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Virtual Intervention, Enrichment, and a Creative Writing Challenge: 3 Projects to Increase Student Learning in November

It goes without saying that the 2020-2021 school year has been a year like no other. Before I met with students’ parents this Friday for our first Parent Teacher Conferences, I wanted to create several virtual activities that 1) students were motivated to complete, 2) could be accessible throughout the year no matter whether students are at home or at school, 3) maintained skills students’ likely would not practice AS MUCH during distance learning.

What sort of skills are most at risk of being lost? From what I’ve seen so far, opportunities for speaking, listening, and writing have been hardest hit by the transition online. Many children have much less need to practice handwriting due to the abundance of assignments on computers and tablets. Similarly, students have much fewer opportunities to participate in discussions or storytelling. To address present speaking and listening standards, teachers like myself can use Zoom Breakout rooms to foster discussion with older students, or can implement speaking and listening opportunities while blended learning students eat lunch (we love telling stories popcorn-style or listening and summarizing books or scripture). BUT, as the effects of less in person class time begin to snowball (especially for at risk students), I’ve had to devote more class time to addressing student misunderstandings in math or literacy, instead of in person instruction focused on maintaining students’ writing and handwriting.

Monthly Creative Writing Challenge

In September and October, students showed me without a doubt that with sufficient support, they could produce creative writing pieces even at home. After nearly a month of mini-lessons, digital activities, and rubrics, students were able to draft and publish personal narratives that were relatively comparable to what one might see in other academic years.

At the same time, as I reviewed my 3rd and 4th graders narratives, I noticed some regression in students’ fine motor skills and ability to spell basic sight words (for some children, as basic as “the”). While about one-third of students are struggling to complete assignments, about two-thirds have the ability to practice these important skills. What now?

With a little tinkering, I got permission from my co-teachers to introduce an OPTIONAL Monthly Creating Writing Challenge to students! By using monthly Lakeshore Writing prompt calendars, students have the option to practice writing for about 20 minutes a day (thereby not penalizing students who are already struggling with work completion for a variety of reasons). If students submit evidence (pictures of writing in their notebooks) to answer at least 3 prompts, I plan to send them a learning game to play from AbcYA as a reward. I hope to increase the number of writing prompts by 2 each month to keep students on their toes!

“Strengthbuilders” Intervention Games

Online learning games (like those of AbcYA) have been my secret weapon this past month. As my third graders memorize their multiplication facts or even differentiate between synonyms and antonyms, I’ve been able to bribe my students to complete their assignments with precision in exchange for links to free games online that address the same standards as I’m teaching. For the sake of balance, I combine the use of online games with hands-on puzzles, stamps, or tactile methods when students are in the classroom.

But I’ve found an even better way to use online learning games, one that does not increase the number of learning platforms my co-teacher or I have to monitor! At the beginning of our school year, students at my school took an online standardized test called Scantron over Zoom, with yours truly proctoring. While it’s hard to ascertain the true validity of home results, data is better than no data. Being the spreadsheet nerd that I am, I cajoled my Vice Principal into helping me download large data sets of my 3rd and 4th grade student performance in different literacy and math domains.

Students names changed to protect their privacy.

Once I had organized the information, I color-coded it (blue = high, green = medium, and orange = low) that so that it would be more user friendly.

Finally, the information was ready to use!

And it’s best use? Intervention! On this Intervention activity I named “Strengthbuilders”, I organized a variety of learning games by subdomain in math or reading. After labeling each students’ activity with the exact subject of games they need to practice, I encouraged students and their parents to use these games to counteract boredom when finishing their assignments early, long weekends, or holiday breaks. My hope is that by providing this tool, students will have tools to keep practicing and reviewing math and literacy skills at their own pace, and regardless of their environment.

Enrichment: Inquiry Projects

Approximately one third of my fourth graders scored above (or nearly above) grade level for both their math and literacy Scantron assessments. Overall, these students contribute to discussions and complete their assignments with few difficulties. As I provide tools to support my struggling learners, I also need to ensure that this group of high-achieving students is challenged.

