Teacher Stories: Dolleen Wiltgen

Connect With Students Through the Screen

Fourth grade teacher Dolleen Wiltgen connects virtually with her students by focusing on their strengths. She utilizes technology to redefine instruction and allow her students to shine! Raz-Plus offers the robust teacher resources she needs, plus an easily accessible online library of books for her students.

I had to figure out how to use my strength that I had, my connection to kids, my relationships, and my understanding of how to take that curriculum and connect it with the needs of the kids.

My name is Dolleen Wiltgen, and I teach fourth grade digital learning, and I'm in Canton, Georgia. Well, at the end of last year, we, from March on, we were a digital school. We just, like, the school closed, and they sent us all home. And that was very rough, because no one really knew how to be digital at that time. I was a little bit prepared for it, but it was still a lot of pressure, because everything we do, we do in front of parents. And it's not like, you know, you have this learning curve, that you're allowed to mess up. Parents were sitting there wondering, is this going to be equivalent to what education is going to be like in the classroom? We're having to re-learn everything that we did. I tell people, it's like getting up and walking to the door, only now I don't have my legs. And I had to re-learn how to do everything that I was doing before, simple things, like looking over a child's shoulder to see what they're doing with their work, you can't do. So, learning how to give formal feedback, learning how to assess where a child is, is really, really been a challenge for me to encourage them to read.

I think the biggest thing that Raz-Kids has done for me, I have kids who don't have books. And so, it has been my resource, my salvation, to get books in their hands. I also, for guided reading groups, it is, I mean, I love the guided reading lesson plans that are there. One thing that's happened to me as a teacher is I feel like my plate is so full trying to record lessons, and do flip lessons, and rotate into small groups, and I just don't have time to plan. And you can't just, like, paste links-- well, I guess you could paste links on a slide. But if you're going to do this job well, and you're going to give those kids what they deserve, then you have to think about everything you're doing, and it takes so long. But those lessons for the guided reading on Raz-Kids are so solid, and they're just so in line with our curriculum and our standards that that has been a saving grace for me, huge. So, I had to, I had to figure out how to use my strength that I had, my connection to kids, my relationships, and my understanding of how to take that curriculum and connect it with the needs of the kids.

Well, one of the things I learned was something called the SAMR model. And I think that that has really changed me in using technology, because technology is much more purposeful. S stands for substitute, A stands for augment, M stands for modify, and R stands for re-define. And so let me just tell you a little bit about maybe an assignment that I would've done in the classroom, and how it changed and became better when I did it with technology involved. And it's something that I can take back into the classroom when I go back into the classroom. So, not only is it making my digital learning so much better, but it's something that I can also transfer back and make my classroom teaching better.

So, maybe a typical assignment might be in social studies. And we have PowerPoint presentations, and so we go through those presentations and have discussions with the kids, and they maybe fill out a worksheet after watching it to show their understanding. So, the substitution would be just simply taking that in a digital form and placing it online, and the kids do the exact same thing. And if you think about Bloom's Taxonomy, this kind of goes along with that. So, that's a very low-level, you didn't really enhance it in any way doing it digitally.

So, the next step might be, if we're doing the augment, I might ask the kids to do text to speech-- or speech to text, I'm sorry. And then they're recording their voice, and they're putting their answers in, but I really haven't done much different with this assignment. Now we cross that threshold, and we start really using technology to enhance the assignment.

In modify, I might have kids go into breakout rooms and discuss things together, and collaborate, and share thoughts, and do mental teaching with each other. So, I've improved that assignment.

If I go to the highest level, for redefine, I came up with a raft assignment that I was going to do with the kids. And so I opened it up, and I said, okay, so you can take the role of any of these important people in the American Revolution. You can share the information back with me in whatever way that you want to.

Well, these children are at home, and one child sent back a video to me. And I was playing it in front of the rest of the class. And I start her video, and a horse rides up, and she's on the horse, and she's dressed in this outfit. And she starts talking, and she's Paul Revere. And she lives on a horse farm. So, she's Paul Revere, and she tells the story of Paul Revere, and that totally took that original assignment of watching a PowerPoint and raised it to a much higher level. This child is also a child that is in special ed, so now she's shining in a way that she has never before, because the class is applauding as they're watching her video. It was transformational for me to see what technology can do in engagement in the classroom, and also in changing my thinking as a teacher. I am no longer in that box, I'm out of that box, and I'm saying, what can we do? We've had so many experiences like that.

Another experience I did in science was, I had a stargazing night, and only because of technology did I think that we could meet after hours, on our Internet, and Teams, and we had an app that we were using. So, all the kids were together at their homes, in their backyards. We were drinking hot cocoa, and looking at the stars, and talking to each other. And again, these are things that kids are going to remember because of the way that we're going about doing it. So, digital learning, for me, has not only made me a better teacher, but I see the engagement, I see ways that I can engage kids much differently than I did before.

So, I mean, I think just opening that door and allowing kids the freedom to use their strengths has really, really been, it's connected me again with how important that is, as a teacher, to do that for children. Cause now I see ways to reach kids that I don't think I ever saw before. So, digital learning for me has not only made me a better teacher, but I see the engagement, I see ways that I can engage kids much differently than I did before. I am no longer in that box. I'm out of that box, and I'm saying, what can we do? So my advice to someone who gets told they're going to be a digital teacher is to take a deep breath, and to get a lot of sleep, because you're not going to get a lot once you start. But to have an open mind, and to know that it's just, it's going to open doors for you that you can't even imagine as far as the way that you can go about engaging kids, the way that you can provide activity for them unlike anything you could do in the classroom, and that you can have bonds with kids that are going to be so unique. Like, this year, the bond that I have with my students is beyond anything that I thought possible. And every day, they show up, and I tell them, I'm so proud of you for having the courage to show up again, because none of us knew what we were doing that first day when we showed up, and we were cheering because we connected, digitally. But not only is it that kind of connection, but we learn together, and they cheer me on every time I can switch my screen so they can see something, and it actually works, or, you know, and we have giggle times about Mrs. Wiltgen, you're muted, and I thought I was saying something tremendous, and they didn't hear a word I said. So, I mean, it's really, it's a, it's a wonderful experience that way, just to get to the level of a learner again as a teacher, and to get out of that rut, and to really make yourself alive in a way that you maybe weren't, because you knew you were on a routine, and you were doing things automatically in a classroom. The interruption of that really, really increases your awareness and your sensitivities to the children in a way that is really beautiful.

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