Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by a team of Belmar Elementary School administrators and faculty members, highlighting its success in developing an instructional plan that has addressed student needs during the coronavirus pandemic.
BELMAR, NJ — Teaching during a pandemic is no easy task. This year, teachers had to find ways to reach students while maintaining the fidelity of targeting individualized instruction.
Belmar Elementary School is a unique demographic with challenges that some of the neighboring schools do not have. About 56% of students are from Spanish-speaking households and 57% are from low socioeconomic households.
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Developing rigorous and differentiated lessons that challenge students in normal circumstances has been demanding enough, but added pressures resulting from COVID-19 have been difficult for teachers. Teachers in the district had to learn how to simultaneously teach the in-person students while livestreaming the virtual students. As a result, administrators and the technology team worked together during the summer to develop the best instructional plan for students and teachers alike.
While some districts are currently attending full day or transitioning to a full day, Belmar Elementary School is delivering high-quality instruction during a four-hour day. The district’s instructional model is an example for other districts on how to provide the best school experience possible even during such unprecedented times. Through Belmar Elementary’s plan, student needs are being met academically, emotionally and physically.
Unlike many districts across the country, BES offered both in-person and virtual learning for the 2020-21 school year, with students livestreaming into classes in real-time. In the structure of the current four-hour day, teachers are differentiating instruction during each academic subject (math, English language arts, social studies or science) which is approximately 75 minutes to ensure students’ educational needs are being met.
Teachers had to get used to this type of teaching but adapted quickly. Teachers utilized online platforms to provide instruction to meet the needs of both in-person and virtual learners.
Even though students leave at 1 p.m., the teachers are available to work with students until 3 p.m.
Interventionists, who work with students in grades kindergarten through fifth grade for extra support, stream in during regular whole class lessons —for small group work and for individual instruction — while classroom teachers are teaching the in-person and remote students. Interventionists also meet with students between 8:15 and 8:45 a.m. or 2 to 3 p.m. to reteach and reinforce skills, as needed. Interventionists collaborate with classroom teachers to create intentional instruction for identified learners. Google Meet breakout rooms, as well as small group forums are utilized for this targeted instruction.
In addition, the reading interventionists teach both whole class and small group Wilson Fundations lessons to students in kindergarten through third grade. Fundations teachers support instruction with the help of the Wilson Reading online interactive “Fun Hub.”
Reading interventionists offer continued support during small group and individual Action 100 leveled conferences daily through the use of the online book database ARC Bookshelf, while supplementing with Reading A-Z, Vooks.com and Epic.com, for example.
Since the four-hour day is structured around academics, specials’ classes (art, music, physical education, technology, and world language) are delivered virtually. Special teachers send out asynchronous (recorded) lessons on Mondays, and they are due on Fridays. Students can use the time between 1 and 3 p.m. to work on their lessons. Specials teachers also go into classes to deliver mini-lessons and clarify assignments that were sent out. Additionally, specials’ teachers are available from 1 3 p.m. to meet with students and reinforce skills learned.
Technology Plays Key Role in Learning Experience
Belmar Elementary School’s dedicated technology team has been providing ongoing professional development to the staff through full-day and half-day sessions for the past several years. Belmar has proven to be one of the most technologically advanced schools in the area as evidenced by their early adoption of Google for Education and Chromebooks. Teachers have been using these tools for many years.
The technology team consists of two Google for Education Certified Trainers. The district has been able to tailor professional development to meet each staff member’s needs by utilizing small groups to provide individualized instruction.
Shortly after all schools went virtual due to COVID-19 in March 2020, teachers met with students via Google Meets and recorded lessons using various digital platforms. Three days of professional development were scheduled during this time, so teachers could volunteer and share what technology tools they were using during their lessons. Teachers enthusiastically signed up for the optional virtual workshops to expand their knowledge about additional resources to use with their students during remote learning.
Prior to school opening for the 2020-21 school year, teachers had three professional days to prepare for lesson delivery scenarios in the upcoming weeks. Along with the tech team, the administration decided that teachers would use the Google platform for all instruction. Teachers were given professional development on utilizing Google Meets for livestreaming, Google break-out rooms, as well as Google Classroom for posting assignments. Since the year began, professional learning time has been utilized for teachers to continue working together with their grade level/department, the technology team, or attending webinars to learn new digital resources and expand upon what they have already learned.
During the school year, the BES tech staff strives to support teachers by answering questions and requests for assistance — through emails, video chat or one-on-one sessions. As new resources are discovered, the tech staff creates simple and easy-to-follow training resources that allow teachers to experiment independently with optional support. Tutorials often include detailed descriptions, screenshots, and videos that can be viewed frequently. Technology lessons are often team-taught so classroom teachers can focus on their students while learning new technology through direct instruction.
With the administrative team’s leadership and guidance from the technology team, BES teachers were introduced to many digital online platforms. Teachers utilize these digital resources to engage children in their learning experience and meet each student’s needs. Teachers can view students’ work in real-time and differentiate, as needed. In addition, teachers can work in small groups virtually with students and implement targeted individualized instruction as if students were in person.
Every BES teacher has found success with at least three digital resources to utilize with students. See below for a description of only some of the digital resource options that teachers continue to integrate during the delivery of quality instruction.
Pear Deck is a Google add-on, designed to make Google Slides interactive and more engaging. It allows the teacher to leave audio instructions, descriptions or examples for students to hear while they read various prompts. Slides can be presented during class or assigned through Google Classroom. The teacher dashboard allows students to view slides while working. Teachers can then reteach and redirect, as needed. The quick response type questions are helpful for both “do nows” and “exit tickets.” Pear Deck allows teachers to weave various questioning techniques on slides to increase student engagement. Students even have access to drawing tools to solve math problems and then can receive instant feedback.
