URI’s Elementary Education Program Among Top in Nation Amid Pandemic

With few industries more affected by COVID-19 than education, the University of Rhode Island’s elementary education program had to rapidly adjust its curriculum this semester.

As more schools move online as the pandemic resurges, teaching students how to teach online has become a top priority, as getting students into classrooms has become near impossible.

Danielle Dennis, the director of URI’s School of Education, attributed a lot of the successes of the program despite these setbacks to the work of the program’s staff and students.

Among other things, Dennis noted the six different courses that were offered to students over the summer in which students were taught tips about teaching online. These courses, according to Dennis, were offered by professors with experience teaching online.

Giulia Russo, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, said that the model introduced her to new platforms and resources to help make classes more exciting for online learners.

“To see different platforms that were more fun and more engaging for the younger students was really a cool thing,” Russo said. “Learning that there are ways to make online learning engaging and do it in a sense that kids can still get something out of it, I think is really important.”

Russo also said that finding different platforms to help online engagement has been her biggest takeaway of the semester so far.

The program was also recently named one of the best nationwide, which Dennis credits to a receptive staff and the program’s ability to change quickly.

“I think they take feedback from our students, as well as our school partners, very seriously, and make changes as a result,” Dennis said.

Dennis pointed out the area of classroom management as an example for how the program has managed to be successful in their adjustments.

“We don’t just have a classroom management class, we talk about the way that you support children and young adults in all of our coursework so they can think about how it relates to the way they plan for lessons and the way it relates to having students do group work,” Dennis said.

Classroom management was one of the areas that the program had been recognized for and Dennis said that that was something that the program has been developing over time.

The biggest thing Russo said has been missing this year has been a connection with students and teachers, as most of the work elementary education students have involved watching prerecorded lessons.

Still, however, Russo noted that there was a positive side to that.

“What’s cool about it is you get to watch videos from different grade levels, so like we watch one from first grade science, and then this last week I had one that was high school English,” Russo said. “So you get to see a lot of different classrooms and how teachers interact differently with students who are of different ages.”

Dennis said that the program was also making sure that they did not go overboard with teaching about online learning, and are teaching tips about teaching in-person as well.

“It’s one of those somewhat potentially tricky situations in that we don’t want to go so far overboard in teaching about remote teaching that we miss out teaching about what it’s like to be in a physical classroom space, but we do recognize that we have to make some adaptations and help students,” Dennis said.

Dennis did point out, however, that she believed that students were asking the right questions about learning how to teach face-to-face.

While Dennis believes that the program has adjusted well to today’s reality, she still noted that the situation the program is in is disappointing.

“Everybody wishes they could be in classrooms, but everybody understands why they’re not,” she said.

This story was published in the Nov. 19, 2020 edition of the Good Five Cent Cigar.

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