Lebanon Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Maribeth Franklin has always tried to incorporate music when teaches, but admits that she’s not been able to do as much while MCPS operates on Distance-Learning. 

However, for at least one announcement video she made for students, she was able to provide a somewhat unexpected musical element.

“I rapped it for them,” Franklin said with a laugh, adding she hoped the performance would make students more inclined to view and engage with it. “Music has always been a way I’ve got them engaged, but it’s harder virtually, so I have to be more intentional about it.

“Creativity has always been one of my favorite parts of teaching; it’s always been one of my strengths, and one of my motivations in teaching. Distance-Learning has challenged my creativity because now I have to be creative virtually.”

Her creativity has helped Franklin make learning from a distance as engaging as possible for her students. 

“When I teach, I always focus on engagement. I think students learn when they’re having fun, I think they learn when they feel important,” she said. “It’s been hard to try to continue that engagement in a Distance-Learning process.”

That type of engagement extends beyond just academics and into social development as well.

“A lot of students are ready to get back,” Franklin said. “They understand why it’s necessary, I just think the biggest thing for fifth graders is interaction. They miss their friends, they miss their teachers. They just want to see you, they just want to talk. They need that interaction.”

Despite the obstacles presented by Distance-Learning, Franklin says she’s found ways that the circumstances have presented some unexpected positives, specifically getting to know students in a new way.

“Seeing them at home [on video chat] has helped me build better relationships with a lot of students,” she said. “It takes knowing and understanding your students to a whole new level.”

She added that seeing students in the home environment can also lead to understanding specific student needs that might not be as obvious in a traditional classroom. For example, Franklin has found that Distance-Learning has helped improve the way she works with students whose first language is not English by giving them the opportunity to work individually without some of the intimidation that might be present in-person and “because the modifications have been more one-on-one.”

“It’s been easier to do a quick mini-lesson with more one-on-one uninterrupted language immersion,” Franklin said.

She’s also found that Distance-Learning has required all of her students to take more ownership of their learning and her students have been up to the challenge. 

“There are students from whom learning takes awhile and through virtual learning these students have become so determined that they have soared. They have done so well because they have taken ownership of their learning,” she said. “They are able to schedule their time and they understand themselves.”

Franklin explained that her students have successfully managed their time often making arrangements with her to get additional help in a subject.

“I’ve been really proud of those students,” Franklin said.

Of course, that’s not to say Franklin isn’t looking forward to returning to a more traditional classroom setting. 

“Tech is great, but getting to see them and know they’re okay is so important -- I just can’t wait until that day when I can go to their desk and help them with what they need.”