This blog post is part of a series profiling educators’ experiences teaching throughout the 2020-2021 school year. Hear from 1st-grade teacher Michelle Webb and 4th-grade teacher LayToya Herring, J.D.
After more than a year of supporting distance and hybrid learning, many educators have become closely familiar with both the challenges and benefits of using digital tools in their instruction. One such educator is Pamela Kral, an intervention specialist in Ohio. While supporting her students during the pandemic, Pamela began to uncover how she could best leverage technology by finding tools that support differentiation — and are easy for her and her students to learn to use.
Adapting to change as an intervention specialist
As an educator and intervention specialist, Pamela Kral’s work is all about trying new things. And last year, after 14 years teaching at a large public elementary school in a rural district, she made the huge transition — during a pandemic, no less — to a small charter elementary school in Columbus, Ohio, where most of the 140-student body speaks English as an additional language. At her new school, she’s working one-on-one with elementary students in rotating intervals throughout the day, creating a learning experience that she has designed to meet their needs.
But throughout the 2020-2021 school year, Pamela’s students experienced the rapidly changing realities of pandemic education. They started the school year with a week of in-person class in August, but then moved between remote and in-person instruction until January, when they returned to 100% in-school learning.
Even when in-person, students at Pamela’s school are on one-to-one Chromebooks 40 to 60 percent of the school day. To meet her students’ needs in a digital learning environment, Pamela has turned to many new digital tools, including Easel by TpT, to quickly prepare activities for her students. With Easel’s suite of digital tools, teachers are able to create interactive online activities they can customize to their students’ needs and interests. Teachers can add digital annotations, text boxes, and movable pieces to resources on TpT or their own original materials, so they can tailor their lessons just how they want.
Differentiating with digital resources
Since each of her students’ needs are different, Pamela has to be ready at all times to differentiate the activities they’re working on. Sometimes, she will want to block out embellishments and other things on the page to simplify it visually. Other times, she’ll shorten a slide presentation to make it more digestible, or she’ll split it up and assign each part to different students based on their needs or interests.
“Intervention specialists are very on-the-fly teachers,” she says. “You have to be like, Okay, let’s do this. Okay, that’s not working, let’s try this. I’m constantly on the computer during breaks, looking for new activities for my students. You’re moving around a lot of pieces, but that’s what I love about my job.”
And since Pamela’s schedule as an intervention specialist is all one-on-one teaching, most of her students get instant individualized feedback as they work together. She’s able to provide her students with timely feedback for each lesson, whether they’re working together in Easel or using another platform.
Turning to digital tools that are easy to use
One of the challenges teachers like Pamela face with their students is technological — there’s often an assumption that students raised with computers and smartphones will understand how to use new tools or technology easily. But in Pamela’s experience, she’s had to spend a lot of time walking her students through the basics again, such as, typing, computer navigation, and internet navigation.
Working with the right digital tools is critical for her students, Pamela says, whether they’re in person or remote. “When we went remote between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year, I took for granted that they knew their way around,” she says. “But at every grade level, I was becoming frustrated, and feeling helpless, just watching them trying to navigate digital instruction.”
And for many of her students, their Chromebooks serve as an additional device to help them learn in a second language. One-on-one lessons often include pulling up both Google Translate and Easel by TpT so the student can use Google Translate and then demonstrate their understanding in Easel dragging and dropping the English words using Easel’s movable pieces.
“My students like the digital platforms because the words are right there in front of them,” she says. “They love the interactivity when they can click and slide and match things.”
Tips for using Easel to meet your students’ needs
You can use Easel to:
- Boost student engagement: No complicated tutorials required — teachers can plan knowing students will understand the platform intuitively. Interactive features keep lessons moving, leaving no downtime when students might otherwise start losing interest.
- Integrate with the software you already use: Look for the Easel logo when browsing on TpT to find dynamic, editable Easel Activities. Then share them through Google Classroom or through your LMS with a student share link.
- Quickly find and differentiate activities: Plans change last minute? No problem. Filter your search on TpT for Easel Activities to suit almost any kind of learner, then differentiate them as much as you need with tools like the highlighter, pen, text boxes, movable pieces, and more.
- Support student progress with timely feedback: Grade assignments quickly, add comments and notation on student work easily, and routinize timely feedback to take advantage of every learning moment.
“You can tell you’ve built up a good relationship with a student when they’re annoyed with you if your schedule gets messed up or you’re absent,” says Pamela. “I have this one student, they’re so quiet and shy, but they are working so hard with me. And recently they passed me in the hall and were like, ‘You missed me today!’ That’s how I know we’re on our way.”
How Are You Using Easel?
Do you have tips or ideas for how to use Easel? We’d love to hear from you! Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook and tag #EaselByTpT to share your ideas. And keep an eye out, as we may feature your ideas on social media or our blog!