Thanks to the research students’ did earlier this month for a project on Black Catholic Saint Candidates, students are already familiar with using online search tools. In this Inquiry Project, students will pick a topic and a question to explore over 3 weeks, THEN spend the fourth week developing a powerpoint presentation, a poster, or a paper to explain their findings. I will check in with them for 30 minutes as a group each Friday, and provide feedback weekly to prompt or clarify any details they’ve found. If students successfully complete this first month of Independent Inquiry in December, I’m hoping to move them to Partner Inquiry and Whole Group Inquiry later this year. For now? I’m just asking students to propose a topic, a research question, and two details they’d like to explore, so that they can start the project in earnest before the Thanksgiving holiday break.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m excited to monitor and tweak these 3 projects, especially as I get more feedback from parents. During conferences, conversations with parents led to several new ideas, like creating a rubric for evaluating the validity/moral value of online search content, or collaborating with our school counselors to create a weekly 30-60 minute purely social Zoom call. Be on the lookout for updates regarding these suggestions in the next several weeks! May we find unexpected treasure in the process of designing strong digital learning opportunities for our kids!

Take care,

Haley

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October 2020 Monthly Summary

Blended Learning: The kids are back!

This month, I had the semi-anxious honor of welcoming groups of 4-6 students daily back into the classroom. As I tenuously fed my faith that God would cover my many concerns, I found unexpected grace to multitask managing students in person and virtually. God has also upgraded by tech-savviness as I have learned to use Zoom, a selfie stick, my cell phone, a projector, and a laptop to help my students view one another both at home and in the classroom. Check out more details here.

Contextual Study

For my the research I’m conducting on my school’s history and identity, I got to interview a handful of staff this month! I am looking forward to an interview I have next week with the first African American member of my school, and his wife who he met there. I also found a treasure trove of school pictures from as early as the 1930s, with a suspicious lack of pictures from the 1960s and 1970s (potentially due to racial riots, white flight, or social tension at that time?). The mystery continues.

Trusting God with Finances

When in doubt, make a spreadsheet. Earlier this week, I woke up shaky when it came to trusting God about financial provision for seminary. In order to remember and fan into flame my faith, I made this spreadsheet to remember all that God had done to pay for my education already.

Throughout my undergraduate and graduate degrees, God’s provision in the form of scholarships, work study, living at home to save money (junior/senior years), scholarships for study abroad, an Americorps Education Award, and Tuition reimbursement from my last workplace provided me the chance to go to college without significant debt. As of today, I am on track to pay off my undergraduate and graduate debt in just two years! God knew my financial situation (and that of my family), and he has provided for me.

While it is true that without God’s provision, my Catholic school salary won’t cover the costs of seminary in April (about $5500 yearly), God called me both to enroll at this seminary and to teach at this school. As I begin writing scholarship applications this week, my goal is to continue to remember all that God’s great faithfulness and how he keeps his promises.

Shifting Views on Dating

Over the past 24 months, my thoughts on dating have continue to evolve based on asking more from God, and trusting that he who began a good work in me would bring it to completion. It’s been almost 7 years now since I came to faith in Christ, and as I’ve trusted God more, I’ve come to view others’ sincere, refined faith as the single most important factor for dating and marriage. While we are all made in the image of God, people who have intimacy with God through Christ are the most dynamic, fascinating, and life-giving people I’ve been around. My game plan with dating these days is the absence of a plan, and instead just keeping my eyes open as I follow God and seek his kingdom (Matt. 6:33). From what I can tell, at some point I will meet someone whose sincere love of God (among other lesser factors) causes a mutual attraction from which to build a kingdom marriage.

Pandemic: Food for Thought

  • I notice that with so many people wearing masks, I am less prone to judging people by their appearances. God, deliver us from snap judgments and hidden biases. Help us to see people as you see them.
  • This pandemic has held a mirror to discern our own individual character, the strength of our friendships and romantic relationships, the rapport we have with family, and even the beliefs we have about strangers. God, let this work of discernment only be the beginning of what you are doing in our hearts throughout the globe.
  • I notice that due to fear of infection, people are generally more respectful of others’ personal space on the metro and other close-proximity public spaces. Lord, help us maintain a similar measure of healthy distance from one another emotionally as we head into this month so dominated b the U.S. presidential election. May it result in dignity and Christlike love for people who disagree with us.
  • While I miss some aspects of traditional instruction, I love having more time through distance learning to be creative with technology and strategically target gaps in students’ abilities. Lord, please allow teachers in the U.S. freedom to be engineers of students’ learning in greater measure, and may it result in greater professional dignity and financial equity.
  • I notice that when students are in the classroom just one or two days a week, their behavior is significantly better and we have more patience with one another. We as teachers are less burnt out by the extremes of student behavior, and they as students have more space to practice self-regulation and adapting their behavior to different spaces. At the same time, my students with ADHD have found it much easier to focus on their assignments without the distractions of peers, and ironically have received much more personalized feedback (along with the rest of the class) about their academic and social performance. God, help us use these insights to design more effective and equitable classrooms once the pandemic is over. Give us creativity to design new instructional formats.

