By Sherry DiBari

Old Dominion University Professor Jody Sommerfeldt and her students learned a lot when they scrambled to create virtual lesson plans on short notice for elementary students at a Chesapeake school when the pandemic hit.

Now she plans to repeat the experience for fall classes and will offer to make the virtual learning plans available to school divisions statewide.

Sommerfeldt feels this is a worthy challenge for the students.

"We are a community, and we support each other, and as educators and future educators we are asked to go above and beyond sometimes, and that is exactly what they did," Sommerfeldt said.

After Gov. Ralph Northam closed public schools in Virginia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students and teachers were forced to switch to remote learning.

Greenbrier Primary School principal Kimberly Lowden knew her teachers would need support in developing Standards of Learning-based lessons for an online environment.

She reached out to Sommerfeldt, senior lecturer of teaching and learning in the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies, with a request and a pressing deadline.

Lowden had to submit online learning plans to district leadership in just six days.

Eleven of Sommerfeldt's students had not completed their practicum hours due to the pandemic. She gave them the opportunity to substitute developing virtual lesson plans for the traditional classroom experience.

"My students were very nimble and jumped into action," she said. "We were able to develop lessons through the Google Suites platform and pass them along to teachers to modify as needed."

Five days later, with guidance from Sommerfeldt, the students had developed and submitted the learning plans.

On the sixth day, corrections were made, sent to the school division and shared with teachers at Greenbrier Primary.

One challenge, Sommerfeldt said, was how to prepare something for young learners who have trouble reading directions. The students ranged from kindergarten to second grade.

The students ended up using audio recordings and pictures to go with the digital content. This allowed students on different reading levels to participate.

ODU student Nariah Simpson said creating the virtual lessons was as difficult as creating regular lessons.

"Some students learn better in a face-to-face environment, so it was important for me to create a virtual lesson that can be just as engaging as an in-person class," she said.

The learning plans had to address students of all backgrounds. Sommerfeldt said this sparked important conversations in class.

"From an equity perspective, we realized that some young learners would be working online while caretakers were also working and unavailable to help," Sommerfeldt said.

Simpson is grateful for the experience.

"I believe that it was the perfect opportunity for me to use everything that I have been taught to create a 'real-life' lesson plan for real students," she said.

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