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A Peek Inside a Virtual Second Grade Classroom During COVID-19

Editor's Note

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I work at a public charter school in the Bronx, New York City’s poorest borough. We teach pre-K through Fifth Grade, and my primary job is to train and support the teachers in kindergarten, first and second grades as they learn our school’s pedagogy. It’s a terrific position to be in as I spend much of my day in classrooms, working together with the teachers and students.

The kids who attend our school were randomly selected via a public lottery. Yet, on state exams, they not only outperform the other schools in our neighborhood, but also the entire city and even the wealthy suburbs. And most visitors marvel at how relaxed the kids are, how confident.

Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, everything has moved online. Teachers are working with small groups of students on the Zoom online platform, and I get to watch and sometimes participate. I’m also tasked with converting our approach for classroom teaching to the online environment.

For the most part, the transition is going well.

Here’s an example from a second grade class I observed, and for which I created the materials.

I devised a worksheet that shows the students the second sentence in a story. Their task is to read it and devise a first sentence that makes sense. All the second sentences contain vocabulary they studied recently, such as treasure, believe, break, exaggerate, meant.

The teacher, Ms. Justice, showed the worksheet on the Zoom screen, and as they worked through it, the students took turns telling her what to write.

The first example was already done for them. The second part reads: Billy’s mom opened the gift and said, “Oh, my! Thank you for this lovely present. I’ll treasure it always!”

And the first sentence, filled in above it, reads: For his mom’s birthday party, Billy went to a department store and bought his mother a beautiful silk scarf.

Thus, you have this coherent story beginning:

For his mom’s birthday party, Billy went to a department store and bought his mother a beautiful silk scarf. Billy’s mom opened the gift and said, “Oh, my! Thank you for this lovely present. I’ll treasure it always! 

Initially, the five students in this Zoom lesson didn’t comprehend what the worksheet was asking them to do, and they asked lots of questions to clear up their confusion. I admit it forces them to think backward.

But after we got beyond the first one they had to figure out on their own, they caught on and quickly offered one scenario after another. And Ms. Justice was terrific about typing the exact words they said, so the results were their own voices, unedited.

Here are the next examples of “second sentences” the kids had to deal with:

  • “I can’t believe you ate the whole thing,” Sally said.
  • The teacher looked at Kathy and said, “Take a break.”
  • “Don’t exaggerate!” Martha said to her brother.·
  • “That chocolate milk was meant for your sister!” Sam’s mom said.

And here’s what they told Ms. Justice to write for each story’s beginning:

  • “Can I have a little piece?” asked Sally’s brother. Later, he asked for another little piece because it tasted so good. “I can’t believe you ate the whole thing,” Sally said.
  • Kathy was talking to her friend when a lesson was going on with her class, and she wasn’t paying attention to what the teacher was saying. The teacher looked at Kathy and said, “Take a break.”
  • Martha and her brother were running around the park. Martha’s brother fell on the floor. “I am so tired. I’m like the tiredest person on earth!” screamed Martha’s brother. “Don’t exaggerate!” Martha said to her brother.
  • Sam’s brother LOVED chocolate milk, but that was for his sister’s lunch tomorrow. So, his mother had to hide it in some kind of fridge, but he’s an expert detective! He found it and drank it, but then his mom heard a drinking noise, and she ran down the hallway. “That chocolate milk was meant for your sister!” Sam’s mom said.

That’s all we had time for on this day, as Ms. Justice had to move on to a math lesson.

When they finished and the kids logged off, Ms. Justice and I reviewed what had transpired. We both noted how the kids’ output accelerated as we worked on subsequent examples. And Ms. Justice’s mother, who’s also a teacher and was in the room at the time, noted the same thing.

Ms. Justice also came to this conclusion: I think it goes to show that often the best method is not to try to keep explaining in a way that you think they’ll understand but rather just have them jump into the activity.

And this is why “social distancing” is really only “distancing,” as the whole experience with this lesson and the debrief that followed was utterly social and delightful. \ Furthermore, even though I have Parkinson’s disease, this is one of the many instances in my life when I don’t have Parkinson’s at all.

Follow this journey on Parking Suns.

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Getty image Maria Symchych-Navrotska

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