Busey soon tapped into her significant expertise, gained as a third and fourth grade teacher, reading specialist, and district literacy coach for the Buncombe County School District in Asheville, N.C.
Jan Busey was nervous. After years in the classroom, the retired teacher was about to start recording literacy video lessons for the first time, with students she couldn’t see, wiggly Kindergartners who would be hard to engage via a screen, much less recorded lessons, experiencing school for the first time.
From her basement turned recording studio, she gathered a literal and figurative bag of tricks to bring the module topics of the curriculum she’s teaching, Wit & Wisdom in Sync, from Great Minds, to life for five-year-olds across the country.
“I'm always trying to do something novel to get their attention at the very beginning,” Busey says. “Something silly, something kind of homemade so that I can tell them what's coming up, and also hopefully they'll pay attention.”
For Module 1: The Five Senses, her props included a dulcimer to represent hearing and “a big pair of fluorescent sunglasses” to represent sight. For Module 2: Once Upon A Farm, puppets came into play.
During the curriculum’s “notice” and “wonder” routines, Busey dons a detective hat and wields a large magnifying glass.
All the while, Busey didn’t know how students were reacting to her materials or even how many students were watching her video lessons. Her recordings are used by primary classroom teachers to augment their own virtual teaching. Schools and districts all over the country are using Wit & Wisdom in Sync, the digital version of the Wit & Wisdom curriculum designed for in person classrooms, while school buildings are closed.
She might hear anecdotes of teachers and students’ enjoying her work but received little proof. That changed on her birthday, when several Kindergartners in Baltimore sent her birthday greeting videos. One girl beautifully played “Happy Birthday” on a piano. A boy replicated Busey’s bag of tricks, pulling out objects related to things she’d mentioned in her lessons, even using the “notice” and “wonder” terms from the curriculum.
The moment you realize that a virtual classroom community is attainable.@BaltCitySchools kindergartener wishing his @GreatMindsEd teacher a happy birthday! If you know Ms. Jan then you will understand! @WitWisdomELA @SonjaSantelises @JohnDavisBCPS @MWSPrincipal @AshleyPCook24 pic.twitter.com/EwTVATH5Km— BaltimoreLiteracy (@BaltimoreLiter1) October 8, 2020
“It was really a treat to see their interpretation of me on screen,” Busey says. “It just was such a rewarding experience. I sit in my basement, most days talking only to one other teaching partner. And so now I have faces on the other end of the screen.”
Busey appreciates the teacher behind the video effort. Rachel Satti teaches Kindergarten at The Mount Washington School in Baltimore City Public Schools and uses Busey’s recorded lessons with her class. Because the students love “Ms. Jan,” Satti encouraged her students to record the birthday greetings for their virtual teacher. Several of the videos were posted to Twitter, where users quickly coined the hashtag, “WeLoveMsJan.”
Satti calls Busey a “hero” and a tremendous source of inspiration and learning. Sometimes Satti and her students watch Busey’s lessons together.
“I wish I was as calm as Ms. Jan, but I don't know that I ever will be,” Satti says. “Just watching her, you get mesmerized and drawn in. The kids and I would be on the edge of our seats to see what she was going to pull out of this bag. One time she pulled out a lemon and bit right into it. We couldn’t believe it.”
Watching the videos also creates a sense of community, Satti says. “We're all building our knowledge there together in a shared experience,” she says.
In addition to building knowledge about human senses and farm animal traits, students are modeling excellent Zoom behavior and social-emotional learning, Satti says. At age five, they’ve learned to mute themselves, raise their virtual hands, respond to each other using their names, check on one another’s well-being, and make friends. They like to stay online after class ends to play games. They even share their screens to show their work.
“Now parents are helping guide them, but once those parents guide them, kids are so much more intuitive with technology than grown-ups,” Satti says.
One student uses software on her own to record her videos.
The idea to record birthday greetings for Ms. Jan was part of an effort to make virtual school feel like in-person school. Wishing a teacher happy birthday is something young students enjoy, regardless of where learning takes place.
Even with the perhaps surprising amount of decorum 20 five-year-olds exhibit online, there are still excited outbursts. Those are welcome signs of engagement, Satti says. “Sometimes they unmute at the most inappropriate times and blurt stuff out, but that makes me personally feel happy because it makes me feel like I'm in a real room,” Satti says.
Together, Satti, Busey, and other teachers—including those teaching Eureka Math in Sync, another Great Minds curriculum Baltimore schools are using—have created an environment in which students feel comfortable and are learning a tremendous amount.
“You can tell how much she has worked to make this a successful experience for her students,” Busey says of Satti. “She has really taken to heart her role and complements what I'm doing. I just so appreciate the work that she has done.”
Busey also is grateful for the Wit & Wisdom content architects and implementation support staff who work hard to ensure teacher and student success with a rigorous curriculum.
Both Satti and Busey marvel at the youngest students’ capacity to absorb knowledge. Busey ended her school district career with one semester teaching Kindergarten and called it a highlight of her tenure.
“I love teaching Kindergarten,” Busey says. “I loved teaching Wit & Wisdom in Kindergarten. I think we discount student abilities, and these Kindergartners rose to the occasion. Their reading, their writing, their discussions were rich because of the curriculum and the text that we were using, already in only one little semester in Kindergarten. That led to this opportunity with Wit & Wisdom. Oh, what a ride it has been.”
Satti says of Kindergartners, “They're like sponges. Whatever you put into them, they just soak it all in, and it's amazing, and they just grow and grow and grow.”
And of her current class, all virtual for fall 2020, she says, “They have been learning a lot, and it really feels like a good classroom environment where people care about other people.”
Congratulations to Busey, Satti, their fellow teachers, students, and parents everywhere who are making an unusual learning environment work so well.
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Jill Gerber is marketing communications manager at Great Minds, where she helps educators tell their stories about using high quality curriculum to build student knowledge. A one-time newspaper reporter, she lives in Washington, D.C. Have a tip about an educator using Great Minds curricula who might like to be profiled for our website? Please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.