Simple Pleasures

  • Teaching my friend Emily about different plants in Rock Creek Park
  • Connecting with a woman at a No More Wounds Free Laundry day, and asking her to pray for me as I prayed with her
  • Making dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) with another friend, and affordable finding gluten free brownie mix to celebrate her birthday
  • Decorating my house for Christmas early!

What I’m Praying For

That the righteousness of Christ would define my generation, my students, and the next decades of United States politics.

How you can pray for me

Please pray for favor for scholarships, wisdom for the many changes of this school year, and joyful growth in my relationships with friends and family.

Until next time,

Haley

My Favorite Distance Learning Projects So Far: Location of Latino Smithsonian and Holy Trinity Action Cards

As many teachers come to the end of the first quarter of the school year across the United States, many of us are still feeling the strain of a string of seemingly unending changes. As children and adults have been learning how to learn at home, returning to learning at school, and toggling back between them both, now more than ever should we be looking for things to celebrate.

In the spirit of celebrating what we collectively are doing well, I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite projects that my co-teachers and I have created over the last 2 months. I’ve been blessed to work with talented colleagues who have added depth to my ideas, encouraged me into learning unknown platforms, and whose creativity co-birthed the direction for these projects. Take a look!

Using Census Data on Race: Where should the (upcoming) Latino Smithsonian museum go?

In September, 3rd and 4th grade students studied the city of D.C. as a Social Studies unit. After a virtual field trip with a parent who works in the curation department of one of the Smithsonian, they learned that there have been efforts in the House of Representatives recently to approve a Latino Smithsonian. Check out the video introducing this news below!

Next, I introduced students to the racial dot map which uses US Census data to plot the racial and ethnic composition of cities, neighborhoods, and regions. We challenged students to consider what they saw on the racial dot map and have studied about D.C. museums to decide where the Smithsonian Museum of Latino History and Culture should be placed, giving a rationale for their choice.

Students’ used the tools on the Seesaw Website to virtually draw on either a template of the National Mall or a neighborhood map of D.C. to show where they thought the museum should go!

Ultimately, most 4th grade students (my homeroom) believed it would be better to locate the museum on the National Mall (near Gallery Place metro) 1) so that it would be close to other Smithsonian Museums and 2) due to some amounts of Latinos living near the Gallery Place metro (as of 2010). We recognize that this data may be significantly different than the 2020 Census data soon to be released.

Visualizing student opinions using yellow and blue construction paper.

Finally, student’s were able to discuss one another’s thought processes’ and opinions using a Virtual Gallery Walk through the Seesaw app/website. Kudos to my colleague for this ingenious idea!

The Holy Trinity Action Cards

In conjunction with a 5-6 item written assessment, 4th grade students completed this art project to demonstrate what they had learned about each member of the Holy Trinity during the month of September. Students’ had to channel their love of Pokemon (still relevant for the majority of the class) for these designs.

Here is an example that I included so that they could cast vision for the assignment!

I was very proud of the sincerity, detail, and thoughtfulness of our 4th graders on this assignment. Check out the gallery below to see some of their best work!

What now?

In both these projects, the abundance of digital tools to which students’ have access has only enhanced their learning. I hope to highlight and celebrate excellent digital projects over the coming months not just to applaud my students, but to fan into flame hope for what new instructional heights await us through digital learning.

