ATLIS Virtual Town Hall: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Learners

Over the past few months, a constant refrain of concerns about working in hybrid learning environments with younger students has emerged in our Virtual Town Halls and other conversations. The need for a specially focused Town Hall on Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Learners thus emerged. For this conversation, we focused on the faculty perspective, even as we recognized the need to wrestle with parent, student, and larger community concerns as well. -- SD [15-minute read]


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August 12: Save the date for our next Virtual Town Hall. Registration required for new participants; free and open to all. If you have previously registered, you will automatically receive an invitation to join.

Virtual Town Hall Video Archives (Wakelet)

ATLIS Virtual Town Hall: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Learners
July 8, 1 pm Eastern

For the July Virtual Town Hall, we turned our attention to serving the particular needs of the youngest learners. As teachers face the strong possibility of working within the constraints of a hybrid learning environment, we recognized the need to consider their perspectives. In the end, technology leaders serve in the role of puppet master managing the digital systems and devices that can have a positive impact on learning and influencing the ways teachers can use those systems with young learners. Our discussion was not meant to focus on those tools and devices, specifically, but rather to offer ways for participants to walk away with new approaches to thinking about the problems they encounter -- and perhaps some new ways to finding solutions.

Video Archive



Several thought leaders from the ATLIS Community came together to help focus and frame our discussion for the Virtual Town Hall. Their initial comments provided context -- and are followed by more open discussion and suggestions.

Create Less Complex and More Consistent Systems and Processes
Lois Tullo of Athenian School, CA, discussed the need for creating less complex and more consistent systems and protocols to support the learning environment for younger learners. Younger learners need a different paradigm with less complexity to reduce barriers to learning and to accommodate their level of executive function. The tech team can start with the LMS and intentionally design processes and protocols to help teachers deliver and collect content, give feedback, etc. 

  • Can schools create one template for lessons and content that directs students to the right places to meet expectations, get help, and access materials? This can direct students to large or small group discussions depending on the level of support needed.
  • Making things simpler or easier for a teacher will generate more buy-in and more people will need to spend less time leveling up their learning on the tech.
  • You can use your LMS to provide a linked Virtual Classroom Directory to point parents and students in the right direction.
  • Sample Template from the Evergreen School 
  • Sample Template from Marin Horizon School
Share your templates: How are you using templates to direct student learning and communicate consistently. Share your information in this template library for possible future publication by ATLIS. 

Leverage Communication Based on Each Medium’s Strengths
Ethan Delavan of The Bush School, WA, stressed the need to look at the particular strengths of each medium used for student engagement. Focused professional development can guide teachers in assessing the strengths of each tool a school has chosen to use. Is it able to encompass multiple media? Is it better for establishing relationships? How can we best balance work/school and life needs -- for both students and faculty.

Importance of Parent Involvement and Support
Suzannah Calvery of Bear Creek School, WA, pointed toward the need to collaborate with parents and other care-givers in order to create an effective learning environment for our youngest students online.  She suggested general support workshops on how to support students at different divisions with online or independent learning; defining ways to support students with assessment –- how to be hands-off or more hands-on depending on the situation; providing suggestions and guidelines for creating a productive learning environment and structure at home; and content-specific workshops for building children’s skills in literacy and math, for example.

The “Dimmer Switch” of Hybrid Learning
Lane Young of Phillips Brooks School, CA, offered the metaphor of a “dimmer switch” to describe the reality of what schools may be facing in the fall. There is likely to be a continuum from 100% in-person schooling to 100% online instruction. Schools must be prepared to move between those extremes, dimming up and down, and quickly. Reducing complexity for learners while maintaining necessary differentiation should be built into the dimmer switch. How do we help teachers develop the skills and the mindset to move on this scale? 

  • One participant asked: Are you allowing parents to shift back and forth between remote and in-person/hybrid learning? For example, if a parent says their child will be a remote learner, will the school allow them to switch to in-person? If so, will that be allowed at certain times of year?

We launched our discussion with these questions: 

  • What are the particular issues, perspectives and concerns for pre-K and lower school from a teacher perspective? 
  • There have been seismic shifts in the design, delivery, and assessment of learning, relationships with students, sustainable  work load, etc. What are you seeing at your school?

PK/LS Models

1. Teacher as Open Online Resource with Video Streaming

The classroom meets in a virtual space using a live-streaming camera (Meeting Owl) that is open a majority of the time, so the teacher is available to answer questions and provide direction to students who are working independently. This may require a “classroom aide” system -- either a student at home to monitor at-home questions or an adult to provide support. With Microsoft Teams, there's a good integration of conversation, video, and content work. Families at home certainly don't have to have their Teams meeting open all day, but they would have the option to pop in and out whenever they wanted and be assured that there is someone there to support them. 

  • What about workload and life balance? Are teaching personnel working in tandem at each grade level so that one person can be with students face-to-face while the other is virtual?
  • What kind of training and support is needed to help parents and other care-givers understand how to support this kind of learning environment?
  • What about parents who wish to move their children between on campus and remote?