Boom Cards are an interactive tool that engages students to complete premade activities for every subject and grade level. The cards are game-based and offer multiple-choice, open-ended questions, as well as matching. Boom Cards can be utilized for whole group instruction, as well as for small group differentiation and one on one instruction. Activities can easily be assigned on Google Classroom and teachers can then analyze assignment results to determine student progress.
Scholastic Weekly Readers offer bimonthly articles that can be presented with videos and skills sheets. Teachers can assign main articles that are linked to Google Slides and assigned through Google Classroom. Differentiated instruction is offered through extended video links, vocabulary slides, leveled articles, Spanish versions, and Jeopardy-like games.
Screencastify enables teachers to record audios and videos that can be embedded into presentations. Teachers can prepare recorded lessons for students and post them on Google Classroom as assignments. Also, Screencastify can be used to explain instructions on Google Slides and for other projects.
Screencastify Submit is a simple way for students to record and submit videos. This feature can be used for informal assessment of fluency and reading comprehension by having the students read aloud from their independent reading novels and respond to a prompt in their recording. Options for viewing the videos can be private between teacher and student or shared with their peers.
Edpuzzle is a visual, interactive video resource that enables students to learn at their own pace. YouTube videos or lesson content recordings, such as Screencastify, are adapted by embedding multiple choice or open-ended questions. Using Screencastify recordings on Edpuzzle allows for differentiation of reading levels when completing a class novel. These videos can be uploaded and assigned to students in Google Classroom. Students can re-watch videos as many times as they need while their progress is analyzed.
Jamboard is an online whiteboard that allows for student engagement and fosters collaboration with our virtual and in-person students. The variety of template options enables students to actively participate individually or in groups through reflection prompts, reading responses, or debates. It is also great for brainstorming, allowing the students to organize their thinking and checking for learner understanding. Jamboard allows students to interact with each other on assignments, and it can be used as a formative assessment tool.
FlipGrid is a practical resource for any subject that allows teachers and students to record videos for up to 10 minutes. Teachers can use Flipgrids to provide instructions for activities and assignments. It will enable students to hear themselves talk aloud, enhancing their public speaking skills and fluency. As part of the necessary social-emotional learning focus (SEL), students can comment and respond to their classmates in order to maintain peer interactions.
Blooket.com is a game-oriented website that allows teachers to either create a set of questions or choose from countless premade sets to assign whole-group class games or independent assignments related to various subject areas. From science topics to English language arts and math, there seems to be a set of questions for almost any elementary level topic.
Word Wall is a beneficial resource for all subjects because it engages students through the use of games. It is easy to implement since it offers an extensive library of premade activities. Word Wall allows teachers to integrate games both during whole group lessons and small group targeted intervention time. Teachers can post game links on Google Classroom for students to complete independently and closely monitor their progress.
Ask a Biologist allows students to view various biomes of the world in virtual reality. They see 360-degree views of the different biomes and learn about each. Students can view information, other locations within the biome, close-up images of plants/animals, time travel to different seasons, open and play videos regarding that biome.
Kami allows students to annotate and write directly on a PDF document; whereas otherwise, they would not have been able to virtually. Teachers can differentiate instruction by making annotations on assignments to support student learning.
Math Learning Center offers teachers and students digital manipulatives and is especially useful for students who are working from home or in small groups virtually. As a result, students are kept actively engaged while benefiting from the use of multisensory tools to better understand concepts.
Social Emotional Learning Vital to Instructional Plan
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended all of our lives and generated feelings including loss, anxiety, grief, and isolation. When combined with learning, emotions like this result in new challenges students, teachers, and families never had to deal with before.
While the school day at Belmar Elementary School centers around academics, social emotional learning (SEL) lessons had to play a significant role in the instructional plan. Checking-in on students, morning meetings, and open-ended discussion forums are just some of the activities implemented by BES staff.
Belmar Elementary School will continue to prominently include daily SEL lessons in the school day, even as traditional academic learning returns in order to continue nurturing the whole child.
As part of the SEL philosophy, BES felt it was important to continue its performing arts program to the best extent possible. In these times of ambiguity, it is very important for students to be able to make music. Music is a unique way for students to express themselves, and to have a small escape from everything going on in the world around them.
After conducting research and attending professional development, the performing arts staff developed ways to showcase the students by having weekly rehearsals outside or virtually to create their final project.
Belmar Elementary is also proud to share that it is one of the only districts providing students with the opportunity to participate in band, chorus and drama production during this rather challenging time.
Belmar Elementary School faces unique challenges compared to other districts, so it is extremely proud of the instructional planning arrangement that was implemented this school year. Teachers worked diligently while being flexible in order to make in-person students and virtual students feel equally included and cared about. Thanks to a group effort by all stakeholders, students at BES are better prepared for the future.
This article was prepared by the following Belmar Elementary School administrators and faculty members:
Sarah Wilton, Principal
Pam Lockwood, Technology Coordinator
Kevin O’Donnell, Technology Coordinator
Kathy Kenny, Reading Specialist
Jeanne Arpert, Reading Specialist
Megan Winchester, First Grade
Karen Gianforte and Erin Mangan, Second Grade
Beth Polito and Lori Morello, Third Grade
Diane Considine and Leif Petterson, Fourth Grade
Anna Bruzzese, Fifth and Sixth Grade Math
Kally Jankowski, Fifth and Sixth Grade Science
Susan Smith, Seventh Grade English Language Arts
Sean McDonald, Seventh and Eighth Grade Social Studies
Kim Veltre, Seventh and Eighth Grade Science
Stacey Craw and Stephanie Curcio, Kindergarten
Emily Schladebeck and Kerry White, Instrumental Music, Chorus, Band and Drama Directors
Nancy Brady, School Counselor
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