Reflections on Teaching Through a Pandemic and Looking Ahead
Natalie Yancey is a second-grade teacher at the Guadalupe Center Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri. Within her five years of teaching, she has taught both second and third graders. She has just completed her second year of teaching second grade and is looking forward to the coming school year.
Reflecting on the Past Year
This past school year was difficult for many teachers to navigate as the pandemic caused most schools and students to switch to virtual learning. For Natalie, the year proved to be a bit of a “rollercoaster.”
She explains how “We started out virtually, and then we moved to in-person; then we went back to virtual, and then we went back to in-person.”
Though the past year was a challenge, Natalie relates how it was also a learning opportunity.
“Reflecting on this past year… a lot of takeaways that really came to me were just how important student relationships are within the classroom and also how important consistent academic instruction is…. This year really highlighted for me how important it is to be consistent, not only in my instruction, but my attendance, and also how I manage my students.”
Though she was aware of the importance of relationship and consistency before, reflecting on the year highlighted the significance and necessity of those areas even more.
“This year was really hard to cultivate relationships,” she explains. Student relationships in the classroom help both teacher and students operate better. Students are encouraged to engage in the class, and their mental health is strengthened through positive student-teacher relationships.
Looking ahead to the next year, Natalie is aware of the new challenges many teachers may be faced with. It’s important for teachers, parents, and students to be aware of these challenges so they can prepare to work through them.
“My co-worker brought up this idea that... the students that are coming in this [next] school year have experienced Covid for the majority of their educational life. They started in kindergarten with Covid [in...] March 2020.”
Natalie explains that when those students moved on to first grade, many of their parents opted for virtual learning for the entire year, keeping their children safe at home.
“That means that, essentially, some of my students coming into second grade this upcoming year will have not been in a physical school building since kindergarten.”
Natalie and her co-workers have discussed the challenges they’ll face with this new reality and how they should handle it.
“We of course want to be focusing on instruction and high expectations for our students, but I think there’s going to be a lot of time at the beginning… where [we’ll] need to focus on ‘How do we do school?’ ‘How do we line up?’ I’m sure that’s going to be challenging in some ways.”
Teachers will have to work hard to manage their classes and help their students adjust to in-person school life.
Navigating Different Learning Levels
In addition to readjusting students to classroom life, Natalie and her co-workers will need to manage various levels of learning proficiency--an issue that has only grown since Covid-19.
She relates how it is normal to see differences in proficiency as a second grade teacher.
“Second grade is the year where a lot of kids are starting to kind of master reading in a way. They’re not so much focused on the phonics part anymore; they’re more focused on the comprehension part of reading. And at the same time, I have students who still don’t know their letters or still don’t know their sounds.”
Though this is a literacy aspect, the same concept occurs in math. Some students really grasp addition and subtraction and are ready to move onto some multiplication foundations, while some other students are still learning to count past 100.
“It is quite the spectrum of learning needs,” Natalie explains. “[Handling] that takes a lot of strategizing and also evaluating students and figuring out ‘What are their needs, and what is the best way for me to intervene to fill this gap?’”
Next year, especially with students coming in for the first time, evaluating where students are at in their learning will be extremely important. Natalie is excited for Boddle’s new diagnostic test which will be implemented by the time school starts.
“It will give us that data to go off of to figure out what our students need to be successful.” It will show “where those gaps are and where their needs are.” Once she has the data, she will be able to design her lessons to best fit what her students need.
Encouraging and Fostering Student Engagement
One aspect of helping students transition into in-person classes is through student engagement.
“It takes a lot of creativity to keep students engaged,” Natalie explains. “It also takes a lot of consistency. I think when students know what to expect in the learning process, they’re more apt to be engaged.”
Natalie uses various engagement methods in her lessons, making class feel relevant to her students. She talks about what her students are interested in and integrates popular characters into her lessons. She also gives them chances to be physically engaged (e.g. standing up, sitting down, squatting).
Turning activities into games increases response and participation as well. “You can truly make any activity a game if you’re creative enough,” she says.
How Boddle Helps
Natalie Yancey used Boddle in her classroom this past spring, and how she utilized it in her class evolved as she became more familiar with the platform. At first, she used Boddle as an activity for students who finished their assignments, and later she moved it to a morning activity so that all her students could get a chance to play Boddle.
But Boddle soon became a reward for the students as she saw how it kept her students engaged. “Believe me, it works as a reward. I’ve never heard a student complain about using Boddle…. They’re all really excited to use it, and they love to come and show me the things they buy at the store and the games they get to play.... It’s been a very positive part of my school day.”
Boddle acts as a reward system for students but also engages with them, increasing classroom participation and enjoyment of learning.
Natalie states, “Definitely, Boddle is right up there with being very engaging because it not only provides the critical instruction that the kids need, but it provides them the chance to show what they know and then also rewards them with an engaging game or activity.”
Natalie Yancey reflects on how the past year has highlighted important and necessary aspects of classroom teaching. Student relationships (whether between students or between student and teacher) greatly impact the classroom environment, and consistent academic learning gives students security as well as a stronger educational foundation.
Natalie is hopeful for next year and that she can return to normal classroom learning. “I’m excited to have my little family everyday. They’re like my little family, so I’m excited to have them back.”