The pandemic has forced teachers to learn new tricks and created at least one innovation that’s here to stay – Orange County Register

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They say that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, it’s the mother of a talking cartoon named Ms. Panda.

But let’s take a step back.

A highly regarded educational research professor at UC Riverside, Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette, Ph.D., leads the Adalente Moving Forward Project, an early childhood literacy initiative that develops a program called the “ABC Rule of 3” , aimed at closing the achievement gap for English learners. This is a huge need because estimates show that by 2025 English learners will represent 25% of the school population nationwide.

The Ventriglia-Navarrette program, which was originally started in the Moreno Valley but now serves students in seven states, has received many laurels and millions of dollars in federal grants. In 2019, a one-year randomized study involving 339 students in 16 kindergarten classes from nine different schools demonstrated the effectiveness of the rule of 3: 73.9% of English learners who benefited from the intervention met national criteria, compared to only 6.9% in the control group.

Yet all that success didn’t mean much when the pandemic hit.

As lockdowns swept the country, Ventriglia-Navarrette, like millions of educators nationwide, suddenly had to find a way – and quickly – to translate a curriculum designed for in-person teaching into an experience. in line.

“Online experience”. It seems too neat and contained. What it really meant was finding a way to get the attention of 4 and 5 year old kids who were on the move and were now stuck at home in front of a computer screen.

Then, assuming you can get their attention, teach them fundamental skills such as sound and letterforms – just one of many essential foundational skills they must have. “If you can pass those grades successfully and, you know, speed up, then you don’t have to correct later,” says Ventriglia-Navarrette.

The online learning curve was, for many, like trying to get a 747 off the ground without a runway. Not only were teachers trying to find the best way to teach online through, but parents were also pressured to facilitate online teaching.

So what to do? How do you put your program online in such a way that it reaches students and makes it easier for teachers and parents?

Dr Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette (Courtesy of Dr Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette)

His first thought was to film some really expert and experienced educators teaching the program. Good idea!

With the exception of one problem: Children quickly lost interest in videotaped lessons, their attention wandering.

“For teachers, the difference between online and in the field is that face to face you have to sit down and listen. Online, you can deactivate me at any time, right? Said Ventriglia-Navarrett. “The teachers, they did a good job, but the young kids weren’t, you know, engaged, to tell you the absolute truth.”

Argh. As time passed, opportunities to learn crucial and foundational skills were lost.

Then, one of his former students – now a teacher – mentioned that he had read an article on the effectiveness of what is called in education jargon “animated pedagogical agents”. In other words, cartoon characters give lessons.

This gave Ventriglia-Navarrett an idea. In some of the children’s books she had written, she had created a character named Mrs. Panda who was pretty, patient and intelligent: and use it.

So she hired a facilitator and got to work. But honestly? She struggled.

“I thought I could write it. I wrote a lot of curricula and textbooks for teachers, you know, ”says the award-winning researcher. “But the host said to me, ‘Look, this is not good. You cannot write a teacher’s manual. You have to write a movie script. I had never done this before, and I was a little taken aback when he told me that. He said, ‘You have to develop her like she’s a person, like you’re writing a movie and giving her the lines to say. You have to create or have passion, a motivated character, all of those things that we do when we write scripts.

Thus, this seasoned educator – trained at Claremont College and Harvard, and author of numerous academic books on literacy and language development – found herself in the role of a student, having to acquire a whole new skill while based on the pedagogy she knew so well. .

“I mean, now I know what a screenwriter feels like because while you’re doing it you’ve got to put yourself in a totally different mode,” she says. “I kind of had to make myself Ms. Panda. What would I do if I taught this lesson? How could I strengthen it? “

But learn she did. Navarrette adapted the Rule of 3 by adding imaginative PowerPoints to enrich children’s vocabulary, animated phonic charts and catchy songs. Ms. Panda also offers many stimulating slogans, such as “Kiss your smart brain! ”, Details that children seem to love.

The end result turned out to be better than Ventriglia-Navarrette could have imagined. She says teachers say they can use the structured curriculum to accelerate learning and differentiate teaching. Students who need catching up can watch Ms. Panda’s lesson over and over again until they have mastered the skill, while children who don’t need as much catching up can advance at their own pace. It also provides teachers with an example of how to most effectively implement the lessons in their classroom – and for parents of English learners, they too can watch the lessons with their children and learn.

Ventriglia-Navarrette says she walked away with a whole new respect for the possibilities offered by online learning.

“I have to say I was very adamant, being involved with linguistics and second language learners, that conversations are how you learn a language. I mean, I wrote a book while I was at Harvard on this same subject. And while I still think it’s true, there are plenty of ways to do it, ”she says. “Online has so many potential benefits. “


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