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During this extraordinary time when New York City’s educators are working closely with students and families from the confines of their homes, we are publishing a series of posts describing their experiences in their own words. We are now #DOEconnected!

Follow our hashtag, #DOEconnected, join the conversation, and connect online with your neighbors across the City. Share stories of how you, your child, a teacher, or a school community member has become your hero. Remember, not all heroes wear capes.

Emma Comstock Reid, grade 8 mathematics teacher, Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School in the Bronx

Ms. Comstock Reid teaching exponents during remote instruction

When Emma Comstock Reid began teaching Grade 6 mathematics this past July, she drew upon all that she had learned about teaching online when City schools made the transition to full remote instruction last spring.

“The key for me in overcoming all of the challenges that came along with remote learning was to focus on the unique opportunities it offered rather than trying to recreate teaching and learning exactly how it had been in person.”

The biggest hurdle during the transition to remote learning, Emma notes, was her inability to teach her students in person—in the classroom, Emma had grown accustomed to walking around her classroom, looking over students’ shoulders, listening in on their discussions, and seeing how they had been working through their lessons. Pre-COVID-19, she was able to have one-on-one conversations in the classroom with students who were struggling or help push them in new directions.

But once Emma, a 2020 Big Apple Award winner, began to grow accustomed to the remote learning space, she was able to adapt her interactive teaching style in great ways. She started leaving audio and video feedback for her students on Zoom, and she encouraged her students to take advantage of apps like Google Classroom and others to improve the quality of their interactions and work. “Students could screen cast their own videos, and narrate their thoughts while showing their work,” she explains. What Emma lost by not being in a physical classroom with her students, she was able to regain in different ways; Google Jamboard, for example, allowed her students to share their ideas in real time while providing her with the capability to create groups of students across classes who had the same questions, needs, or misconceptions.

Selfie of Emma Comstock Reid, a teacher at Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School

“The key for me in overcoming all of the challenges that came along with remote learning was to focus on the unique opportunities it offered rather than trying to recreate teaching and learning exactly how it had been in person.”

In fact, Emma found that there were actually a few advantages to remote learning that enabled her to refine her lesson delivery. “In creating lesson videos and planning for synchronous instruction, I had to consider how to illustrate the most essential concept succinctly and visually demonstrate directions.” She found that students’ ability to pause and replay parts of her lessons gave them a ‘learn at their own pace’ advantage as they completed work independently. She also observed that students who had previously been reluctant to ask questions during in-person instruction were now reaching out for help via email or Zoom.

Another benefit of remote instruction was that Emma was able to expose students to interactive mathematical models more frequently. She did that by creating and curating activities from websites such as Desmos and Geogebra that allow students to adjust and compare supplementary angles, play with equations, and watch how slopes affect the steepness of graphs.

“Students could interact and play with math virtually in a way that I would never have been able to explore as deeply if I had still been in the classroom with access to physical manipulatives. Now, I can bring virtual models more fully into my curriculum whether students are learning remotely or in person.”

As she prepares for blended learning this fall, Emma feels lucky to have discovered new instructional strategies over the past few months, and she looks forward to using them for in-person instructional days. While new challenges will surely arise, Emma feels that the past few months have prepared her to provide quality math instruction to all her students at Fannie Lou Hamer Middle School this fall.

Emma Comstock Reid is emblematic of how New York City’s educators are adapting to these unprecedented times on behalf of our students and families. We thank all of our staff members for helping all of us stay #DOEconnected.

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