DECA’s Amezcua Blends Technology with Personal Touch to Meet Challenges of Kindergarten Immersion Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted how education is delivered. Beginning in March, all Stanislaus County school districts – including Denair Unified — were forced to suspend on-campus classes and move to a distance learning model. Today, in the first of a series of profiles, we talk with a Denair teacher about distance learning, some of the challenges involved and the lessons that can be learned.

Teacher: Vanessa Amezcua (Señorita Amezcua)

School: Denair Elementary Charter Academy

Grade/subject: Kindergarten Spanish Dual Immersion

Years in district: 3

What does a typical school day look like for you now? How do you organize your time? 

A typical school day begins with me double-checking that I did not miss any parent messages from the night before or if I have any new ones to respond to. I use my time prior to our 8:45 a.m. Zoom call to pre-record myself doing lessons for the students. From 8:45-9:30, I am on Zoom with my 21 students. The rest of my day is spent creating schedules, video lessons, prepping materials and answering any questions from parents.

What are some of the things you are doing during live instruction with students? 

Our live instruction focuses on math, Spanish language arts and the immersion in the Spanish language. The kids are asked to constantly participate in counting, letter names and sounds review, and lots of songs. I use a lot of this time to create opportunities for the students to attempt the Spanish language as well as listen to as much Spanish as possible.

What are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make?

I think the biggest adjustment has been teaching to a quiet audience. I am used to having some feedback and listening to them when I ask them to repeat after me. One of my biggest immersion tools is having the kids translate from English to Spanish when they need to tell me something, but I cannot always get them to repeat after me through Zoom.

What are your favorite teaching tools? Why?

A new tool I have been using this year is Screencastify. It has worked wonders with creating lessons and pre-recording videos for the kids. I create videos for them to follow along like we would in class. It has really helped parents as well since the work that we are doing in class is all in Spanish. This allows the students to pause, rewind and work at their own pace. They can even go in and watch the video as many times as they’d like. It has been great for troubleshooting any issues as well. I am able to record my screen so that I can show parents how to access tools and websites.

Are there teaching techniques you’re using now that you’ll be able to apply in your classrooms when in-person classes resume?

I have been incorporating how to be respectful, choral responding, hand raising, patience, turn taking, whole class learning and positive praise. These are all big techniques that we use in class. I do my best to create a positive and fruitful learning environment for my students and so far, it has been working well, even through Zoom.

What are your biggest concerns about students and distance learning?

My biggest concern is the lack of Spanish language immersion.Within the classroom, the students are completely immersed and left to adapt. I use a lot of movement, student help, pictures and real-life examples to help the students understand what I am saying in Spanish. The daily repetition and choral responding that I do helps the students learn and begin speaking the Spanish language. I am worried that this group of kids will not have the same oral development since I do not always catch if they are not participating or if something is being mispronounced.  

How often do you interact with parents? What are their most common questions? 

I have interactions with parents almost every day. I post daily schedules and most parents submit pictures of the student’s work every day. Most of the questions I receive are now about clarification on an assignment or questions about work pickup/drop-off days.

Do you have a favorite distance learning story to share?

My favorite distance learning moments are the small, virtual yet personal, interactions I have with all of them. It can be the little smiles after I tell them they’re doing a great job, to them reacting to me with the emojis on Zoom, their sweet drawings they drop off for me, the cute little dance or shoulder shimmies we share, or my favorite is when they record videos of their work and end it with a message saying thank you or that they love me. J

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