Iowa students get back into habit of learning after almost 6 months out of school

First-graders in Stacy Yanda’s class at Madison Elementary School in Cedar Rapids are learning how to be students again.

As kindergartners last year, they missed out on about three months of education because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and started their year as first-graders late because of the Aug. 10 derecho storm.

Yanda, who had these students last year as kindergartners, too, said she can tell which students received some at-home schooling over the summer and which did not.

“You can tell there’s a little bit of falling behind, but just in the first few weeks those who have fallen back have managed to catch up,” she said.

Instead of beginning the year with everything they missed in kindergarten, Yanda is starting at a first-grade level and filling in the blanks as they go.

For example, last year as kindergartners they missed their lesson in subtraction. This year as first-graders, they will review what they didn’t learn when they reach the subtraction unit before jumping into first-grade-level subtraction.

“It will be a little bit of a slower process to build in those skills we didn’t get, but I’m hoping it will be taken care of within the year,” Yanda said.

Teachers across Eastern Iowa are getting students back into the habit of learning.

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Sara Karbeling, a physics teacher at Liberty High School in North Liberty, is teaching online learning from her home this trimester.

A lot of students are eager to be back taking classes, Karbeling said. Students are ready to get back into a routine “they’ve been doing since they were five,” she said.

“I think there’s a lot of comfort in that,” Karbeling said. “I’m not saying they’re all chomping on the bit going, ‘I need to learn something today.’”

Karbeling said she isn’t noticing any big gaps in knowledge with students out of class for several months.

Karbeling, who has a daughter in third grade enrolled in online school, said there is a learning curve to online learning.

“We’re all kind of learning this together, and being patient with each other and assuming positive intent,” Karbeling said.

Even as a teacher, Karbeling and her daughter struggled with knowing what platform to turn in assignments — whether they were to be sent to the teacher via email or on the student’s online Seesaw portal.

“We asked and got it figured out. Having a lot of patience has been the key,” she said.

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“It’s the same for my students,” Karbeling said. “I’ve had students say they couldn’t figure out how to turn an assignment in. Instead of giving them a zero, I say, let’s figure it out. Let’s call this a learning experience.”

Ty Haren, a sixth-grade Wickham Elementary School teacher in Coralville, is in the classroom teaching students in the hybrid learning model.

In total, he has 17 students split between every other day.

Haren taught fifth grade last year, and has many of the same students this year, which he said gives him an advantage to spot when his students are struggling or may need to be challenged more.

Months out of the classroom has not caused learning deficits to stand out, he said.

The district is implementing “just-in-time learning.” Instead of teaching students everything they missed last year, Haren is starting his students at a sixth-grade level and filling in the blanks as they go.

“It’s obvious as a teacher going through the materials (that the district) has done a lot to help these kids be successful,” Haren said.

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