For the past several weeks, the first grade Phonics Team at William O. Schaefer Elementary School has been developing daily lessons and resources to keep students actively engaged through distance learning. First grade teachers Julie Ann Aaron and Maureen Gaynor (leave replacement substitute for Jackie Sommers) and Special Education Teacher Heidi Hill meet virtually each week to collaborate on phonics work for the grade. The Google Slides and lessons they create are uploaded to each first-grade Google Classroom.
The team promotes a variety of multisensory tools and strategies to sustain students’ progress remotely. A web-based program enables them to click, move and drag letters on screen to build words, videos incorporate vowel sounds with music and movement, rhyming poems develop verbal and linguistic learning and students have been challenged to create their own vowel charts with words and pictures to differentiate specific vowel sounds. “Families are encouraged to have their child practice these skills in a variety of formats: on the computer, with pencils and pens and using sidewalk chalk, shaving cream or even sticks in dirt or sand,” Hill notes.
They’ve also recruited Rasheed to help. As the mascot for the Teachers College program, this lovable, stuffed lion may be one of the students’ favorite components of phonics instruction. “My job is to create no-tech, hands-on interactions with the weekly unit snap words and vowel teams/diphthongs,” says Aaron, who has the lion model phonics activities, such as vowel hopscotch and finding vowel pairs in writing. “I incorporate Rasheed to add a bit of whimsy and connection to the classroom.”
While the phonics content is the same across the grade level, teachers differentiate instruction for their own classes. “Our team works to create student-friendly Slides that take into consideration the wide diversity of learners so that children can work independently and at their own pace,” Gaynor explains. Most importantly, teachers make sure that their students’ phonics skills are transferring to where it matters most: their reading and writing.