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Designing an Exceptional Remote Learning Experience for Young Children
By: Lower School Director Rachel Dixon
Flexibility, determination, care and compassion — those were the qualities that I listed when asked during one of my very first interviews what I believe an outstanding teacher should possess. These also happen to be the qualities that were front and center as Rossman teachers transitioned from classroom instruction to Rossman Online this spring.
Through research and conversations with colleagues, a theme around remote learning has continually emerged — the older the student, the greater the ease of transition in managing remote learning. Of course this does not mean that remote learning comes naturally for any student, simply that the skills, experience, independence and modes of instruction and assessment are more easily transferable for students in middle school and high school. So what does this mean for our youngest learners?
We know that young children thrive and grow in environments that allow for hands-on and in-person exploration, trial and error, and learning opportunities. They build and deepen their understanding of relationships through close interaction, physical touch and the ability to directly observe the reactions of others. These are not experiences that readily lend themselves to a screen. However, this spring, our Rossman School teachers’ flexibility, determination, compassion and care were on full display as they stretched their own thinking to find ways to engage, challenge and connect with their students remotely. Below are some of the ways in which Rossman teachers supported students around what we know to be critical elements of learning and development for our younger learners:
Consistency and Routine
We know that consistency and routine provide a sense of security and safety for young children as they experience predictability and structure in their day-to-day lives. This was particularly critical during this time characterized by unpredictability and stress. Our teachers immediately prioritized the continuation of classroom routines such as calendar, read alouds of classroom favorites and dedicated opportunities to show off the pre-scheduled “Star” or “Helper” of the Week. Additionally, the schedule of both synchronous (live) and asynchronous (recorded) learning opportunities retained a high level of consistency from week to week so students would know exactly which days they would see their teachers for small groups or have their “virtual recesses.”
Exploration and Hands-on Opportunities
Knowing that worksheets and lengthy instructional videos were not the way to engage our young learners, teachers worked carefully to craft meaningful, hands-on and innovative learning experiences at home. For example, our JK students were sent home with pots to decorate and seeds to sprout and observe while second graders were challenged to create their end of trimester habitat projects using purely recyclable materials and found objects. Rossman teachers were resourceful in using the “at home” learning environment to their advantage, leveraging the unique settings and opportunities each child had to build creativity and foster individualism.
Differentiation and Small Group Work
The Lower School years lay a critical foundation for all that follows, and we knew that students could not miss even eight weeks of targeting instruction and support, particularly in key subjects like reading and math. Small group learning opportunities were one of our most critical pieces to instruct, support and evaluate learning. Teachers and students loved the opportunity for immediate feedback, and families remarked how these times seemed to allow children to “pick up where they left off” before the remote learning experience and to move learning forward. Live office hours were also a helpful component of our schedule, offering students the opportunity to ask questions about concepts or assignments, and sometimes, just to show off their work! We know that one size fits all does not work whether we’re on or off campus, and our teachers worked diligently to maintain this distinguishing feature of a Rossman education.
Rossman does a particularly wonderful job of celebrating the joy of childhood, and this remained true during our Rossman Online experience. Playing “I Spy” during virtual recess, participating in drive through celebrations for our graduating SK and sixth grade students, completing virtual Field Day in Rossman Families, and enjoying other miscellaneous dress up days, theme days and surprise guests (including the Easter Bunny) were just some of the highlights of our eight weeks of Rossman Online. The humor and laughter fueled the souls of both our students and faculty, and our families too.
Perhaps what stood out the most is ultimately what educators know to be the key to successful learning environments — relationships. Though it is safe to say our teachers never anticipated teaching through Zoom, they continually stretched themselves outside of their comfort zones to offer more and more live learning experiences for their students. This was not always an easy feat for five, six and seven year olds experiencing virtual learning for the first time! They knew that these live experiences were crucial for learning, but also for the connections that they deeply craved with their students. When children struggled with the online learning format or lacked motivation to move forward, our teachers were there to provide one-on-one encouragement and individualized suggestions for families. We were all thankful that our intentionally small size allowed us to devote ample time and attention to these relationships with our students.
Though our Rossman faculty deeply hopes for a return to campus next year and the opportunity to be “with” their students, the lessons we have learned and the priorities we have upheld during remote learning clearly demonstrate that we are up for the challenge. As we prepare for the necessary adaptations for the next school year, our faculty are committed to balancing all of these essential characteristics of learning while embodying the flexibility, dedication, care and compassion that is characteristic of our Rossman teachers.
Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in St. Louis, is a private preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills. Request a free Rossman School brochure here.