When the pandemic started in March, Debbie Cretella shared her plan to start remote learning with Kindergarteners. This week, I checked in with Ms. Cretella to see how she's preparing for back to school and her suggestions on how to start remote learning.
About Ms. Cretella
Debbie Cretella has been an early childhood educator for over 15 years. She started teaching Kindergarten 4 years ago. Ms. Cretella teaches at Father Capadanno Catholic Academy, a Title 1 Pre K3-8 school in Staten Island, New York.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions about how to start remote learning for our readers!
What approach is your school taking to return to learning this fall?
We are a Catholic School so we were able to submit a plan to the governor tailored to our school based on enrollment and building size. Parents were given full time in school, hybrid, and full remote choices. For remote students, we will be live streaming our classes.
How has that changed what you normally do for the beginning of the school year?
I teach kindergarten. Normally, I hold an orientation for an hour on the first day of school with the students and parents. This year, I will be unable to do that. Because of that, I see the first month as focusing solely on routines and exploring our remote tools.
Related Post: The Ultimate Back to School Coding Kit
Since you’re on a hybrid model, how does your teaching style change for days you’re in-person and days you’re virtual?
We are a hands-on, play-based kindergarten. We will be using technology a lot more than we have in the past, but it's so important to build fine motor skills and do offline exploration.
Many of our students attend on scholarship, so I spent most of my time purchasing and securing donations to build each child an individual supply box that will allow for hands-on learning no matter where they are.
Also, small groups are going to be very different. My groups have always been very fluent based on the skills we are focusing on. Since we can't sit in small groups, right now my plan is to Zoom with the small groups (even those in the building with me) while the other students work independently on a Seesaw or Kodable activity.
Are some students fully remote? How do you adjust for them?
Yes, I have several students who are full remote. I will be giving them a fully stocked Zoom box so that they have all the same materials as the children in the building.
I am hoping to be able to hold a remote group conference several times a day while the students in class work independently. I also want to work in screen breaks for them. It's a work in progress. Since there's really no best practices yet on how to start remote learning, it'll be trial and error.
Since I teach Kindergarten so I will definitely want feedback from the remote parents on what's working well and what needs improvement.
Has distance learning changed your expectations for students this year?
I always look at growth. Obviously I want my students to successfully master the standards, but growth from where we started is what I focus on. Using formal assessments and anecdotal notes to see what each child needs from me to be successful.
Kindergarten students are so young when the school year begins, what strategies are you using to help them learn classroom culture and norms since they aren’t on a “normal” routine?
To be honest, this is a time where having no set routines coming in works to my advantage! I have already sent out optional assignments to help the children get acclimated to Seesaw.
I am planning to do a meet the teacher video soon. Send pictures of our classroom before the first day of school, as well as talk about what our school day will be like is also on my list. I purchased a clear mask so that in class the kids can see my facial expressions. This will also be important as we learn letter sound. Practicing routines will be our focus that first month.
What’s a lesson you learned during distance learning in the spring that you’re applying to your strategy for this fall?
That choice boards are awesome! I started using weekly choice boards last winter as a weekly assignment with math and reading practice. In the Spring I learned that choice boards offering several ways to show mastery of content is a great way to play to the student's strengths.
Related Post: 7 Choice Board Examples for Remote Learning
A lot of families loved working on videos together to showcase what the student knows in Seesaw. Those who can't or don't want to do a video can choose to draw a picture and tell about it, record a story, take pictures, there's really something for everyone. I can even link Kodable videos to a choice board!
What apps and tools are you using for remote learning?
Seesaw as our virtual classroom, this worked well for me in the spring. We will be using Kodable for coding, Reading A-Z , Flipgrid (which can be app smashed in Seesaw), and I love the Wide Open School website (our school coach recommended it to me in the Spring and it is fantastic).
How to are you monitoring what students are learning?
I will continue to give formal assessments and take anecdotal notes. I have a system where I take notes on five kids a week. A four week span helps me to identify strengths and weaknesses and plan accordingly.
One of the positives of online teaching is that I can assign specific activities to support each child fairly easily for true differentiating.
Are your students in pods? How are you using technology safely in your classroom?
We are not in pods. We will not be leaving the classroom except for bathroom use and an outdoor break after lunch (lunch is in the classroom).
The children will be on Seesaw mainly since I can place most links directly on the daily assignments. Wide Open Classroom gets their links so I will use their content a lot. Finally, Kodable videos are well vetted so I'm comfortable with linking those.
We will also be using play dough, jumbo tweezers with craft poms for literacy and math to help us build those fine motor skills. Our phonics program is explicit and kinesthetic. This will get the kids moving their arms and hands, manipulating tiles, and taking a break from the screen.
Want more remote learning tools?
Learn more about how to start remote learning this fall. Our complete list of remote learning tools is here.