How are schools leveraging IB practices to respond to the varied learning needs produced by Covid-19? A response from Farmdale Elementary

Read as Christina Dominquez, Coordinator at Farmdale Elementary, discusses the challenges of remote learning at her school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

How IB practices can frame schools’ instructional approach to meet the varied learning needs post Covid-19: a response from Farmdale Elementary

By Christina Dominguez

“Social emotional issues also began to surface such as feeling self-conscious being on camera or speaking into a microphone, as well as dealing with the financial, health, and social emotional issues that were occurring in their own households.”

Farmdale Elementary, an IB World and Community School is located in El Sereno, a predominantly LatinX community in Los Angeles.  We have a 50/50 Dual Language program and half of our students are enrolled in the program.  Farmdale is a Title 1 School where the majority of our students qualify for, free or reduced lunch however, we serve families from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds.  Before the Covid-19 pandemic, many of our students came from high need households and needed support in a variety of areas.  In 2019, we became a Community School because we saw the need for wraparound services and access to more resources.  In addition, the majority of our students did not have consistent access to technology or the internet in their homes.  For many of them their access to technology was limited to what the school provided for them.  Prior to the pandemic, our school was not a one-to-one device school and we were working hard to provide as many opportunities for our students to use technology for learning, collaborating, and for documenting their learning.  Yet, not every student was able to engage with technology on a daily basis.  However, because of the school closures during the pandemic, we have now become a one-to-one device school.

Although our students now have access to technology and the internet at home, the pandemic revealed the large technological inequities between our students who had consistent access to technology at home and the students who did not.  We discovered that many of our students struggled with maneuvering through the various new platforms they were being asked to utilize for learning, resulting in a huge source of frustration and disengagement for many of our students.  Other issues also began to arise such as poor internet connectivity making it difficult for students to connect with their peers and teachers as well as actively participate in their learning.  Social emotional issues also began to surface such as feeling self-conscious being on camera or speaking into a microphone, as well as dealing with the financial, health, and social emotional issues that were occurring in their own households.  Many of our students, especially in the upper grades, began to become disengaged with school.  Our Community School Coordinator established a Problem Solving Team comprised of the Principal, the Community School Coordinator, the IB Coordinator, and the   Psychiatric Social Worker (PSW), to focus on how we could increase student engagement.  The team, with the help of teachers and our Student Council, began to collect data on the levels of engagement (or disengagement) of the students.  We noticed higher levels of engagement in classes that offered students opportunities to use different modalities (hands-on, music, arts, kinesthetic, etc.).  Students also expressed a need to feel more connected to one another and their teachers.  This led us to focus on things that we could do to support teachers with the teaching and learning of our IB Programme of Inquiry while addressing the social-emotional needs of our students.How IB practices can frame schools’ instructional approach to meet the varied learning needs post Covid-19: A response from Farmdale Elementary

“Although our journey this year has not been easy, there have been some unexpected silver linings.” 

Our goal is to support teachers with planning learning engagements that incorporate social emotional learning, inquiry, and universal design for learning.  To address our goal, we have been engaging in professional development, planning and developing social emotional learning and inquiry lessons, as well as ways for students to self-reflect on their levels of engagement.  Teachers have also continued to focus on developing the IB learner profile attributes throughout these SEL lessons and their units of inquiry.  Additionally, our Psychiatric Social Worker (PSW) and her interns have been supporting teachers with whole class SEL lessons and for higher need students, has been providing small group or individual support and counseling.  We have also continued to work on our units of inquiry and have provided professional development on ways to modify learning engagements and provocations so that they are engaging and can be done through distance learning.  During grade level planning time, teachers collaborate with each other to make these modifications.  Grade level teams have also given up some of their office hour times to meet with each other and the IB coordinator at least every other week. They continue to plan, reflect on, and revise their units of inquiry.  In addition, given that our district schedules have afforded us limited time for professional development and grade level planning time, we decided to strategically use our different funding sources to pay teachers to participate in IB professional development and planning time beyond their school day and on weekends. 

Through this work, we have seen some gains in student engagement.  For some students, the gains have been slow and incremental, and for others, the gains have been more dramatic.  Our teachers are also gaining more confidence in their technology skills as well as how to incorporate inquiry throughout their instruction.  Although our journey this year has not been easy, there have been some unexpected silver linings.  Prior to the pandemic, many of our teachers and students did not feel comfortable using technology for teaching and learning and now they have all had to be risk-takers and fully immerse themselves in using it for instruction, inquiry and collaboration.  Teachers have seen the power of creating an engaging learning environment and are more strategic with planning their units of inquiry.  As we move forward, we are eager to build on the learning and work we engaged in this year especially with the incorporation of the social emotional learning into our unit of inquiry.  

How IB practices can frame schools’ instructional approach to meet the varied learning needs post Covid-19: a response from Farmdale Elementary

Christina Dominguez is the IB Coordinator at Farmdale Elementary, located in Los Angeles, California.

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