Teacher Stories: Rebecca Coleman

How to Make Distance Learning Fun

Like most teachers, kindergarten teacher Rebecca Coleman pivoted quickly to distance learning as a result of the pandemic. Rebecca used Raz-Kids to make reading fun, add incentives, and help keep kids engaged. Her students' reading skills are better than ever!

That's really helped me grow as a teacher. It's helped improve my relationship with parents and students, because they're always there. And so, before, where I would shy away from maybe saying something to a parent, I don't as much anymore.

So, we've gotten a lot of feedback, cause especially from parents, cause parents are always there. It's not like when they're at school, and parents really don't know what's going on. They're always there. And so pretty much every day we get emails, we get remind messages, all kind of things, and feedback of things, and that's really helped me grow as a teacher. It's helped improve my relationship with parents and students, because they're always there. And so, before, where I would shy away from maybe saying something to a parent, I don't as much anymore. And students, they love things that are new and inventive, and something that I really found was, last year more than this year, was using the same programs that we were already using in class, and transferring those to home was really no fuss. Cause they already realized, oh, we use this in school, and so it's really no different than home. So, for reading, we used Raz-Kids at school, and so I would say, hey, get on Raz-Kids and do your 15 minutes, and that was just normal, cause that's what we did during reading groups anyway. And so it really helped to have some normalcy during that time, cause oh, we did this at school, and now we can do it at home, too. So, that was pretty cool.

So something that I really learned over this time is, like, at first when we began digital learning there, people were saying, well, these kids are going to be so behind, they're going to be so behind. But I really look at it as the skills that they are learning. Like, they're learning to log on the computer, to complete tasks by themselves, to problem-solve, to time manage. And so those have been really cool skills that will definitely help them further along. I mean, I teach kindergarten, but even seeing some of these kindergarteners develop those skills, I mean, that's amazing, cause that's going to be our world one day, is they're going to be on a computer, and they're going to have to do all these things. And so it's been really cool for them to be able to dabble in this stuff, and to learn how to use a computer, and learn how to use technology, not only as learning tools, but to assist them with learning. And we've also had to teach parents, since we have parents who definitely don't know technology, and so we have to problem-shoot, we have to say, hey, have you tried this, have you done this, have you updated your computer? I mean, it's not only that we're the teachers, we're the technology assistants, and we, our problems, I mean, we do all the things.

So, as a team, we meet weekly, and we just discuss, hey, what's working for you, what's not working for you, what are some successes you've had this week, what are some troubles you've had? And so really, it's brought us together more as a team, because we're having to have those conversations that we may not have had before, because it was just what we'd get. We'd just do, because it's what we know. But this is all new to all of us, and so there's not one that knows more than another, and so it's really helped to build the team community, because we are having to have those conversations where you have to be pretty vulnerable, and say hey, this didn't work, or hey, this is working well for me. Can you help me with this, or can I show you how to do this? And that's been really neat. When I meet with my fellow teachers now, it's a whole different feeling. Before, like, we would say, well, you're the expert on this, you're the expert on this. But what we've learned is there's really no expert, because what we're doing has never been done before. We're blazing new trails, and so it's just really cool to learn from other people's successes and also learn from their failures. This has been a great time to just learn alongside my teammates, and alongside parents, and alongside students.

So, one success story that I have is I have this student who, in the classroom, was kind of checked out, didn't really, we couldn't always get her to participate. We couldn't always get her to answer questions. And it turns out that she was super shy. When we had to go digital and we got on a computer, it was like she just came alive. Because she wasn't in front of all these people anymore. She was, it was just to her, her and I on the computer. And so that was super cool, just to kind of see her personality really shine, and to learn that she was just shy. It wasn't that she didn't know, it wasn't that she couldn't do, it was just she did not want to do in front of a group of students, so that was really cool to see. To me, that has changed myself, it has changed me as a teacher, and the way I teach is different than it was even six months ago. I mean, I've learned so much about myself, and about students, and at first I looked at this as an obstacle, but it's really a learning experience. It's a learning experience for me. It's a learning experience for students. And it's just a time where, I mean, we're all in this together, and that's what's truly shown throughout this is, we are all in this together. It's teachers, it's parents, it's students. I mean, it's just everybody working together for a common goal.

