Comstock Park — As an all-virtual kindergarten teacher at Stoney Creek Elementary, Tiffany Imhoff takes a hands-on approach. She is constantly adapting and tweaking her lessons to keep her 29 students engaged and learning.
Part of this involves bringing in character performers to enhance the lessons. For example, a superhero character stopped by for a Fun Friday event to celebrate their first week together online.
“He encouraged the kiddos to work hard with their virtual learning, just like a superhero,” Imhoff said. “He read them a story and reinforced persevering through tough times.”
The character performers, including a princess and Cinderella, come from Rockford-based Golden Rule Events, owned by Gina Boscarino. To adjust to the pandemic, Boscarino shifted her business from in-person parties and events to online characters as a way to combine her educational background and events business.
In mid-October Boscarino dressed as a jungle explorer and joined Imhoff’s kindergarteners to teach them about animals and their jungle habitats, as well as animal sounds, to help make science come alive. In another visit, the Cinderella character taught students about letters and sounds.
Imhoff’s lessons have also included virtual visits to an apple orchard and a firehouse. One Fun Friday event included a teddy bear picnic to go along with the fairy tale of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” And as part of Spirit Week, the class celebrated crazy hair day, hat day, pajama day and a Friday green/gold day.
Tackling What’s Never Been Done Before
Although Imhoff acknowledges that in-person instruction for students is better than all-virtual, she accepted the challenge of teaching remotely.
“I felt like it’s been an opportunity to take on a challenge that’s never really been done,” said Imhoff, who is in her 19th year of teaching. She also didn’t relish the idea of teaching in person with students six feet apart and wearing masks all day.
Imhoff teaches four “lives” per day, each 20-30 minutes through Google Meet, where she incorporates direct instruction and guided practice.
“Each of our live times have a different educational purpose, with a focus on phonological awareness, sight words, writing, math and read-alouds,” she said.
To assess how students are progressing Imhoff does a lot of observing, including watching facial expressions. She will use small groups and one-on-one testing to help better determine student progress.
Imhoff has already learned that movement is key for her kindergartners: “You can’t expect them to sit at a screen for 30 minutes. Just engage as much as possible – any type of kinesthetic movement.”
She also noted that it’s more difficult to build relationships and connect with kids virtually. Her kindergartners take part in “Show and Share,” where they get to introduce a favorite toy, stuffed animal, person or pet. During this time, Imhoff encourages the students to listen and respond to each other.
Tweaks Keep Kids Engaged
Kim Pratt is the parent of two daughters – kindergartner Naomi and second-grader Ava. She chose the all-virtual learning option both for safety reasons and to offer consistency for her children. She said Imhoff is totally open to feedback and will change her teaching format daily or weekly using that input.
“She does lots of lives during the morning and then everyday she tweaks a little bit based on what works,” Pratt said.
Naomi, whose favorite subjects are math and art, enjoys interacting with her classmates and teacher, her mother said.
“Live meets are difficult for her to stay focused and engaged. Mrs. Imhoff does a fantastic job of keeping the kiddos engaged during the meet. The struggle is getting her motivated to want to sign in,” said Pratt.
Stoney Creek Principal Tiffany Jackson said she was surprised by the number of families who selected the all-virtual learning option. About 28% of the school’s students are remote right now, and they are supported by four all-virtual teachers, including Imhoff.
“We know that every situation is unique and we’re hopeful we can meet the student needs for academic success,” said Jackson, who has been impressed by the creativity and resourcefulness of the virtual teachers.