful thing to me, because I can open the projectable version of a book, for example, and annotate it and show the students what I'm doing. It's better if I have the printable version and they're following along and doing the same with me, but this still allows, even if they don't have that, it allows them to see my thinking and my process. So that's been very helpful -- highlighting things, or also adding text boxes or questions, or writing things down -- that's been extremely helpful for the instruction.
If I could say anything to my students and their parents now, it would be thank you. Thank you for being so flexible and understanding, knowing that us teachers are adapting every day and doing things as best we can in a very much ever-evolving situation. And thank you for knowing that we also still have your students' best interests at heart, and that we are going to get through this. And thank you for all your support at this time.