As we wrap up what will surely be one of the most memorable school years for children and parents alike, Gabrielle Brunk, a third grade teacher in Arizona, is here to offer her insights and advice on virtual school, your child, and returning to school next fall.
She’s answering your questions on the transition to virtual school, whether children have missed any academic milestones as a result of school closings this spring, whether schools will be adapting their curriculum in the fall, and what parents can do to support their children’s this summer and next fall.
Has your school been holding virtual classes during the pandemic? If so, was the transition difficult for you?
Yes, my school has exclusively been using Google to hold all of our virtual classes. For me, it wasn’t a difficult transition. My school switched to exclusively Google three years ago, and has offered a wide variety of professional developments to get accustomed to the types of programs they offer. Additionally, there are programs, like Google Classroom, that I’ve been able to use in my classroom for the past three years, so it was a relatively easy transition for me.
How did your students and their families adapt to virtual classes? Did some children struggle with the change?
Overall, the majority of my class adjusted fairly well in transitioning to online classes. Like I said, my school exclusively uses Google, so Google Classroom wasn’t anything new for my students. As for the websites we used for additional resources, I was sure to only use websites we’ve used in class, so everyone already knew how to maneuver them.
Like everything, there are students who we are unable or unwilling to participate and for that, I just have to remember I can only control what’s in my bubble. Meaning, I can assign the work, reach out using whatever communication method they have, and let things run their course. While yes, ideally every student would participate, that wasn’t my reality, and that’s something I had to learn to say “that’s okay” about.
However, it was a refreshing change of pace to see the students who did not typically participate in class, for whatever reason, be so active with our virtual classes.
What I love about our school is there was already such a great sense of community at home before distance learning began. Many of my students have extended family members living at home. So if mom and dad couldn’t help with something, aunt, uncle, grandma, whoever, stepped in to help their child be successful.
What would you say to an elementary school parent who is worried that their child might fall behind this year due to school closings?
Although, yes, learning is difficult not being face-to-face, for my class at least, students have learned all of the essential standards set by our district. We are just working on mastering them at this point. Your child has what they need to succeed. When we return to face-to-face classes, current grade level learning will resume and any deficits in skills will be mastered in smaller, skill-based groups.
Even though that is just my school’s plan to address student learning, I am confident that other districts also plan to aid student’s learning in smaller, skill-based learning groups.
The best thing you can ever do to support your child’s learning is to read with them for at least fifteen minutes a day and ask them questions about what they read, such as, “Who was the story about?” And, “What do you think will happen next?”
This will help build their understanding of what they’re reading, which will make tasks such as reading comprehension, writing prompts, and math word problems easier.
Finally, I want to assure you that teachers don’t get into this field for the money; we get into this field because we want to see student success and make a difference. Whether we were out of school for two weeks or nine weeks, I can assure you that your child’s teacher will have the passion and the drive to help your child learn in whatever way they need to and get them learning the content that they need.
Will you be approaching the curriculum for next school year differently as a result of this year’s changes?
My team is currently planning for next school year, and I would say, yes, we are approaching the curriculum differently. We are making sure the materials we need are available for student access online and talking about what to do if they’re not, such as making our own student videos or supplementing that part of the curriculum with another learning resource that also addresses our learning targets.
While hopefully an event like this doesn’t happen again in our lifetime, we are more prepared and confident if it does. All of the changes we have agreed upon will only help students, not only learn our learning targets, but also become more proficient at the technology we offer in class.
Would you advise that parents try to work on any particular skills during this summer in order to “catch up” in some way?
Absolutely! I am a firm believer of reading every day. I believe everyone, not just children, should read out loud for a minimum of fifteen minutes a day and then talk about what they read. Doing this will build confidence in reading fluency and comprehension. This confidence will then carry over to other aspects of our lives, whether it’s solving math word problems or public speaking. I believe reading fluency and comprehension is something that will make learning in other content areas come more easily.