So, when I was thinking about what would happen to these kids over the summer. I mean, there were so many factors that played into that, cause March through May, which we shut down in March, are the sweet spot. I mean, that's the time when everything comes together, and everything, like, the learning just comes together, and they get it, and so we were missing a lot of that because we were on the computer. And so that was hard to navigate through, because we just kept saying, but we would be doing this if we were in school, but we would be doing this if we were in school. And so that was tough. But we had, what we did is we kind of revamped, and they're like, well, we're not in school, but we can do this. And so we would do, like, themed dress-up days, we would have, like, morning meetings, come dressed as your favorite book character, or morning meetings, come dressed in your pajamas, or come with your favorite stuffed animal. So, we just had all these ideas, and it wasn't what we've always done, but it was, it made us think outside of the box. Like, how can we make this fun for kids? How can we make this enjoyable, even though we weren't in school? I did love that the students were already familiar with Raz-Kids, and so they knew how to read books, and they knew how, that they had to listen, read, and then take a quiz. So, that was fabulous. Cause that was no, I mean, no change from what we had been doing, and so the kids just kind of picked that up and kept going with it. But the resources that are there are amazing, and if we need training on anything, it would be the variety of resources that are there. I attended a district training last year where I learned that there were writing resources. And that's something that I never knew before, and I learned that there were, like, word work resources. And so there's just so many resources that I think teachers don't know because of time. We don't really have time to explore, we just use what we know, and pull from what we know. So, I think anything where teachers can learn how to better use the resources that are out there would be fantastic.

So, I didn't realize before we went digital that there were options to records, for students to record themselves. And so I could assign them a benchmark book, and allow them to record themselves, and so I could pull a running record from that. And I had no clue. So, I really think that that's going to change who I am as a teacher, what I do as a teacher, because now I know that these options are out there. And I also had a SPED cluster last year, so I had several special education students, and we needed to collect data on them while we were home. And Raz-Kids made that possible, because a lot of my kids had side word goals, and I didn't even realize that there were side word lists embedded into Raz-Kids that students could go on and record themselves reading. And so, there's my data. I mean, it wasn't anything that I had to invent. It was just already there.

So, social-emotional learning is definitely the hot topic right now. How do we get these kids where they need to be? How, socially, emotionally, when they're learning through a computer? I mean, that really cuts off, unfortunately, a lot of the social aspects, so what we've done is we've put them in breakout rooms with small groups of kids, so it's just like being in a room with their group. I mean, they're just learning with their group. So, definitely splitting kinds in a small group, we've done a lot, a lot, a lot of reading some books that talk about social and emotional skills. Raz-Kids has tons of books, and I really like now how there's a section for social and emotional books, so you can actually go to that section and pull off a book for whatever your kids are facing. And so that's really a new feature that I appreciate about Raz-Kids. So, I really think to keep kids engaged, it's a whole new ball game now. I mean, I really think you have to change up your game every day, where something could work for several weeks in a classroom, I don't think it necessarily works that way anymore. So, coming into class, like, dressed up as maybe a book character you're going to read about. One time, when children were engaged, I wouldn't tell them what I was doing, and I would stick a sticker on my face, so every time, like, a child answered a question, I would stick a sticker. And they all wanted to answer a question to see how many stickers I could get on my face. So, it's just crazy things like that. And it's things that I have never thought of before. So, it's really reinventing what I know as tried and true into something new. And so I think even when we do make the change and come back to the classroom, that I'll keep a lot of these things in my toolkit, and so I'll have more knowledge on how to keep kids engaged.

So, for the past six years, we have been using Raz-Kids at our school, and my knowledge about it has evolved and changed in that six years. I've used it in many different ways. At first, I just used it as a center for kids, and so during reading centers, then we'd go log on and read books. And then I realized that they didn't really understand, oh, I can level up, and I can do these things, and I can learn these skills. And so I really took time to say, hey, let's look at all that Raz-Kids has to offer. We can earn points, and we can build things. I mean, and that was amazing. So, I have used that, and I believe that that has helped raise my kids' reading levels over the past six years. I remember going to my academic coach at the time, because Raz-Kids was new to us, and we didn't know it, and I was like, I really think that Raz-Kids works. And she just kind of looked at me, and she's like, okay. I said, my kids' reading levels are higher than they've ever been. And so they were really getting that opportunity to listen to books, to read books, to answer questions, and that was helping their overall performance in class. The COVID slide or the COVID gap I have seen this year. It's not as bad as I thought it would be, cause I was, as a kindergarten teacher, I was like, these kids have lost three months of Pre-K, they're not going to know letters, they're not going to know letter sounds. But we've been very fortunate. And we've seen little gaps, like maybe more of a social-emotional, cause they weren't around kids for so long, and they were with their parents, and sometimes their parents just let them do whatever they want. And so, that's really the only gap we've seen. They really have embraced learning, they're getting it. Our scores look very similar to years past, so that's all encouraging to see.

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