Inside the Classroom

Maximizing Online Learning for Elementary Students

With collaboration, patience, and rigorous curriculum, two elementary-school educators found surprising success in a difficult situation. Ginelle Pompeo-Salazar and Jamie McCracken have a combined 25 years of teaching under their belts, which allowed them to take wisdom from their previous experience and apply it to virtual teaching. They knew that creating an online curriculum is difficult and wanted to ensure they were teaching their students rigorous and standards-aligned content. So, the teachers decided to utilize Edgenuity’s online curriculum and were pleased to be able to focus on presenting the curriculum rather than creating it. After embracing the data and feedback built into the program, they realized one benefit of online learning for elementary students is that they are creating more independent learners.

Advice for Other Educators

Using online curriculum was new for everyone, so the assistant principal at Sierra Vista Elementary School hosted support groups for teachers implementing the program. They were able to troubleshoot questions and ask other educators how they had addressed different issues in their classes. Pompeo-Salazar said, “We had always used technology in the school, and the students were familiar with it,” but of course, this was different. “Luckily, the kids were adaptable and forgiving,” she continued, and shared a story when her students corrected her for being on mute during a presentation (we can all relate).

At eCADEMY K–8, McCracken also enjoyed the camaraderie she and her teachers established. As they were forming their new virtual school, there was a lot of time spent bouncing ideas off each other. “We have a great staff at eCADEMY,” she said, “they are positive and creative,” and constantly working to improve on what’s not working. One thing they realized quickly was the need for flexibility. The teachers let go of some of their routines and allowed students to turn in assignments over the weekend and start the day later to accommodate their parents’ and guardians’ work schedules.

“I’ve liked working with my ELLs this year because Edgenuity focuses on the precise verbs and grammar that English language learners need.”

Time for Individualized Instruction

Some of the students struggling most across the country are those who need accommodations, like English language learners (ELL) and those with special needs. In Pompeo-Salazar’s fourth-grade class, she does a combination of whole-class and small-group instruction. While it’s often hard to get her ELLs to speak during whole-group instruction, she now has more time to meet with all of her students individually or in small groups. “I’ve liked working with my ELLs this year because Edgenuity focuses on the precise verbs and grammar that English language learners need,” she said, later adding, “sometimes you have to pull that on your own.”

Online Learning for Elementary Students

When asked about their normal day, both Pompeo-Salazar and McCracken instead shared their weekly schedules. With the flexibility of online instruction, they can mix whole-class time with small-group and one-on-one time, and both educators fall into a weekly pattern of alternating subject areas by day and time. The passive data available within the platform gives them insight into where their students are struggling or succeeding, allowing them to differentiate instruction and augment the online lessons with their personal touch.

In Pompeo-Salazar’s class, she presents new concepts to the whole group, then works with half of the students on ELA one day and math the next; the other half of the class uses this time for asynchronous learning through Edgenuity. Both Pompeo-Salazar and McCracken mentioned the robust data available within the platform and used this to create small groups and one-on-one time. However, it all takes a lot of planning and organizing. “Families and the community probably wonder, ‘What are teachers doing all day?’ But we are busier than ever,” said McCracken.

Extracurricular Activities

Elementary school is known for fun, creative activities outside of the normal curriculum, and both teachers have worked to ensure school is still enjoyable for their young students. McCracken has gone above and beyond to create clubs for STEM, art, and building, plus she hosts storytime three times a week. She also encourages leadership and teambuilding through virtual breakout rooms. “Since we’re online, we can’t hand out packets or ice cream like other Albuquerque schools have done,” she said, but they still find ways to celebrate students and give them virtual opportunities to experience something similar.

“It’ll be interesting to see them grow up because they can do anything now! I’m helping these students learn how to access knowledge remotely, manage their schedules, and become responsible for their own learning. It’s a lot for 9- and 10-year-olds to overcome, but I’m excited to see what the future holds for them.”

Positives of Online Learning

Along with its challenges, online learning for elementary students has provided Albuquerque teachers with a new way of connecting. Just as in a “normal” class, McCracken is grateful for the little connections to her students through “brain breaks,” show-and-tell, and her numerous clubs. “ELA is my favorite part, and it has been easy for us to roll that online,” she said, “I love that I have a core group of students I see three times a week for storytime; it allows me to connect with them.”

For Pompeo-Salazar, she is impressed by how her students have become independent learners and expects great things from them in the future. For example, since the state assessment is all online, she expects higher scores because the students are familiar with technology and can focus on the content. “It’ll be interesting to see them grow up because they can do anything now!” she says of her fourth graders. “I’m helping these students learn how to access knowledge remotely, manage their schedules, and become responsible for their own learning. It’s a lot for 9- and 10-year-olds to overcome, but I’m excited to see what the future holds for them,” Pompeo-Salazar concluded.

For more about Albuquerque Public School’s online program, check out the first article in this series.

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Where Learning Clicks

Since 1998, Edgenuity has been creating products and services that help all students achieve their full potential. As an extension of our efforts, we also produce Where Learning Clicks to share meaningful and timely ideas about trends, developments, and changes in education, as well as how to further incorporate technology into today’s classrooms.