Live (synchronous) classes are important…and so are backup options!
When we first began digital learning here in Massachusetts, we were assigned to three sessions per week, two per class, with the expectation that they were live classes over Zoom. On our team, teachers moved away from that pretty quickly–Science started doing small-group sign-ups on the long days; ELA had individual writing conferences. Math remained the hold-out, to a certain extent. We did still hold Zoom classes most days, although we borrowed from Science and sometimes did small-group sign-ups, generally in our Extended classes; students were required to attend at least one small group lesson. We then branched out, even in our Standard classes, with using Edpuzzle to present new content to students and having students work in break-out groups and in small groups.
Throughout, we also required ourselves to make recorded material available. I used Educreations to record myself presenting the lessons we would do in the live class. We included a “hard copy” of the problems, including a complete answer key with the work all done out; both the video and the copy were available in advance. Students could use these options in the event of technological failure, of which there was quite a bit. They also could (and, for some students, should) have used it to preview the material if they struggled to follow along in a standard class setting. My colleague and I have discussed retaining this practice as best we can, even once we are no longer doing distance learning, because of the range of benefits it offers.
One question that I ask myself often, and more so than ever before with the remote emergency situation, is whether it is more important for the students to learn the material or for us to teach it to them. At first glance, that may seem like the same thing, but, especially under remote emergency, I think less so than ever. We found ourselves looking for ways to teach the content, even when we weren’t running live classes and even when our kids weren’t available. As we continue planning for remote learning or hybrid or the possibility of both or WHATEVER, I think that different content will drive some of these decisions–for example, it was near-impossible to have the kids watch us “do” probability experiments, just as our science peers have been struggling to think about what lab experiments will look like when we re-open. With students six feet apart from us and from each other, we are, in truth, all doing remote education, even when those six feet happen in the walls of a brick-and-mortar school building. As we plan for the reopening, which means we are still looking backwards to reflect on what has been, there are lessons I want to remember:
In hyperdocs and other documents, I had to learn to specify “click on _____ for _____.” This learning came from one of my favorite days in remote learning. I was talking to a student as he tried to use the week’s hyperdoc to figure out what we were doing in class that day:
He very carefully read it aloud to me, skipping right over “Witt B period, Durling B period” dead center in the middle of the column. For me, of course, the fact that the text was blue was an invitation to click, since the blue text indicates a hyperlink. On the contrary, as my colleague happily pointed out, “he skipped right over your name, Thea.” Hee hee. And the joke’s on me–I assumed the kids knew to look for and click on the distinctive blue links. Or not.
Failures, each of which a lesson
I have written about the overall sense of failure I have experienced teaching in the digital setting. There’s a sense that the ice I skate on as a teacher in a digital world is pretty thin, that it won’t take much for it to break. What are my best failures?
The first time we assigned an EdPuzzle, I apparently assigned it to only one of my classes. Turns out you have to assign it to both. Separately. The first time we tried to do a three-part day when kids could sign up for one, two or three sessions, I didn’t set the sharing so the kids could edit, so then they couldn’t actually write their names in to sign up. The first time we used a single document for the kids to write, solve, and share word problems written in break-out groups, while I “stepped out” to work individually with students, I also didn’t set the sharing settings. Since I was in Zoom, I didn’t see the 12+ emails from my students all trying politely to get access, and, since I wasn’t in a classroom, I didn’t hear the rustling and whispering that inevitably accompanies a teacher mess-up. And so we didn’t get much done that day!
Even now, with the end of the school year in the rear-view mirror, I’m bumbling along in remote summer school, where Zoom + PowerPoint + Esti-Mysteries = a total disaster. Half of the time, the kids are two slides behind me (and so I get no response when I ask questions for slides they can’t see, logically enough) and the other half of the time, one of the kids can see all of the clues at once, rather than one at a time. Somehow, it’s not getting easier, although the kids are certainly chill about just riding out the upsets. 🙂