Georgetown ISD teachers get creative as they learn to teach from home

Diane Collman recorded herself teaching an English lesson to teach her students about persuasive writing. (Screenshot courtesy Diane Collman)
Diane Collman recorded herself teaching an English lesson to teach her students about persuasive writing. (Screenshot courtesy Diane Collman)

Diane Collman recorded herself teaching an English lesson to teach her students about persuasive writing. (Screenshot courtesy Diane Collman)

For Diane Collman, a third grade teacher at Purl Elementary School, distance teaching has been a huge learning curve.

Her in-classroom plans have moved virtual and the original curriculum has changed. She is also learning how to care for individual student needs from a distance, something that has been difficult for her, she said.

“I didn’t sign up for online teaching; I want my kids here with me,” Diane said. “A lesson is hard online, but in person, it's a lot easier to go to each kid and see what they need.”

On March 31, GISD announced schools would be closed through at least May 1, forcing teachers to rework lesson plans and help their students through a screen. But she and other GISD teachers are taking the change in stride, looking for new and innovative ways to reach their students and ensure learning and understanding.

Graded school work for GISD students began April 6 after two weeks of district-sanctioned optional school work.

Diane said those two weeks were vital to her and her fellow teachers to get lesson plans in place. She said some days she would spend five to six hours a day on one subject researching programs, resources, websites and even went as far as recording herself teaching a lesson so that it would be accessible for her students.

That’s what can be hard: accessibility.

Diane said she uses some of the programs often in class, but home internet connections, access to computers and issues logging in have caused some problems.

“I’m trying to get the parents or the kids to log on to certain applications or websites that we want them to use,” Diane said. “That's one of the most difficult things.”

Added to any connectivity problems is having parents available to help the student, Diane acknowledged. Purl, where Diane teaches, is a Title One school—or a school with a large concentration of low-income students. Diane said nearly all the students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Diane added there can be an English-Spanish language barrier between the lessons she provides and the parents at home helping their kids.

“We have a big language barrier with English and Spanish, so if my lesson plans are being sent in English, the parent can't really help their kiddos,” Diane said. “[The kids] just have to try to do their best without parent help.”

GISD began handing out technology, such as Chromebooks and hotspots, to students without access during the week of April 6. Technology can be picked up at the two high schools from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. based on elementary and middle school locations. Suddenlink is also offering free 60 days of access to internet for homes.

Janie Wiley, a fifth grade reading teacher at Frost Elementary School, said for her, ensured accountability is one of the hardest parts.

The district recommends those eighth grade and below receive two hours of instruction a day and high school students receive four hours a day. Currently students in elementary and middle school are functioning on a complete or incomplete grading system. Those in high school continue to receive graded work.

Wiley said in her first day of teaching—April 6—she only had half of her students participate.

“The biggest problem has been the accountability at home with the family. [The district has] given them all the technology and [teachers have] done the work,” Wiley said. “Now it’s kids getting on and doing it.”

Wiley said in her experience transitioning to virtual teaching was streamlined, with the district providing plenty of resources and time for teachers to figure out their lessons. Her lessons have completely changed to stripped-down, big-idea concepts rather than deeper, more detailed lessons. She said without the extra time the whole thing could have been a “mess.”

And while Wiley is checking in on her students as much as she can and is readily available to answer questions during her office hours, she said nothing compares to being in a classroom with her kids.

“Without that human component being right there with my kids, I can't tell if they're learning or if they're understanding the concept, which is why I really want to meet with them a lot,” Wiley said.

She said it’s the little second-by-second decisions she makes in the classroom to clarify or give an extra example to a student she can clearly see isn't understanding.

That, she said, is also one of the hardest adjustments.

“To do my craft with my kids and the relationships, that's what I miss so much. Being with them and working through their problems and helping to raise them, really,” Wiley said.

Wes Collman, Diane’s husband and Georgetown High School pre-Advanced Placement and AP English teacher, said the high school level is much different.

Wes said because he teaches students that are more involved in school, he hasn’t had any trouble with participation and since the students are able to access the online resources themselves, technology has been far less of an issue.

But Wes said the hardest thing is preparing kids for the AP Exam that takes places at the end of the school year in each subject. The exams have been postponed. His exam—English Literature and Composition—is now scheduled to take place May 13.

But the exam contents have been reduced. What used to be a three-hour exam with three essays and 60 multiple choice questions is now one essay, leaving students to feel the pressure to excel in a single essay, he said.

“There's a lot of pressure now for them to do well on one essay, and I'm a little worried about that,” Wes said. “I do feel bad for my kids who spent so much time learning all these different things that are now just pared down to one essay. It's a little disconcerting for them right now.”

Ultimately Wes, Diane and Wiley said they are taking it one day and one lesson at a time.

“I just hope that everybody takes a deep breath and doesn’t gets stressed,” Diane said. “Know that the teachers are working hard, and we miss our kids. That's the biggest thing.”
By Ali Linan
Ali Linan began covering Georgetown for Community Impact Newspaper in 2018. Her reporting focuses on education and Williamson County. Ali hails from El Paso and graduated from Syracuse University in 2017.


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