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Teacher Stories: Shannon Miller

Setting Goals With Your Students

Distance learning can be challenging for young students, but kindergarten teacher Shannon Miller offers useful tips for keeping them engaged and excited to learn. With Raz-Plus, she can utilize digital tools like annotations or the message center to encourage goal-setting, set clear expectations, and support students to help them succeed with digital learning.

Hardest thing for me personally when it came to teaching digitally or remotely was not having the kids there in front of me. The hardest thing for me personally when it came to teaching digitally or remotely was not having the kids there in front of me, and not being able to see them and connect with them in person, and have that very personal conversation with them. For me not to be able to hand them a manipulative to use, or me not to be able to do a reteach with them in person. It was just – that was the hardest thing when it came to digitally teaching, is that everything was through that screen. So you lacked that human interaction that they desperately needed. So I did sit home and make some paper packets, we did make some different paper packets that people could come pick up and do at their home. There were a lot of phone calls -- hey, how are you doing, what's going on, how can I help you? How can I support you? How can I keep you more engaged? There was a lot of communication between me, the school staff, and then parents.

The relationships that you build digitally, and yes, you do find yourself within that person's home, so you get a little piece of that home life. And yes, the parents are engaged in those digital lessons, so you have that closer relationship with the parents as well. But I think it's also great for them to see that, because they get to see what we're doing when we're actually face-to-face inside the classroom. So that really kind of shows them little aspects of our curriculum that we are doing every single day.

So for instance, I had a student at the end of every single lesson, she would record herself and submit her answers and submit her responses, and at the very end she would say, "Oh, I love you." So and it was just wonderful to know that they still know that even though you're behind this camera, and you're not sitting there with them in the classroom, that you still care, and you still want to be with them. So that was just a great turning point for me. Without that human interaction, and especially I teach -- yeah, I'm a kindergarten teacher. They're young; they're still learning life skills. And they still depend on you for a lot of things other than their academics. So you become that adult in charge to them when they're away from home and they're at school. And for them to trust you that much, for them to feel that way about you and to express that and tell that to you, I know, with their parents, they are -- that makes it all worth it. Even when you're' behind a screen, you know you're still doing that job, and that makes it all worth the effort. It is very hard to make those connections from behind a screen, because you're not there with them; you can't give them that hug that they need. Your Wi-Fi is going in and out, you're bouncing in and off the screen. Things are happening, dogs are barking. But for them to know that, hey, I'm still here for you even though we're not in the same room together, we're not in the same classroom, I still care for you. I'm still here to teach you. I want you to succeed. I want to give you the skills that you need to move on to the next grade, and I want the very best for you. That's the essence of building relationships with students. And that's where it begins, even before the school year starts.

There were students that saw struggles during digital learning, but the most impressive thing I saw, the most meaningful thing I saw during that time was a student who wrote about their bus driver. And a lot of times, we're centered on the teacher, we center on the teacher, but it takes this whole village to make their school day go around. And they get on the bus in the morning, and those bus drivers are the first people that they see. So she had written that she missed and loved her bus driver. It was fantastic, and it was just the sentiment. Just to see her express those emotions and put it on paper and say, "Here, Ms. Miller, here's my sentence, this is what I wrote," and her read it back to me like that, I knew that I was still reaching them, even though I was here and they were there. I knew that for some point, I was still getting through to them; that what I was doing was effective, and I was still getting through to them.

And it's kind of funny, because what works in your classroom can also work online with just a few modifications. And what worked a lot for my students was lots of visuals, and lots of talking about rules and expectations. And our rules and expectations changed because, obviously, we were in a different setting, we were in a different environment. But those rules and expectations helped lay the framework for their success digitally learning.

And we also had a really great thing that we did in starting out each day is, we had a morning meeting each day, where we just checked in with each other. Just, "How are you doing? Are you okay? Are you struggling? What's exciting in your life? What's going on in your life right now?" So we would just take a few moments just to kind of talk about those things, check in with each other, let them interact with each other, because not only are they not seeing me, but they're not seeing their peers that they're normally with inside of the classroom, so they're not seeing them, either. They're only looking at me on the screen. So it was important to let them have that time to not only interact with me, but also interact with their friends and say, "Hi, Such-and-Such, hi, how are you?" You know? That was what I think one of the best tools that I could have used during our digital lessons.

The Learning A to Z products that I implemented in my digital lessons included the Learning Centers are really great, I really love the Learning Centers. And, of course, the lessons that are incorporated in the Resources. I also enjoyed just pulling those leveled texts over onto my screen and using those annotation devices that are on the left, and highlighting and using those annotation devices to help find features in the text, or find different things in books that we were looking for, strategies that we were using to teach things, such as maybe main idea, or finding key details. But one of the best things that I really enjoyed using with Learning A to Z was the Message Center. They were so surprised to find that Ms. Miller could leave them a message on Raz-Kids, and it would pop up at the bottom, and they could actually -- of course they couldn't see me, but they could hear my voice, and I could leave them feedback. Or I could leave them an encouraging message and say, you know, "Keep going," "Keep trying. Let's keep doing this." So they were really tickled to hear those kinds of things. So that was the most important aspects, or one of them for me, for using Learning A to Z. So yeah, it is a challenge to help keep students engaged. Once again, it does come down to setting expectations from the very beginning, and lots of visuals, lots of reminders, lots of repetition. Keeping a structured scheduled is another great way to make sure they're engaged, because especially when they're younger learners, once their schedule gets a little out of whack, then that changes everything for them. Using these technology platforms, they love to hear themselves speak, and they love to hear their friends speak. So any platform that you could use where they could share their ideas, where they could share what they've done, where they could share their work is a great thing, because they can not only record their own thoughts and their own findings, but they can listen to the thoughts of others as well. And just being sure that they know ahead of time, know what their goal is, and know that we're starting at A, but we want to get to D, and these are the steps that we're going to take to get there, and just knowing what their goals are and knowing how they're going to get there and why they're doing what they're doing.

I think one of the biggest strategies overall for keeping them engaged is to make their lessons make the curriculum relevant to them. And the more it relates to them, the more they're going to take away from it, so it's very important to have those lessons be very relatable to what they're seeing in their lives, and what they're seeing in their environments. Well, we did, at one point, tie one of their favorite activities that we did when we were remote was, we were talking about things that can float. And they had built cargo ships out of just things they had in their house. We had talked about materials you could build with, and what would sink and what would float, what would you build it with? And a lot of them decided that they would build it out of aluminum foil. So we're in the middle of this lesson, and everyone is sharing their boats. They're in their kitchens, they're in their bathrooms, they're filling their sinks with water and they're putting their boats in. And I was in my floor with my big tub of water -- I had my own boat too, because I did it as well, I had to see if my boat was going to sink or float, and how much cargo it could hold. And I was in the floor, I turned my back for a split second, and my dog walks into the middle of the lesson and drinks my water out of my tub. And the kids just lost it. But it's one of those moments that just sticks with you forever, and that we'll always remember. And we'll always be, like, hey, remember that time when Ms. Miller's dog walked over and drank her sink or float experiment? So the kids got a really big kick out of that.

But child's education is more than just sitting in a classroom and completing an assignment. It's the teacher, it's the family, it's the staff here at the school -- it's everyone together. So once again, it's just those relationships, it's just that village helping these students achieve what they need to achieve.

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