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Keep learning, keep teaching: COE students, alums detail their COVID-19 adjustment

April 8, 2020

Teaching in the time of COVID-19 is uncharted territory for almost everyone, and that includes our student-teachers.

Sofia Porrovecchio, a Special Education major from Lake in the Hills, is student-teaching this spring at Jefferson Elementary School in DeKalb Community Unit School District 428.

Under the guidance of her cooperating teacher, and with the intent of providing students with a schedule and routine as normal as possible, Porrovecchio is truly receiving an experience like no other.

“My cooperating teacher created the foundation of what areas we will continue to teach remotely and sent home physical packets,” Porrovecchio says. “In the second week of eLearning, my CT passed over the reins to me, and now I am fully in charge of creating and assigning activities to our students.”

With their Chromebooks, “all of the students have access to Unique Learning System, just like they normally would in the classroom,” she adds. “We assigned each student a set of online math activities and reading activities based on their individual levels. We also assigned a set of life skills games to each student, again based on their level.”

Children and parents were mailed visual, printed versions of the daily “station” schedule along with other visuals that could help families adapt to this new way of learning.

Those stations include writing (letters of the alphabet, their names and phone numbers, etc.), leisure (puzzles, coloring, etc.), jobs (chores to help their parents), play (using toys that nurture their imaginations), reading and math.

Porrovecchio provided us with one of those math lessons, hosted in an interactive PowerPoint, that challenges students to count Legos. Children see pictures of the colorful building blocks and numeric choices of how many are shown. Clicking the right answer results in a smiley face; the wrong answer yields a “Try again!” slide.

Jimena Moreno, a junior Elementary Education major, is student-teaching this semester at Lincoln Elementary School in Dekalb.

“During these challenging times, I am connecting with my students through read-alouds,” says Moreno, who is from Montgomery, Ill.

“Every week, my clinical teacher and I are recording our readings for the students to view and listen to while they are engaging in their eLearning at home,” Moreno adds. “Through our read-alouds we are hoping to promote reading comprehension, improve information processing skills, increase vocabulary and teach the students how to use language to make sense of the world.”

Kendra Ohman
Kendra Ohman

Kendra Ohman, a senior Special Education major, is student-teaching at Rochelle Township High School.

Remaining in electronic contact with her clinical teacher every day since the school moved to eLearning, Ohman has created videos of herself teaching different topics to deliver her instruction online.

Her digital tools include NearpodGoogle ClassroomZoomNewselaKami and virtual tours.

“I have created different PowerPoints that are very interactive and have students answer questions throughout the slides. I have also created daily journals for my students, so I can check to see how they are doing and also to keep data on their writing skills,” Ohman says. “I also am having the students send pictures of different things they are doing and projects they have completed.”

College of Education alumni who are teaching also are shifting their work during COVID-19.

Patty Rieman, an associate professor of education at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from NIU in 2007. She also holds an M.S.Ed. in Special Education.

“I’ve learned so much about how to make better use of our learning platform (Schoology), and I’ve been ZOOMing all over the place to classes, meetings and even church! I’ve had three advising meetings so far today, with a fourth scheduled in a little bit,” Rieman says.

Grace Tipton during her Penguin Players days.
Grace Tipton during her Penguin Players days.

“My students are keeping me sane, and I appreciate how hard they are working online to keep up,” she adds. “They know we are all in this together, and that the goal is for them to learn as much as possible about exemplary literacy instruction.”

Grace Tipton, a 2017 graduate of the Department of Special and Early Education, teaches in a 2-3 instructional, self-contained classroom at Columbus West Elementary School in Cicero District 99.

Her students all have special needs.

“Their parents have reported that they are confused and sad that we are not attending school. I try to make it seem fun, silly and interesting by keeping things light and fun,” says Tipton, who holds a B.S.Ed. in Special Education-LBS1.

I have been reading books to my students, and posting the videos on Google Classroom. I do themes, and this one was in the Space theme. I also did a Winter theme, put on my Christmas pajamas, put up my tree and read ‘Olive the Other Reindeer.’ ”