Distance Learning: Philosophical and Pedagogical Approach
Despite all the changes that occurred in Spring 2020 during our Distance Learning phase, one thing remained the same: our understanding that significant relationships lead to significant learning. Our educators are committed to providing their students with engaging, challenging, and meaningful learning experiences, regardless of the circumstances. An intentional approach guides our decision-making about Distance Learning. We ask ourselves: How do our practices align with the educational philosophy and core values of JCDSRI?
Video conferencing allows us to continue to foster the connections that students make with their teachers and with each other, helping to maintain the sense that we are “together” when we are apart. Building relationships, maintaining community, and encouraging social-emotional development occurs virtually through one-on-one meetings between students and teachers, daily Circle Times and Class Meetings for each grade, and weekly community-wide gatherings for Havdalah, T’fillah, and Kabbalat Shabbat complete with live music and participation from all. We live-stream special community-wide events such as Milestone Presentations and Graduation so grandparents, extended family members, and special friends can join in our celebrations.
We strive for developmentally-appropriate use of technology for each grade level. Our youngest learners in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten love seeing their teachers and friends over Zoom for Circle Time, and are invited to meet one-on-one with their teachers to listen to a story, share about a favorite toy, or simply to say hello! While video conferencing allows us to connect, we recognize that students at this age learn best through hands-on activities, and therefore we prepare weekly Activity Kits and deliver these kits to each student’s home. A typical kit includes ALL materials to ensure that the students can successfully complete activities with their teachers and classmates without the burden falling to parents. In the spring, with the use of these Activities Kits students created elaborate and individualized Haggadot (texts used on Passover) and beautiful creations based on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The Activity Kits are aligned with our pre-kindergarten and kindergarten General and Judaic Studies curricula.
In grades 1 and 2, students are able to begin to use technology on their own for their distance learning activities. In these grades, students learn how to use Seesaw in engaging activities that reinforce learning in General Studies, Judaic Studies, and Hebrew. The iTaLAM Hebrew language and Jewish culture platform, and other resources such as the Prodigy math game, Reading A-Z, and Epic are incorporated into the curriculum. In addition to the platforms used in Grades 1 and 2, students in grades 3, 4, and 5 also become proficient in using Google Docs, Google Slides, and other features of Google Drive. Students in grades 1-5 are issued a Chromebook for both in-school and Distance Learning, and are also taught responsible use of technology and how to respectfully care for their devices. They can log into Zoom on their own for their daily meetings with teachers, and can expect to connect over Zoom three to four times each day for an Assembly or Class Meeting, a live lesson in General or Judaic Studies, Hebrew, and a Special.
Part of creating a meaningful learning experience for students in grades 1-5 also includes delving into the Activity Kits that teachers create for these grades. Students and families will find in these kits materials that allow them to roll up their sleeves and have fun learning. For example, students may find all the materials that they need for a read-a-thon, including a new independent reading book, a yummy snack, and decorate-your-own bookmark. Another kit might include all of the art materials needed to make a beautiful collage to accompany a Torah portion and handwritten instructions in Hebrew. Yet another kit may have Unifix cubes and a new math game board. Activity Kits are delivered regularly throughout Distance Learning time to promote excitement for and engagement in learning.
We use an individualized, student-centered approach to teaching and learning at JCDSRI, and Distance Learning continues to provide ample opportunities for teachers to meet students where they are. Tailored instruction has enabled students to accelerate their math studies or spend extra time reviewing Hebrew language skills. Students can choose to complete all three options in a Judaic Studies project, or get specific help with a Science experiment. Our youngest learners who crave more time with their beloved teachers can have a special time one on one over Zoom to swap stories and sing songs together.
Learning Management System
If Rhode Island does see a second wave of COVID-19 at any point and schools are ordered by the state to close, JCDSRI will integrate our past successes with lessons learned. We have decided to use Seesaw as our Learning Management System (LMS) in addition to our newly created Distance Learning Page on our Parent Portal of our revamped website. Seesaw and the Parent Portal will help parents/caregivers and students effectively and easily manage their distance-learning experiences and require that they have to master only one major Learning Management System during school closure, regardless of subject or grade level. All weekly schedules, pacing guidelines, and materials may be accessed through the Parent Portal of our website.
Seesaw allows teachers, students, and their parents/caregivers to effectively manage their distance-learning activities and offers consistent and meaningful opportunities for sharing and feedback, both elements of learning that are essential to our JCDSRI educational experience.
Families can share information with teachers and are regularly kept in the loop about assignments and completed work. Students can receive encouragement and support from their teachers, as well as easily keep track of their progress. Seesaw is also fun for elementary school learners.There are all sorts of fun ways to use Seesaw – videos, photos, drawings, photo libraries. For example, students can write with a glowy pen to identify the capitals of the northeast states, or record themselves reading Hebrew, or add emojis and shapes to their posts, right in the app.
We recognize that not every family has ready access to a home computer, and some families may be sharing a computer. Therefore we have chosen an app that is easy to use, developmentally appropriate, and integrates seamlessly with smartphones. In addition, students will be able to film videos and take photos with the Seesaw app, giving them ownership over their work. Further, when we are engaged in in-person learning, teachers can take photos into the Seesaw app “in the moment” to share with students and families.