A Teachable Moment: When Student Teachers’ Classroom Immersion Suddenly Goes Virtual

RWU senior education majors learn lessons in technology and adaptability, transitioning their student teaching placements online midway through the spring semester. This story is part of a series highlighting RWU's innovative, student-centered approaches to education, with classes online for the remainder of the semester.

By Anna Cohen
Student Teachers
RWU student teachers meet with Department Chair for Middle/Secondary Education Evgenia Tsankova and Professor of Education Margaret Thombs over Zoom.

This spring, for the first time in history, education across much of the world transitioned from the classroom to an entirely remote experience. While teachers are learning to teach amid social distancing measures, and students are learning to learn, today’s student teachers are making the most of both. 

RWU provides education majors with field experience each semester of each year. For seniors, a full-time, 14-week student teaching practicum is an immersion in classroom education. This spring, RWU senior education majors are experiencing a truly unique semester of student teaching. Following Spring Break, their student teaching placements became a crash course in online education. 

“They are working full-time as student teachers every day. Online teaching is a difficult process for teachers in the field, and our students feel they can contribute immensely because they are in touch with technology,” said Evgenia Tsankova, Department Chair for Middle/Secondary Education. 

Working in a first- and second-grade classroom in the Tiverton public school district, Megan Barnes, senior elementary education major enrolled in RWU’s Masters of Arts in Special Education 4+1 program, is using technology including Google Classroom, Zoom, and Kahoot! to reach her students. 

“Overall this experience has been really eye-opening,” said Barnes. “It’s a different learning experience, but it’s really cool for me to be trained in both areas, starting in the classroom and now teaching online. I can take this into my professional career. When I am a teacher I will be able to make lessons for absent students and keep them updated using Google Classroom.” 

Abigail Higgins is also a senior elementary education member enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Special Education 4+1 program. Placed in a Tiverton first-grade classroom, Higgins recognizes many ways her unexpected remote student teaching experience will serve her future. 

Abigail Higgins, RWU senior enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Special Education 4+1 program, waves to students over Zoom. 

“Technology is really important in the classroom, so moving forward I am going to be mindful of maximizing its potential,” she said. “Teaching online is a big adjustment, and I’m happy to help. In the beginning I was just taking on anything that was asked of me. But now that we’ve settled in, we are getting really creative and doing fun things. We are still trying to incorporate a lot of what happened in the classroom at home, without making the students feel overwhelmed.” 

Just as student teachers work to maintain the quality of their remote teaching, RWU professors are working ensure the student teachers receive the same level of support with remote learning as they did on campus. Professors supervise up to five student teachers at a time. Each week, Tsankova and Professor of Education Margaret Thombs meet with their combined 10 student teachers over Zoom to talk over their experience as a community, and continue discussions of the topics outlined in their syllabus. 

A key part of the student teaching experience is receiving feedback from professionally observed lessons. RWU’s student teachers are observed by both a School-based Clinical Educator and an RWU Clinical Educator using the same rubric that is used to assess Rhode Island public school teachers. 

“I’m implementing a literacy lesson next week for my third observed lesson,” said Barnes. “I’ll be using Kahoot!, an online quiz and interactive learning experience where students can answer questions in a game format. A lot of kids like it.” 

"Egg-citing" remote activities for students provided by Megan Barnes, a RWU senior enrolled in the Masters of Arts in Special Education 4+1 program. 

While student teachers develop their skills, they are also providing necessary support for students, teachers, and families adapting to unprecedented times. 

“Kids really enjoy when teachers say hello face-to-face. They need the human connection,” said Tsankova. 

“Zoom meetings build that social-emotional piece because they can still connect with one another and talk about what is happening in their lives. Kids have a chance to share their dogs and guinea pigs on the screen. It’s a whole new level of connecting with one another and it’s been really fun to see that part of their life,” said Higgins. “People are taking their energy and putting into providing for the children and it’s been really enlightening”

Faculty, Students and Staff: Do you have a story of innovative distance learning at RWU? Email us at stories@rwu.edu