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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Virtual Classroom Series: Teaching Kindergarteners To Read Over A Computer Screen

Emily Files
West Allis kindergarten teacher Amanda Hendrickson spends most of the day between 8:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. on Zoom with students.

If you ever scroll through videos on the social media app TikTok, you’ll notice that kindergarten teachers have become popular. They’re posting videos of themselves teaching online — and the level of energy and patience it takes has garnered those videos millions of views. Amanda Hendrickson can relate. She’s a kindergarten teacher at Wilson Elementary in the West Allis-West Milwaukee district. Every day of teaching is like putting on show.

“Anything to do on Zoom to get them laughing and engaged — yeah, that’s what we gotta do as kindergarten teachers right now,” Hendrickson says. “Otherwise they’re gonna be like ‘I’m bored!’ To get their attention and get them learning, that’s what’s most important.”

While the kids are at home or daycare, Hendrickson is in her classroom at school.

READ: Virtual Classroom Series: Milwaukee Teacher Works To Keep Students Engaged

“This morning when I got here, I heard a knock, knock, knock on my window,” she tells her students. “Do you know who it was? Callan, who was it?”

“The super readers!” Callan replies.

Hendrickson has toy superheroes who “help” her during reading lessons, a stuffed elephant named Mabel who comes out during phonics, and recently, she started wearing costume glasses with fake sideburns to act as another character named Mr. Walter. The characters help keep students’ attention during online lessons.

Credit Emily Files / WUWM
Teacher Amanda Hendrickson wears costume glasses to pretend to be 'Mr. Walter' and get students excited about a phonics lessons. She holds Mabel, a stuffed elephant who also comes out during phonics lessons.

Even with all the theatrics, Hendrickson is able to fit in a lot of learning. In addition to reading and phonics, she teaches math to her class of 20 each day. Hendrickson and Wilson Elementary’s two other kindergarten teachers divided up the core subjects and prerecord the day’s lessons for all three classrooms to use.

“So like when I do reading, one of my other kindergarten teachers prerecords the lesson,” Hendrickson explains. “So during reading time, I will play her lesson for the kids while pausing it and adding in comments that I have for it.”

The prerecorded videos lighten the teachers’ workloads a little bit. They’re also good for students who learn asynchronously, meaning they don’t join the live video calls. Two of Hendrickson’s students are on an asynchronous schedule because it works better for their families.

Credit Courtesy Amanda Hendrickson
Amanda Hendrickson in her classroom at Wilson Elementary in West Allis. She's been in the classroom by herself, with students learning from home, for the entire school year so far.

In today’s phonics lesson, Hendrickson plays a video from another teacher and frequently pauses it to call on students.

“Does anyone have a word that ends with ‘guh?'” Hendrickson pronounces the sound that the letter "G" makes.

“Dog,” one student says. “Gorilla,” says another.

“Gorilla does have the ‘guh, guh’ sound, but it’s at the beginning,” Hendrickson says. “What about a pig?”

Learning how to read is the most important thing that happens in kindergarten. Hendrickson was worried about how that would go with virtual school.

“I think if they were in person, I might have some students who were a little further along,” she says. “But I think it’s going better than anticipated.”

Hendrickson says the kindergarten teachers are planning to adapt their virtual learning schedules to spend more small-group time with students who are behind in reading.

Throughout her virtual classes, Hendrickson’s students periodically interrupt her when they see words they recognize on worksheets.

“I see ‘you’ and ‘me,’” a student named A’zaria interjects.

“You are right A’zaria!” Hendrickson says. “Oh my gosh, I gotta call up those first grade teachers and say 'Guess what? These kindergarteners know how to read!'”

Hendrickson says, at the beginning of the school year, families were skeptical about virtual learning. It’s made her feel like she has something to prove.

“I understand there are a lot of children that do need to be in school,” she says. “But given the cards that we’ve been dealt, we’re making this work. They are learning.”

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Emily is WUWM's educational reporter.
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