My Covid 19 Distance Teaching Experience (Múinteoir Niamh Infants)

This blogpost is written by Múinteoir Niamh Infants as part of a series of guest blogposts where teachers share their experience, thoughts and ideas for teaching during school closures. If you’d like to share your experience please email niamh@irishprimaryteacher.ie

That Thursday that we got the news that every school was closing was such a blur. Luckily, I had seen a lot of my fellow teachers on Instagram begin to create an emergency activity pack to go home in the case of a school closure but I don’t think everyone expected it to be so sudden. There was no lunch eaten that day as I teach Juniors and Seniors so they would be going home fifty minutes after the lunch break. It was the case as to which teacher could hit print first. Luckily, I got a booklet printed for each of them with some advice for parents on the front. With these handed out in the nick of time, I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye properly to the children. I think the parents were just as confused as me when they collected the children.

Luckily for me, I had set up Class Dojo back in September to show parents what was going on in the classroom as not all children had permission for photos to be put on social media but were more than happy to have them on our private Class Dojo page. Class Dojo is a website or app that allows teachers to communicate with parents through a private class blog as such. You can upload videos, photos or files to it. Parents have to be added by email and children can upload pictures, videos or files to their individual portfolio which have to be approved by the teacher before they can be published. This is a secure and private way of sharing because only parents can see their own child’s portfolio work and only people approved by the teacher can see the content of the class story. Back in September, I had sent home a note explaining what Class Dojo was and if they wanted to be included to sign, giving their consent and put down their e-mail address. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for the rest of the school. We were trying to come up with ideas to help the children and because I was familiar with Class Dojo, as were the parents in my class, we decided to go ahead with using this as our /teaching communication platform for the duration of the school closure. The principal send out a text to parents to send their e-mail address to a specific e-mail and then they would be added to their class page. After spending a good few days going googly-eyed from setting up Class Dojo, the majority of the students were set up and ready to go.

Back to my class Junior and Senior Infants, all their books and copies were left in school. One, I didn’t have time/think to send them home and also, I suppose, I didn’t actually think the closure would do on for so long. But the more I think about it, I’m actually glad I didn’t send the workbooks home. I’m not the person who completes the workbook page after page and couldn’t remember for definite what pages we had or hadn’t done. Also, thinking of the parents working from home or having other kids doing work, I didn’t want for them to have to sit with them to do the work for the duration. I wanted to create something that they could be given and it would be more or less self-explanatory when they looked at it. For that reason, I decided that I was going to work off a blank sheet of paper every day.  Why didn’t you just upload a photo of the worksheet or one from twinkl you ask? Well, I didn’t want to put pressure on the parents to need a printer to print them off. I explained to them that they could do the work on a piece of paper, a copy, the back of a cereal box, I really didn’t mind as long as they were doing something. Some parents are writing out the worksheet themselves like mine and some have the ability to print it out. So for me and my class, the blank sheet is working well.

For the first week or two it was very much 2 activities per day which ranged from a bit of literacy, maths, art or PE. There was no real structure to this and it was all revision of what they had already done. I have only just started to get my head around it all so I’ll just go through what I do.

Literacy:

I have been following the Jolly Phonics scheme and I decided to continue on teaching the sounds. I upload a video of me using the programme every Monday morning, just as we would in school, with the song, the action and the blending activity. For the Senior Infants, are continuing with the introduction to alternative sounds so I upload a video/activity for that too.

With regard to reading, I upload a reader for each class level every week. I have stressed to the parents that if it is too easy/difficult for their child, that they can message me privately for an alternative. I can still manage to differentiate here as I can challenge the stronger readers in Juniors to read the Senior Infant reader and vice versa for those who find the Senior Infant reader difficult to try with the other reader. I also make out some very simple reading comprehensions for each class level for one activity during the week and they have to answer questions on it.

We had just began to revise letter formation in school before the close so I decided to go ahead with that on the lower-case letters. Senior Infants had just began learning about the formation of the upper-case letters so I decided what harm would it be to learn both. The most important thing I have felt that the parents are very grateful for is the letter formation rhymes to help the children with the correct formation. I have found that parents have been messaging me saying that they had been telling them they were doing it the wrong way at home and the rhymes had really helped them with this.

I also try and do some fun with literacy activities during the week such as sentence unscramble and picture code sentences.

Numeracy:

For the last few weeks, we have been focussed on the story of numbers. I have been using a variety of different household objects to use as concrete materials to aid their learning. We have used pasta, pegs, spoons, whatever they have access too at home. This seems to be working well.

Number formation: As above, I have one activity per week that is focussed on number formation and having the formation rhymes is very beneficial to them too.

I will be continuing to look at new learning in the next few weeks do at least the children will have an introduction to certain topics done.

SESE:

For SESE, I am trying to focus the lessons on being active and that they can do these by themselves which will let the parents have a breather while the children are busy. This includes hunts for spring things, finding things around the house that are quiet or loud. They seem to be really enjoying this.

Art:

I love art and so do the children, so I decided to continue doing a simple art lesson with them. It’s harder than I thought to find lessons that don’t require any resources, equipment or planning. I have done some step by step drawing with them, some printing using things they would have at home and most recently as part of World Earth Day, I got them to create some art using things they would find in the outside environment. I was beyond impressed by their creations.

Story time Friday:

Each Friday after lunch was our favourite time of the week, the time to relax and read a funny story. I am continuing to do this by recording myself reading the book for the children and they love it. I’d say the parents think the books I’m reading are mad but when we read them in school, the hearty laughs you would hear from them and I hope the parents get to hear this too when they watch them listening to the story. I would highly recommend doing this if possible because the children love hearing your voice and seeing you too (obviously, only if you are comfortable doing so). Books I would recommend would be ‘The Dinosaur that Pooped a Planet’, ‘The T-Rex that Lost his Specs’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Bogey’.

From this week on to ease with my planning and to keep the parents updated, I have created a weekly planning document as to what I plan to do with the children every day. This gives the parents who are working the opportunity to either do more with them on the days that are off or whenever it suits them to do so. Then for each day, I will put the challenges up on the Class Dojo page with some hints and tips for the parents and as mentioned above, I also put up a simple worksheet activity or working template to work on or get inspiration from. This seems to be working quite well for me and I have asked parents opinions and thoughts on what I’ve been doing so far through a questionnaire and the majority agreed to stick with what we have been doing. Being honest, it can be quite tough some weeks seeing or hearing what other teachers and schools are doing with their classes but we have to remember, we know what works well for our children and parents so I think we have to stick to what we are doing now and keep going. We’re doing great, even if sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.