Encinitas teachers adapt to distance learning

A Capri student gets creative with what he has at home for an assignment submission.

As the Encinitas Union School District enters its eighth week of distance learning, teachers are using a wide range of creative and innovative ways to connect and engage with students.

At the board’s May 5 virtual meeting, a selection of teachers shared snapshots of what their digital classrooms look like. With a peek inside home classrooms, virtual yoga classes, and the social and emotional supports offered to students, board members said they were both excited and amazed by the commitment and care shown by their teachers. As board member Marla Strich said: the school buildings may be closed, but school is definitely still in session in Encinitas.

“Students are really still learning. It’s not the same as the classroom which everyone would prefer but again it’s not nothing, it’s really great,” said EUSD President Rimga Viskanta. “The depth of curriculum that’s already been developed is really impressive. I’m really proud of this district.”

With distance learning, the district gave teachers the freedom and flexibility to create their own “cloud classroom” that would work for them and their students. Superintendent Andree Grey said it was important that teachers were given the flexibility to tap into their individual talents, expertise and passions.

For Meghan Ling, a kindergarten teacher in a dual language immersion class at Capri Elementary, the idea of teaching in Spanish online was “a little bit scary” at first but the challenge has led to growth.

“This whole circumstance has kept me really enthusiastic about teaching,” Ling said. “I’m still loving it, it’s just bumped us in a different direction and really made us go deeper into what kids need.”

For at home learning, she has focused on integrating science, math, art, writing and music and keeping kids designing, building and creating and sharing work through Seesaw. Ling also uses Zoom in a variety of ways, such as small groups of six kids doing problem-solving together.

As much as possible, Ling’s classroom involves siblings and families—they added a family dance for this Friday’s Capri De Mayo, when the whole kindergarten class is going to come together to dance on Zoom.

“I’m grateful for our little kids, they make us laugh every night when we look at their learning and their sharing,” Ling said.

Liz Kuttler, who teaches a kindergarten through second grade special day class at La Costa Heights, begins each day just like she would at school with morning circle time where kids practice skills together and chat. Kuttler will do a read-aloud, the kids do music and movement together and are given a “question of the day” assignment.

Kuttler has adapted distance learning to meet the level of learning for every child in her program—in addition to posting daily activities for the whole class, each child is given their own individual goals with videos tailored specifically to that student and materials needed to help meet their goals.

“It’s been new, I’ve learned more in these short amount of weeks that we’ve been at distance learning but it’s all valuable stuff that I can take back to the classroom,” said Kuttler. “This has truly been a bizarre but rewarding and great opportunity for my class, students and my families to learn and grow.”

Landa Smith, a second grade teacher at Ocean Knoll, let her students speak for themselves, sharing a video from students about what they liked and didn’t like about distance learning and what they missed about school.

“I get more one-on-one time with the teacher and I get to do more school work than usual,” Finley said.

Abby said: “I love being with my mom and I love that she’s with me whenever I need help and I also like when I get to stay in my jammies all day.”

All of the students missed their classmates. “I don’t have any friends and it’s a little bit lonely,” Abby said.

To stay connected with her kids, Smith does small group Zooms and two full class Zooms each week and on Fridays they do things together like what they would do in the classroom such as a read-aloud or art project. During the week students have lots of opportunities to connect with Smith if they need help with assignments or if they just want to say hi.

Smith also sends out weekly parent emails to share information and the assignment schedule for the next week: “I make a point to encourage the families,” Smith said. “They’re really important and I value their support and I recognize their efforts. This wouldn’t be successful if they weren’t on board as well.”

For Flora Vista sixth grade teacher Cathy O’Neill’s situation at home, Zoom has worked great. She runs a whole class Zoom session every day followed by four Zoom learning communities of about seven kids, primarily in math. O’Neill has found that language arts lends itself better to asynchronous learning.

With asynchronous learning, O’Neill said the “possibilities are endless” with so many opportunities for deeper, personalized learning and connections among the kids. She also has her students do their own assessment portfolios where they reflect on what they have learned every week in video or written reflections.

O’Neill said teachers have done a lot of their own reflections during this time of distance learning, looking at the classrooms they left behind weeks ago and re-evaluating their teaching practices.

“Even amidst all the hardship and sadness that’s out there we have an opportunity to emerge from this with schools and classrooms and teaching practices that engage and empower our students like never before,” O’Neill said. “I see a lot of hope.”