Friday, October 9, 2020

RSU 14 kindergarten students adjusting to learning in hybrid and remote models

Kiely Treschitta, a kindergarten teacher for
RSU 14, works remotely leading a small group
of students in a reading lesson. Treschitta
teaches remote kindergarten every morning
with a class of 30 students from Windham
Primary School and Raymond Elementary
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By Elizabeth Richards

Whether hybrid or full remote learning, kindergarten looks a lot different this year. RSU 14 administrators and teachers have worked hard to adapt to a new way of doing things while providing a developmentally appropriate experience for students.

“We’ve all come together to keep it child-focused and child-centered,” said Laura Record, a kindergarten teacher at Windham Primary School.

Overall, children are adapting well, school staff said.  

Our kindergarten learners have done amazing with the start of school and the CDC requirements for safety,” said Dr. Kyle Rhoads, principal at WPS.

Beth Peavey, the principal at Raymond Elementary School said, “I’ve been amazed at all of our students, especially our little, little ones coming in wearing their masks and following the routines that are new for our school.”

It has not been easy.

“One of the hardest things for kindergarten is the distancing, both with each other and for me with the children,” said Lindsey Pettus, a kindergarten teacher at WPS.  It can be especially challenging when children need help with physical tasks like learning scissor skills, pencil grips, or opening food items.  

She handles this challenge by talking children through problems as best she can, she said. If a child is really struggling, teachers follow strict protocols to assist.

“It’s like scrubbing in for surgery to help a kid hold their scissors the right way,” Pettus said.

Throughout the district, technology hasn’t yet been sent home with kindergarteners in the hybrid model.  On remote days, children are working on packets that reinforce in-person learning, reading
logs, and/or are participating in choice activities, depending on the teacher.

Teachers understand that every family has different circumstances and don’t want remote work to be overwhelming.  “We’re really working as a team and giving clear and explicit instructions to parents so they know what their children should be doing and how they should be doing each assignment,” said Jennifer Smith, a kindergarten teacher at RES.

“Our expectation for that is do what you can, do what works for your family. We understand that everyone’s situation is different,” said RES kindergarten teacher Erin Simoneau.

Teachers across the district are using an app called SeeSaw to connect with families.  When technology is sent home with students, the app will change what is possible for remote days, such as recording a short lesson and providing an accompanying activity, Record said.  

“We wanted the families and kids to be familiar so if we did need to go remote, SeeSaw wasn’t a surprise,” Simoneau said.

One benefit of the hybrid model, teachers said, is the small class sizes.  “I’ve gotten to know the kids pretty quick, and what their needs are,” Pettus said. 

Simoneau said with smaller groups, they are able to sit on the rug and be safely distanced.  “It’s a big deal to move from desks to the rug, even if it’s just for a story,” she said.

On the flip side, Pettus said, it’s the end of September and her students have only had six in-person school days. That means classroom routines may not be as smooth as expected for this time of year. 

Certain elements of instruction, such as the phonics work that is so important in kindergarten, is also difficult when students and teachers are masked.

“I tend to put myself in a corner and then take my mask off when I’m far enough away to show them,” Simoneau said. Teachers also have masks with clear panels around the mouth.

“This age tends to have a lot of speech delays. That’s a big part of kindergarten - addressing those issues and trying to correct those delays,” RES kindergarten teacher Stephen Seymour said.  Speaking through a mask can make children even more difficult to understand, he said.

Keeping up with curriculum when there are only two in-person days and keeping both groups of students in the same place can also be a challenge, Pettus said. “I’m really trying to be as consistent as possible between the two days so they’re getting the same experience at school,” she said. 

They have been able to move quickly through the phonics curriculum, she said, because they’ve doubled up lessons on days that students are in person.  “We’re keeping pace with that which has been really nice,” she said. 

Ensuring an appropriate learning environment for kindergarten students took collaboration, creativity and teamwork.  One of the challenges they worked out before students arrived was how to allow children to play, Record said.

The district has found ways to follow CDC guidelines but also offer children opportunities that some other schools in the area aren’t, such as using equipment on the playground. Students are also able to check books out of the library. At WPS, kindergarteners choose a personal tub of toys to use for a week.  

“It took a lot of brainstorming and back and forth to make sure we were following all the CDC guidelines. It’s just so critical for kindergarteners to be able to play and be hands on and talk while they’re playing,” Record said.

Learning to manage the required routines, such as waiting for all children to have their food before taking off masks to eat, helps build valuable skills like patience, determination and grit, Peavy said.

“I think that it will transfer over into their academics.  It really is amazing to see the level of patience that they have,” she said.

Kiely Treschitta is one of two teachers for kindergartners who are participating in full remote learning from both RES and WPS. 

“Remote learning has been going well for kindergarteners. Students do well with the consistency of the schedule,” Treschitta said.

Students begin their day at 8:30 am on Zoom and are logged in until 11:15, though they are not expected to engage for the entire time and turn their cameras off to work independently.

Problems with technology, such as students being logged off, computers freezing, and websites that don’t work, can be a big challenge for remote learning.  Another challenge, Treschitta said, is that students have a hard time sitting for a long time. “That’s why we do fifteen-minute live sessions and then they have time to move around during independent time.”

Treschitta said she’s been surprised at how quickly students have learned to navigate Zoom and other apps. 

“It’s amazing when students are able to teach their parents and other adults how to use apps,” she said. “These students surprise us every day.” <

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