Day 1 of Blended Learning

At long last, a group of 5 students from third grade became my first blended learning students yesterday! As a new teacher to this school, the majority of these students I had met just once before, at their First Communion Service. In some ways, having students come into the classroom after I had seen their home environments (albeit virtually) was a helpful change; a kind of home visit experience we all have been thrust into. I was pleasantly surprised that even though students didn’t know me perfectly yet, we had developed enough trust that it felt like a relatively familiar experience hosting them. One thing I didn’t expect: just how short they were. Zoom has been a great equalizer in terms of height, and for better or worse, it’s much different to meet people virtually than face to face. Believe it or not, I actually think there is less room for snap judgments (especially when you are forced to be together and have to make the most of things).

Check out the pictures to get a feel for our first day of Blended Learning!

Day 1 At a Glance

I placed the Student Schedule in a central location
Verdict on the Face Shield? Too much condensation.
After weighing the pros and cons of each seat, I assigned students to a desk based on their needs (groups not shown for privacy).
After a year of idling in my garage, this weirdly shaped pocket chart finally has a use: displaying groups of students (and their desk numbers) for Blended learning.
This replacement projector remote arrived just in time! During Zoom meetings, I could easily turn on the projector, connect to Zoom on my phone, cast my phone screen to the projector (so students’ could see their classmates), and turn off the projector/log out of Zoom once the meeting was over. I also used the connection between my phone and the projector to play a book from Kids A-Z while we ate snack, and clarify assignments.
Our day in detail! Some routines we practiced: Coming into the classroom and wiping down your desk/chair, and wiping your desk/chair after snack. lunch, and before dismissal.
We also practiced standing on circles to walk in the hallway, so that each person has enough space.
Students worked on Distance learning assignments at their desks before and after our morning and afternoon Zoom calls. They put their devices away and watched the Zoom meeting on the projector during calls (including explanations of documents through sharing my screen).
Here is an example of a student work station, with a divider, device, headphones, and backpack under the desk. Students also hung their coats on their chairs to make it simple.
When the kids are at recess with another teacher, I retreated into the storage closet to get some alone time. While we have used this closet as a coat closet in past years, it is currently off limits to students because of a lack of ventilation. However, it an excellent place to hide from the germs and mental stressors of the classroom as a whole.

Next Week

Next week, I will introduce these blue foam tiles to students as an alternative seating option. These tiles have been spaced out 6+ feet apart throughout the classroom, and labeled with students’ desk numbers. Students will have the option to sit on these tiles instead of at their desks while they are doing Distance Learning assignments (and not eating or watching Zoom).

My Favorite Strategy

Last of all, I finally got to test a theory yesterday about how to help students’ feel at peace during break times. As students face an abundance of screens, my thought is that they also need opportunities to listen (and speak) as much as they absorb information through their eyes. We got started by listening yesterday to 1) Bible verses from the Psalms on the Dwell app 2) Instrumental Worship music on Youtube as they worked, and 3) Rain sounds on the Calm app (this feature is free).

Final Reflections

While I only get to see each of my 3 groups of 4-6 students once per week (the other day they are with their Spanish teacher), I am confident that the small size of groups and once a week schedule will still allow us to get to know one another well (while not getting too sick of each other). I’ve been pleasantly surprised by students’ senses of humor as reflected through emogees, assignments, and other conversations over Zoom. I’ve learned that students’ needs are very different by grade: my 3rd graders need wiggle breaks more frequently, while my 4th graders love staying on Zoom just to chat for 10 minutes after the call is over. While their conversation has to remain school appropriate (and I disable the chat to help support that), about half of the class still loves having an outlet to be social. Today we talked about “Would You Rather” questions, and being goofy with them was one of the highlights of my day.

Now that we have begun to get students’ settled into Blended Learning, my next goal is to find manageable ways to differentiate students’ assignments based on their Scantron Data I sorted from September. Please let me know if you have any digital tools to recommend for 3rd/4th grade Vocabulary, Fiction, Nonfiction, Geometry, Data, Measurement, Algebra, Number Operations, and more!

Take care,

Haley

Personal Reflections: Pace, Emptying, and Receiving from God

Lately, I’ve been pushing myself to my limits in both faith/ministry and teaching. There have been times that I press in joyful intensity for what I do, and other times out of necessity, as coronavirus takes me in directions I would not have otherwise chosen (for example, meeting all of my students this year for the first time online). In the past month, I have had several friends concerned on my behalf about the tightness of my schedule. With good but sometimes overprotective intentions, they’ve wondered whether I would burn out. While I appreciate their care, I have sometimes lacked words to describe how radically different serving feels when you love what you do.

