Technology as a Bridge between Schools and Families
Imagine being a prekindergarten teacher, and, in an instant, everything you knew about teaching young children shifted due to school closures related to Covid-19. Teaching at the early childhood level looks different than learning in most K-12 classrooms because a significant portion of the learning occurs through hands-on and play-based experiences. Also, current guidelines for the field of Early Childhood Education caution against developmentally inappropriate uses of technology, meaning young students should not be engaging with phones, computers, and tablets for prolonged periods of time. Therefore, prekindergarten teachers were tasked with being mindful of the employment of technology during this time of remote instruction.
Where teachers in the upper grade levels may have relied solely upon Google Meet or Zoom, I felt going this route with remote instruction wouldn’t work for our young learners. First, asking a bunch of pre-k students to sit in front of a screen all at the same time seemed more challenging than getting them to sit on a rug for Morning Meeting in school. Then I had to consider that many of the parents, within the school and within my own classroom, were Essential Workers, meaning that many of them still had to work and probably would not be home during school instruction hours. Expecting a synchronous remote learning experience was not a reality for my particular school.
Because our parents were already active on ClassDojo, the transition to remote and virtual learning was seamless during initial school closures. There was no scrambling to sign families up on this communication platform because our teachers were vigilant and steadfast about signing families up since the first day of school. So, having access to our parents during the transition to remote and virtual instruction eliminated a substantial amount of confusion.
ClassDojo has many functions that are useful for remote instruction. The ability to record or upload videos up to 8 minutes on the Class Story meant that I could hold my daily Morning Meetings, a Mini-Lesson, and Story Time. I learned that issuing a call to action to videos invited engagement from students and families. Through the comment sections on Class Story posts and the Messages function, students were able respond and participate. For example, I might ask students to share three words that rhyme with hat and to write their responses in the comments. Or, if after a mini-lesson on writing and drawing, I would ask them to show their work by either uploading their submission to the portfolio area on ClassDojo or to send a picture of their work to Messages. Responding to their comments and posting pictures of the work they shared, increased family engagement, because parents and students wanted to see their work on the Class Story and liked being acknowledged.
Through the screen recording function on iPad, I was able to record short theme-related videos from Youtube and post them to my Class Story. And through my subscription to Scholastic’s My Big World, I was still able to share the magazines with my students. I would screen-record myself reading the magazine aloud. Then I attached a link to the post that would allow them to explore the issue, videos, and other activities on their own. I created Google Slides and Apple Keynote presentations related to our themes, screen recorded them, and uploaded them to my Class Story. When a parent informed me that she was having trouble viewing the videos, I learned to upload my video to Youtube and then attach the link to the Class Story post, just in case other parents experienced similar problems.
To promote social interaction during initial school closures in the spring , I scheduled Virtual Playdates through Zoom twice a month. These playdates always had a purpose or theme, such as bringing items that rhymed, show and tell of favorite toys, etc. I used the playdates as opportunities for informal assessments of what the students knew and what they could do. I even utilized the whiteboard function on Zoom to play games like Sight Word Hangman. Before closing out each playdate, I used the last five minutes to open the floor to parents to share any questions or concerns they had.
Another benefit of using ClassDojo is that teachers are able to see which parents and students are viewing the posts and messages. This alerts teachers that they have to check in with these families. As teachers, we had to be aware that for some families, engaging with our daily lessons was not a priority during the pandemic. Checking in was more about showing our support. The School Story function in ClassDojo, which is a feed that all parents and teachers connected to the school can see, was used to post information about local and free resources for families.
When schools opened in the fall using a remote/ virtual format, it was decided by the district that preschoolers should meet synchronously daily, if only for short periods of time; two meetings a day for thirty minutes each. The early childhood centers were given the freedom to choose how they would make this happen. Because our school had success with encouraging parents and students to join us for the Zoom playdates in the spring, our school decided we would use Zoom for our daily remote, synchronous class meetings, and continue to employ ClassDojo for the virtual, asynchronous learning and engagement.
The variety of functions in Zoom made it possible to implement classroom curriculum in a modified format. For example, a component of our Morning Meeting is Share the News, where I would point to and read a question I had written on my whiteboard. In Zoom, however, I could share my screen to show the question using the Think Pair Share feature from the ClassDojo Toolkit. In my actual classroom, if I wanted to do writing instruction, I would use my smartboard or my whiteboard to model what I wanted my students to write. In Zoom, I used the whiteboard feature to do this. When we had small group discussions or activities in school, students knew which tables and teachers to go to in order for that to happen. In Zoom, we used the breakout rooms feature to have small group time.
I am sure many teachers long for the day when things will be back to normal. In the meantime, I am thankful for the technology that makes it possible for us to stay connected to our students and families. We learned in this whirlwind of a national health crisis that schools are much more than the buildings that contain them. For us, it was ClassDojo and Zoom that became the technological bridges that kept us connected during these uncertain, but innovative, times.