I think teachers across the world can agree that transitioning to distance learning overnight was not was not a fun experience. Honestly, a good portion was absolutely horrible. Not being able to read my students’ faces, or interact with them, or or make them laugh took a lot of the joy out of teaching. Heck, sometimes, I just needed them to reply to an email!
I did sleep a little later by staying home and didn’t miss walking the dog at 6 a.m., but some days it took all my energy to open my computer and sift through the 50 new emails from confused students that had appeared in my inbox over night. I certainly missed the classroom experience, and I hope to be back there in the fall – whatever form that takes.
With that said, teaching online did nudge (okay, force) me to mix up my teaching methods. I’ve been in the classroom for 18 year and I knew what worked in the classroom. Still, I realized that there was no way that I could keep teaching the same way though a computer screen. I had to try new methods to teach and access my students from a distance, and they would have to learn how to adapt to those teaching methods also. Ultimately, I learned some new methods and practices that I will carry forward into the next year, even if I and my students return to the classroom full time.
Teaching Lesson 1 – Teach Technological Access Explicitly
Raise your metaphorical hand if you received an email from a student where the email was typed entirely in the subject line during distance learning. Yep, we all did… all the time. I was one of those teachers that thought that my students had SOME understanding of how technology works. After all, they had phones, those phones sent notifications, I saw them checking those notifications all the time!
It turns out that my students were really, really bad with accessing and utilizing technology. Therefore, we had to hobble though as they figured out how to check Google Classroom or their email. I found myself replying to emails that were no more than a random assembly of words – rift with typos and lacking punctuation. I had students tell me that they “did all the work,” only to find that slides were completely blank. If I tried to use a website that was different from Google Classroom, it just led to more issues, complications and confusion. I sent many frustrated responses over the first few weeks.
Regardless of the educational setting I’ll be working with in the fall, my students will be competing a series of lessons on technological access as soon as I meet them. They will be also assessed on that understanding. I want to know that my students can communicate with me and their schoolwork – regardless of where their “classes” are taking place.
Teaching Lesson 2 – Video Instructions are the Best Thing Ever
I love giving instruction though video. LOVED IT.
When giving instructions in the traditional classroom setting, I would see students who weren’t looking at the right paper or website, or who weren’t writing when instructed. Whatever the distraction, I would then have to pause my instructions to make sure that they were following along. That helped some students keep them on track, but other students might lose focus. Further, taking that extra time to present directions might mean that students left class before the actual lesson was finished.
With video instructions, I can play my video from the front of the classroom while circling the class to make sure that students are following the directions. Students can the access the video links without me if they need a review of the requirements or details. Basically, video instructions give me the versatility to have my eyes on more than one location.
Video instructions also have added benefits. I can link them in my digital agenda for SPED teachers to review and my daily agenda slides for students who missed class or who need a quick review before starting their homework. If there is some type of asynchronous teaching in the fall, video instructions will be there for students not in class that day. Finally, giving instructions can be an exhausting part of teaching. Not having to explain the same idea over and over? That will save my energy for working with students in other ways.
Teaching Lesson 3 – Always Providing Immediate Feedback does not Benefit Students
As teachers, we’ve been programed to help students when they ask. In the classroom, I find myself providing constant reassurance to students as they think through answers. I have really smart students who will check for feedback after writing one sentence! As a teacher, I know that my need to make sure they really understand the material has enabled that practice.
With online instruction, kids really had to dive into lessons on their own. I simply couldn’t be there to provide immediate feedback though email or in Google Classroom. Students had to work though a lesson with only inner guidance and answer their own questions. Although there was lots of hesitation in the beginning but I found that by and large, my students were able to understand and work though the content without constant feedback from me.
My hope is that being forced to rely on themselves didn’t just boost their comprehension but also their self-confidence! If we go back to the classroom, I know that I will be setting clear expectations as to when I will be providing feedback to students every time they try something new. I need my students not to fear a bit of struggle as they learn and they need to build that stamina also.
Teaching Lesson 4 – Model, Model, Model
I will admit that sometimes modeling expectations for assignments can be exhausting. I would be truly depressed if I counted the number of One Pagers I assigned that were turned in that were way more than one page. It’s in the title – ONE PAGER! Why can’t my students just see what I expect from them? (I know, this is an obvious rhetorical question.)
Online learning provided me with a very clear reminder that students need to clearly understand expectations for an assignment – especially when I’m not there to correct them as they stray. In the coming school year, I will provide models for most everything the students create. Beyond that, I want to have my students assess those models more often. What makes an example great? What makes an example less than great? I need to work those questions into my instruction more often. I know that the next time I introduce a one pager as an assignment, I will first have my students examine one pager examples from previous students.
Teaching Lesson 5 – Equity of Voice is Essential
As a middle school teacher, I often find myself paying more attention to the loudest or neediest students. Those who are quiet or reserved often fade into the background. I always have some students, particularly girls, who try to make it through the school year without ever asking a question! As an over talker myself, I never had a problem with voicing my point of view. Still, I know I’ve allowed students to shrink into the background more than I would like to admit.
With distance learning, I found that the types of students who voiced their points of view were extremely different. There was no concern about volume, or about having to speak in front of other students. More reserved students could ask me questions individually in private comments, or though email. Those students who had been speaking just to amuse their classmates became much quieter with no audience. It really felt like a win/win for all of my students. I want to encourage this improved conversational experience more regularly in the classroom, and I have resolved to structure my lessons to make that more possible.
Of course, I know that any implementation of these ideas will not be perfect. Regardless, I wanted to make sure that my awareness is there. While distance learning was far from ideal, I’m glad that pushed me to improve my practice.