I recently was in a meeting where someone took offense to my desire to try new things, seeing it as a threat. They threw back at me a prayer request I had shared the week before, about being in a season of learning to receive from God, insinuating I should slow down into passivity instead of continuing to press in, surrendering the curiosity I had for what God could do through our conversation. After sidestepping the judgmental nature of their response, it made me plumb the depths of what it means to receive from God.

In beginning to answer this question arises another: “What does it mean to receive from other people?” When I think about receiving from people, passivity has never been my path. I feel most energized in the company of others seeking after the same things from God; expectantly and experimentally collaborating to construct something beautiful together. In spaces where people are active, expectant, and joy-fully dependent on God, I am mutually fed. However, in the occasional meeting, lecture, or training that has become merely routine, where people expect little and are marginally engaged, I tend to walk away feeling tired. In spite of having a full schedule, managing the details of daily life isn’t as challenging as the discouragement that comes from sensing people’s low expectations.

On the contrary, I sense an invitation from God to press in during this season, to contend for the next blessings he will send, not just for me, but for my community. I slow down, sense what he is saying, pray in agreement, and partner with him to bring the next thing forth. I watch as God reveals how this next move illustrates the larger story that he is writing. As a woman protects an unborn child, laboring until it is brought forth and then celebrating once it arrives, so it has been in the past, contending in God toward answered prayers. Now that new (largely financial) barriers have appeared, once again I start the ascent up that great hill, asking for more of God. Today I feel myself in the ascent, feeling the instability, early in the process of a new thing. Even so, the Lord will bring fruit.

Sensing this incline/pressure has made receiving from God feel both different and the same to the past. The same, in that there is an invitation to be still and listen to his still small voice. Different, in that it requires a greater emptying, both of my own will and logistically of other activities I would otherwise use to fill my time. For example, I’ve found it useful to spend the first 15-30 minutes at home just reading after I come back from teaching (instead of consuming media). I’ve also continued to monitor what media I’m consuming by setting parental locks on certain shows that would distract me from God (one more layer of difficulty often does the job of keeping me away, even though I know the passwords). As old rhythms rupture, one effective replacement I’ve found is listening to the Dwell app as I work, an audio bible app. By being able to listen to the word, I’ve found new connections between verses I would not have noticed by reading alone. It’s true that faith comes from hearing, and I’ve been grateful to let these words wash over me. I’ve also been blessed by new tracks by Psalmist Raine, one of my favorite worship artists. I love her sincerity!

Finding these new ways to receive from God has helped offset the visual overload of too many screens in a time of coronavirus. I’m already planning to have play verses and students and I eat lunch at our desks in the classroom, giving them a chance to take in information through their ears instead of their eyes, put their heads down for a little while, and just rest. As I retool my daily schedule, develop anchor charts related to social distancing classroom behavior, and finish preparing our space for their arrival, imagining how we will be able to receive from the Lord together has been so peaceful.

These resources have helped reintroduce the slowness I’ve needed. Two truths remain true about change during this time: 1) human beings can find ways of adjusting to just about anything and 2) slowing down is emotionally courageous. As mindful listening displaces my anxieties about financial provision, health, or other lack of closure in other areas of my life, it is like I am on an island with the vastness of time and God spread before me. It takes courage to be so slow, because you realize your own powerlessness. Like this author’s transparency in explaining how her membership in AA emotionally prepared her for the pandemic, you revert to taking things day by day, with fewer false securities. To meet God, I have to accept my powerlessness and instead, develop awe as I stare out into this great expanse. Refine me in this place, God. Once again, I make my home in the unknown, trusting that God who started a good work in me will bring it to completion. Ironically, in this emptying vastness, I receive a spiritual daily bread that re-energizes me to dive back sometimes still, sometimes active nature of my life. Just as the migratory patterns of leatherback sea turtles cause them to sojourn in stillness only to launch themselves across the world, the slowness and speed can’t be separated.

Lord, give us the wisdom and self-control to surrender, to meet you in that great ocean of the vastness of time. Give us also the courage to remain expectant, remain childlike, remain joyful, and remain active. Christ, come dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.

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