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Sep 16, 2020 |
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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and millions of U.S. students learn virtually this fall, teachers from across the country share their candid thoughts.

In Kentucky, elementary teacher Jennifer Wates has found success utilizing a variety of free digital tools.

Helpful digital resources

At our school, we have been using Pioneer Valley leveled book assessment to help us get a literary starting point for each of our students. It quickly assesses their sight word knowledge, then suggests a leveled text for them to start on. If they are successful with that leveled text, it will then ask comprehension questions. Once completed, you have just the right reading level for your student. There’s also webinars on how to assess and teach guided reading through distance learning.

Raz-Kids is another resource where students can listen to a book, read on their own, and/or complete a short quiz on the reading. Students can record themselves reading the book and send it to the teacher, providing an easy way to keep a running record during distance learning. Students can also add notes to the text and write in a word journal as they read.

Storyline Online and Scholastic Story are great places for read-alouds, or to inspire writing, while Splash Learn, Toy Theater, and Khan Academy are perfect places to practice math. 

And, don’t forget to build in breaks. Go Noodle is excellent for brain breaks, and allows kids to get up and move around, while Online-Coloring is a nice way for kids to relax.

—Jennifer Wates, elementary school teacher, Louisville, Ky.

Despite an influx of digital resources, many teachers have acknowledged the reality of teaching online. In Georgia, middle school teacher Porcia describes the limitations of learning in a virtual space.

A tough transition

As an educator, I’m not fond of Universal Remote Learning (URL). To sit in front of a computer and attempt to make teaching interesting is misleading. I feel that learning is at its best when it’s face-to-face, when the teacher and student (or small group) can sit one-on-one for personalized reinforcement or instruction; where “praise” is quickly available.

I don’t welcome returning during this pandemic, but I do feel there are more negatives to URL than positives.

—Porcia, middle school French and History teacher, Fulton County Ga.

There are some unique ways to connect in a virtual environment, however. In Tennessee, high school teacher Bethany Daniels offers up practices that have helped her classes come together while remaining apart.

Fostering connection

The all-virtual school environment can be cruel and heartless. There is little to no space for the community that the teacher and students once created inside the four walls of a classroom. Thus, as I spend my days sitting in front of a computer, speaking into the endless void of black boxes, I strive each day to engage my students with music, conversations, and laughter. At the beginning of Zoom class, we open with a fun or meaningful question such as, “Roses and Thorns,” or, “What’s a small moment that brings you joy?” Other times, it’s, “Favorite candy?” or, “Morning or night person?” It’s these conversations that allow me to begin building an image of each student, despite never having met them in person or, occasionally, not even knowing what they look like. Listening to the comments of their peers, classes begin to create connections in small ways. It’s worth every minute of our limited live-class time.

My students requested music, and I quickly understood why. The 'silence' in a classroom is filled with the scratching of pencils, the intangible buzz of ideas, and ambient school-sounds. But the silence on a Zoom call? It’s bleak and anxiety-inducing. So, after surveying each class, we created the class playlists that now fill our meetings with the sounds they love.

The laughter is what really does it, though. I’ve been laughing at myself since day one, but the students’ funny comments, stories, and interactions with one another generate sparks of life within the black boxes. Our Zoom classes will never be quite as good as the real thing, but building a strong, supportive community continues to be highest on my list of priorities as we learn how to connect in a virtual world.

—Bethany Daniels, high school English teacher, Nashville, Tenn.

What are your thoughts about virtual (or hybrid) instruction during the pandemic? Do you have any helpful digital resources or tips? Comment below to share your ideas with the field.


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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

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William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

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The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

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PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

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Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

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