2. Blended Synchronous/Asynchronous Learning 

  • To support emotional well-being, one example combined synchronous Circle Time at the opening and closing of each day; choice boards for students to decide which activities to work on or which enrichment programs to pursue in the afternoon; and weekly one-on-one individual meetings with the teacher.
  • Another example described how each grade would have morning meetings by class at staggered times in the morning.  A mid-day live learning session and afternoon check-in session or lesson would follow.  Students then used Seesaw, Flipgrid, or Google classroom to do their lessons.

3. Leveraging the Schedule

  • Hybrid Alternating Days -- PK & K on campus every day; and hybrid every other dayfor grades 1-12. 
  • Developing different schedules for F2F vs. online learning.

4. The “No Camera Approach"

One option is to focus on how to reallocate in-person faculty and staff, especially specialists and associate teachers, to give a parallel meaningful experience that lets us best utilize the strengths of online learning. The need for parent involvement is one reason we’re trying to get as many of our students on campus as possible.

  • If most students are at school, one “lead” classroom can be used per grade to provide streamed content for at-home students.
  • Can we look at the adults for each classroom or grade to be allocated to different environments? Maybe the teacher is working live while the assistant is virtual, so each only focuses on one way of delivering the learning in the way that is most effective for that space.

Share your models: Complete this form to share your school’s model for hybrid learning as an ATLIS Micro-Blog.

Camera Solutions for Live Streaming with the Meeting Owl

Lots of questions emerged about using live streaming cameras in the classroom, with particular reference to the Meeting Owl.

  • Should we be looking at student privacy concerns?
  • Would the OWL being on all day be a distraction to students at home - watching the students in the class and/or parents spending time critiquing what is happening in the classroom or other students?  
  • How does a teacher monitor that “online” group as well as the in-person group?
  • Classroom plastic shields might interfere with hearing students ask questions.  We are thinking about a web conference camera and multiple external mics around the room.
  • Individual Zoom sessions in the auxiliary classroom will kill our network.
  •  Are teachers feeling “on all the time” with Owls or similar devices.
  • Less expensive option? Use a laptop in the class instead of a “traveling camera” and have it stationary with Zoom classroom logged in.
  • I have concerns about the impact of the in-person class dynamic for the students in the classroom to be being filmed or streamed at all times.  I'm also skeptical about the quality of the experience for remote students in that format.  

How are teachers being supported in the coming year?

  • Online PD programming, for example with GOA and One Schoolhouse
  • Choice Board options for teacher virtual PD
  • Working in cohorts to solve problems
  • Surveying teachers to assess needs
  • -- Tutorial creation tool
  • Creating a skills checklist for Seesaw, Google Classroom to include links for self-guided learning
  • Google Site course and resources for teachers
Creating Time for Reflection:  One thing that administrators can do is to create time for those who need to make decisions to come together, discuss and problem-solve, and reflect. One participant reported that “exit interviews to review distance learning with faculty from all divisions revealed a desire to reflect with colleagues on what was working for them and to learn from each other."

Digital Platforms and Tools Used for Younger Students

Many participants reported that they used a combination of classroom pages and other tools provided by the school Learning Management System and other tools designed specifically for use with younger student populations. Specific tools mentioned are listed below.

Seesaw Scrutinized

A deeper look at Seesaw emerged in the chat.

Not an LMS/Partnered with an LMS

Seesaw is an easy-to-use digital portfolio tool where students can interact using text, drawing, images and video.  An LMS has more comprehensive features that include content management, grade book, assessments, discussions, etc.

Seesaw doesn’t have a gradebook and it doesn’t sync with attendance, schedule, etc. It lacks robust feedback and collaboration discussion mechansims. There isn’t necessarily a ‘“home page’” for Seesaw where you can find information on rosters, directory, and the like. as you can with an LMS. It's great at what it does -- as a main resource to find assignments -- but we don't feel that it would completely replace our LMS.

The Seesaw class has a unique URL. You can post that directly to the class page in your LMS. Also, each Seesaw activity has a unique URL, which can be added on your class page as well. If we used Seesaw and an LMS, I would require our teachers to include the URL to the Seesaw class on their LMS class page (mainly for parents). In the day-to-day, teachers ask their students to open the Seesaw app to do their daily work and do not interact with the LMS at all.

Seesaw has implemented Home Learning Codes which assist with students not needing to log in with personal Google accounts to access all of their classes.

This allows classes to be separate, but accessible, without logging in and out all day long.

Organization of Classes

We created individual classes in Seesaw and then in our JK-1st, we changed it and added in the Specialists with folders, but it got messy and the teachers begged to go back to their individual classes. So we did and helped the parents with training documents to teach them how to look at the different classes. 

If you create one Seesaw class and then folders within that class for specialist teachers, it gets very confusing and overwhelming. Instead, we created a different Seesaw class for all and then used the Home Learning Codes.

Each day we post the daily learning plan on the LMS so parents can easily find it.

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