Many people around the world, myself included, have found themselves in an unusual situation. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down our schools with little to no warning. We are now tasked with teaching virtually which, for the majority of us, is a completely foreign and intimidating task. We have probably been asked to do this with no training or time to prepare.
For those of you who are in this situation, I am sure you feel lost or unsure if you’re doing the right thing. This is a normal feeling. If you are focusing on what’s best for kids, you’re doing it right. You’ll find your groove, learn what works for you and your students, and find successes. It just might not feel like that right now. Be easy on yourself. I know you have high standards and expectations, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. Take it one step at a time. Reach out to colleagues, both at your school and abroad. We are all in this together!
I’m new at this, having completed Day 8 of virtual school on Friday, and I’m still learning and improving each day, but here is some advice that might help you as you navigate this new way of teaching.
First and foremost, we have to think of the impact this change is going to have on students. There are many aspects of student wellbeing to consider.
Our students are not used to learning at home, and we need to be mindful of the limitations that some of them may have. Some may not have access to a device or a consistent internet connection. Some may not have an adult to help them with their assignments at home. Some may not have books or basic supplies, such as notebooks, pencils, and art materials. Some may have learning differences, such as a special need or limited English, that will prevent them from accessing the lessons and assignments. We must prepare ourselves for the fact that some of our students will fall behind. Think about ways to support your students through this. Is there a way to loan a school device to them during the school closure? What about sending home extra library books or student packs of materials? