Last week in Ontario, we settled back in to a few weeks of teaching into the abyss; speaking to a sea of black squares and unacknowledged jokes as we “pivot” once again to online learning. While I spent the days leading up to the end of the holidays dreading the possibility, as usual once I got into the swing of things, the reality was far less painful than what I had built it up to be in my head. Students turn their cameras on for me in the mornings to say hello, and a few of my jokes have been acknowledged. Call it what you will, but I will continue to call this a win.
Reflecting on the first week back, here’s what’s been working for me so far:
1) Starting every class with a check-in. So far we’ve varied how this check-in happens in my class. Using Jamboard to write down our worries as a class anonymously, using the Mood Meter and a quick Zoom poll to do a self check in, writing 2 emotions to describe how we’re feeling in the moment in the chat, circling which sloth best describes how we are feeling in a Google Peardeck.
I’m finding this a good way to start the day - talking about how we’re feeling, and acknowledging that all our emotions are valid and recognizing how we are feeling is important. Writing down and talking about our worries hopefully also helps our students lift this weight a little and allow them to focus on other things.
2) Music. Whether starting off a class, or bringing everyone back after a zoom break - a little music goes a long way. Our current schedule means that I’m teaching a month-long fairly intensive grade 12 physics course right now - which means I see the same faces all day long. Obviously there are a lot of breaks involved, and I’m trying my best to distance us from screens. Having music playing when we re-convene has been well received - it fills that space with a little joy as students trickle back into the zoom room from their break. I had students fill out a sheet to help me get to know them better at the beginning of the course, and one of the questions asked about their favourite music - which makes it easy to please at least one of them each day!
3) Giving students opportunities to collaborate with each other. Pairing Google Jamboard with the breakout room feature in Zoom has been awesome for this. Whether we are analyzing the physics of the latest movie trailer, or brainstorming strategies to solve an open-ended physics problem, using a Jamboard allows me to see what each group is drawing or writing, and I can always pop in to their breakout rooms to listen in on their chats.
4) Meeting students where they are. Some students are struggling right now - there’s no way around it. I’m lucky enough to be teaching a class of grade 12s, who from my experience are often more equipped to deal with learning online than younger students. However, that doesn’t exempt them from the weight of the world right now. I want them to feel like they have a voice in their learning, to know that they are cared about, and to feel that they are enough, and that doing the best they can right now is acknowledged and recognized.
- If a student shows up late, I greet them warmly, and thank them for being there, or tell them it’s nice to see them. Technology issues, something going on at home with the family, slept in because we’re ALL tired right now? Who knows why they were late, but they are there now, and that’s what’s important.
- If a student doesn’t want to turn their camera on, I have zero issue with that - and my students know this. There are so many other ways to engage without having a video on your face all class. Being honest with them about what it’s like to try to teach in an engaging way to an online class is usually enough to get a decent level of engagement. I told them at the beginning that I don’t care if their cameras are on, but teaching to a sea of black boxes can be really tough. It’s hard to gauge if anyone is understanding, or looks confused, or to be honest is even listening at all when I can't see them. So I told them to give me a thumbs up if I ask if everything makes sense, or throw a question in the chat box if something I said didn’t quite make sense. My class has been great with this, and I think pretty empathetic towards me as a teacher. Most of them turn their cameras on at least during our morning check in and chat, and they all engage through reactions and the chat box consistently.
5) Finding opportunities to check in with students individually. There’s lots of time in the day with one class - which means lots of time for independent work and larger scale projects, and one-on-one meetings with students. I have time set aside every day for students to check in with me if they need to!
6) Showing a visual schedule with the plan for the day. This is probably more applicable for the situation I’m in, where students have a full day of one course - but I know they appreciate knowing what the day will look like, when they’ll get breaks, and when they get a chance to step away from their screens.
7) Taking advantage of useful tech.
- Jamboard for collaborative brainstorming and discussion
- Peardeck to make lessons more interactive and engaging
- Parlay as a Platform for online discussions about a video or topic
- Quizizz is great for immediate student feedback (it’s great in class, or can be assigned individually so students can do it on their own time.)
- Edpuzzle - showing a video through Zoom isn’t always a good use of our time. Assigning it to students (and adding in questions throughout to keep students engaged and listening actively) still lets me know who has watched it and is understanding content, and the students seem to be a fan of this website.
- Flipgrid - giving students an opportunity to record a short video explaining their thinking when solving a problem been so helpful when assessing their understanding - especially in an online setting!
9) Showing myself compassion and grace. Even though we are in the third school year of a pandemic, I still need to remind myself daily that I’m only human, and what I’m doing is good enough. Focusing on fun over curriculum, laughter over grades, and community over assessments is helping to guide me through this phase of online learning - and I think that's okay. Letting go of the things that we can't control, and instead making the best of the things we can, is really all we can do. So let's spend more time in 2022 showing ourselves the same love, grace, and compassion as we do our students.