Now if you’re able to provide enrichment to your child in ways other than reading for fifteen minutes a day, that’s great. I would encourage you to reach out to your child’s teacher for a list of online resources your school uses. Using these resources will help your child become more proficient in using those websites while also mastering the learning targets set out by the school.
What is your best piece of advice for parents this summer?
The best piece of advice I could offer, is also the advice I take myself, “you can only control what’s in your bubble.” I know I talked about it briefly before, but it just means that you can only control what you’re capable of.
For example, I know many parents are worried about how to get their child “caught-up,” but that’s out of your bubble; that’s not something you can control. What’s in your bubble is your child’s learning progress right now. So help them become the most successful they can be with their learning right now, and trust that your child’s teacher next year will do everything in their power to make sure your child is learning what they need to.
Again, let me assure you, teachers do not get into this field for the money; we do it strictly out of passion for student success. We spend about 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 36 weeks with your child, and no part of us wants to see your child fail. We are going to do everything in our bubble to help your child be successful.
Your child’s success is our number one priority. So do what you’re capable of in your bubble; teachers will do what we’re capable of, and together we will make our vision for your child’s success a reality.
You post some wonderful read-alouds, book-related crafts, and sign language videos on Instagram and YouTube. Do you want to tell parents a little about what you offer and where to find you?
I started my read-aloud YouTube page as a way for me to keep reading to my students, even though we weren’t in person. I wanted to include things that made our reading in school fun, like those “stop and think” types of questions. After the first few videos, I decided to pair my YouTube channel with an Instagram account to encourage students to take their learning beyond the book and create something. These read-alouds are aimed towards elementary level readers. I realize many viewers have siblings so I do try to include a craft based on the story for toddlers and preschoolers, as well as a writing prompt for older viewers, this way, everyone in the family can be involved.
Another thing that’s important to me is the American Sign language aspect of all of my videos. In my class this year, I have a student whose sister is deaf. Mom came to me and told me that she was worried about their relationship and wanted her child in my class to learn to sign so they could have a closer relationship. She told me how she wanted to put her child that was in my class in a school for the deaf, instead, to learn sign language; but unfortunately without a hearing disability or being deaf, this wasn’t possible.
Although she was just venting to me, sign language is something I’ve always taken an interest in. Until this school year, I’ve taught my own children and students minimal sign language for simple words around the house and classroom. After I spoke with this mom, an idea sparked, and I knew we all had to learn to sign as a class. From that day forward, we did our calendar time in sign language, adding a few new signs every day. It was amazing seeing students communicate without talking and even more exciting to hear how my student was “hanging out” with her sister and introducing her to some of their friends from our class. This isn’t something I was willing to let go of even though we are out of school, so I decided to continue teaching signs.
The sign language aspect of my videos is something that’s really important to me, and I can’t wait to grow in it and hopefully inspire that passion in someone else.
Lastly, if there is anything I didn’t ask that you would like to say to parents about this strange school year, please share!
Although we talked about learning and academics quite a bit, one thing I do want to talk about is the social and emotional learning part of this school year. I know we are all eager to get our kids “caught-up” and again, that’s out of your bubble.
But one other thing that is in your bubble is building your child’s peer relationships.
While being out of school, they have lost the opportunity to learn from peer’s behaviors, the ability to have and resolve conflict, and even the daily conversations with peers. When we return to school, peer relationships are going to look different. I anticipate students feeling shy and closed off when returning, instead of eager, because this isn’t just a summer break anymore, this is going to be nearly four months away from in-person learning.
At home, continue to encourage your child to have contact with their friends and classmates. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to reach out to your child’s teacher and see if there is a way to connect with other parents in the class when virtual classes end. This contact could be texts, pictures, phone calls, a letter, but keep supporting your child’s peer relationships so even though they might not have that face-to-face contact, things will still be familiar when they are together again.
I know as adults we have been encouraging each other and checking in on each other, but we need to make sure that our kids are doing the same with each other.
This school year has looked different, but that’s not such a bad thing. In the future, teachers will have more of a plan set in place and students will be more proficient in using the technology offered. While we hope something like this doesn’t happen again, we are prepared to work together to help every child succeed.