In partnership with eSchool News, Illuminate Education is spotlighting teachers in a series recognizing educators, the way they have moved instruction online during COVID-19, and how they have prioritized the needs of their students.

Drew Craft
4th Grade Teacher
East Village Community School
NYC Department of Education

“Make sure that students have a sense of connection and a way for their voices to be heard.”

How are you moving to a remote learning model? What does your daily schedule typically look like now?

DC: I have a really tech-heavy classroom to begin with, so in a lot of ways, remote learning hasn’t really been all that different than what we did when we were in school. That’s been nice, because I’ve been able to help other teachers get their classrooms up and running, too.

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I had a SMART Board in my room, and when students would walk in at 9:30 each morning, I’d have a Google Slide projected that showed what was expected of them over the first hour or hour and a half of school. Now, in the morning, students open up their computers, I share the Google Slide right at 9:30, and they’re able to see what we’re doing that day.

Each morning we start with a question that everyone answers. There’s always a Would you rather? question of the day, as well as a survey question. What was your favorite field trip? What was your favorite subject this year? What was your favorite specials class? Something like that. I also have hundreds and hundreds of little pictures and videos that I take throughout the course of the year, and every day I have a new picture of us doing something fun from one of the days that we were in school. I think they really look forward to getting in there and seeing a picture or a little video of one of our field trips and commenting on it. It’s my way of taking attendance, and I’ve actually had 100% attendance every day so far. So that’s about 5 to 10 minutes, and then they go right into their morning activities.

Then, we all meet again at 12:30. That’s also based on our previous schedule—at 12:30, our lunch and our recess ended, we would come back to the classroom, and we would do a read aloud every day. That was one of their favorite parts of the day, so I kept that the same. It’s also our time to go over our morning responses, and they’re able to share their thoughts and opinions on whatever the topic was for the morning meeting. Then I release them to do their afternoon work.

The schedule that I release in the morning only goes until 12:30, so they don’t know what the afternoon activities are. That way, if they blow through those things early in the morning, they can’t just say, “Oh, I’m done for the day.” Because they know—and their parents know—I’m gonna post more stuff at 12:30 when we get together and I read a book to them.

How have you been able to manage your class remotely?

We’ve had to establish new norms for our online meetings, which I was able to do before we officially started remote learning. I got them together on a couple Google Hangouts just to kind of get the novelty of it worn off a little bit, because it was nuts at first. So we’ve established the norm that when we come into the conference room, we do it quietly, just as you would when you enter any room. It’s no different in a Google Hangout.

With Google Hangout chat, the same kids you have to ask to be quiet all the time in class are the same kids you have to tell to stop using chat during a class meeting. I’ve had to kick a couple kids off the meeting, and say “Come back when you’re ready to not use chat.” It’s the same thing as saying, “Go sit over there, take a timeout, and come back over when you’re ready to join us.” So, they understand that.

There’s also a social aspect to chat. There had been some drama in our classroom with a group of students that continued virtually. Since the kids have Chromebooks, I’m able to open an incognito window, sign in as the students, and see what they’re chatting—just to make sure they’re being nice to each other. There was one instance where they weren’t, so I had to talk to them about it. So it’s kind of all the same things as before, just virtual, and with new norms because it’s virtual.

What have been the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is giving that immediate feedback right as kids need help, or figuring out how to help when I can see that a kid isn’t “getting it.” Sometimes they’ll move on to something else and they’ll forget that they struggled with a concept. One-on-one time is a challenge and small groups are the hardest. It’s been a steep learning curve. It’s still not perfect, and it’s still not as good as being together, but now we know how to contact each other better. We are able to resolve problems faster.

Here's how this NYC teacher moved his tech-centric class online

Today, how are you able to identify when students are struggling?

A lot of the sites we’re using, like Khan Academy, give me instant feedback so I can see when they’re having problems on some of the assignments that we’re doing. If I see they’re totally bombing something, I can ping them. I have them keep their Google Hangout messenger open so that I can say, “Hey, we need to talk real quick.” They’re getting really good at it. We’re at a place where they just instantly answer my calls or call me right away with questions.

Do you feel you’ve been able to stay connected to your students?

Yeah, I definitely am. For example, I keep a Google Hangout open probably 90 percent of the time between 9:30 and 12:30. This morning, I was able to check in individually with about seven kids. I had scheduled just two or three of them, and then a few others came in. They know that’s a time that they can check in with me when they need it.

How are you able to communicate with and support parents?

I don’t want to put the pressure on parents, since this is already stressful enough time as it is—especially being in New York City. But I think communicating with parents is really important, so I do a lot of group emails to parents saying, “Here’s what we’re doing.” I have a shared folder containing everything we do, every day, starting with Day 1 of remote learning. It’s shared with every student and every parent. That way, they can all go in and see what we’ve done every day, with all the hyperlinks in there to go directly to the assignment, or the or the video, or whatever it was.

I also still reach out when I know a student isn’t doing the work. For instance, this morning, I talked to one of my students and said, “Listen, dude. I can see you’ve done six minutes of Khan Academy and you’re supposed to do 40 every day. That’s gonna change this week.” And I’ll send an email to the parent just to let them know that if their kid is saying they have done their work, they haven’t. Our parents have been great. We have incredible, incredible parents. For instance, we have a class newspaper that one of the parents helps with every week, and she’s continued it and taken it online. All the kids in my class have opportunities to write—we have a fashion article, an automotive article, sports, that kind of thing. It’s amazing.

What advice would you share with other educators who are struggling with remote learning?

Make sure that students have a sense of connection and a way for their voices to be heard. That’s a really important one. Allow them to be recognized by you and by their peers, and feel like their voice is still important, even though they’re not all together. There’s lots of ways to do that—whether it’s blogging on Kidblog or making a quick video on Flipgrid or just using Zoom or Google Hangout. There’s ways to help them know their voices are heard.

I also think it helps to put as much ownership as you can with the kids. They have to make choices that affect them every day, so some things are different there. You can’t just give them a prescribed order in which to do things all the time. You can’t say, “You have to do 1, 2, 3, and 4 in that order.” If they do 3, 4, 1, and then 2, that’s okay. Everyone’s working on different schedules. I also think having checklists and check-in points for them, so that you know they’re making progress, is the most important thing. Giving them a choice and ownership in their own education.

Would you like to share a message to your students?

I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of you. You are resilient, you’re persevering through this, and you’ve done it while keeping a good attitude. I can’t wait to see you. We’ll have a big party where we can wear pajamas all week. Unless we’re all really tired of wearing pajamas at that point.

Note: Student images used with permission.

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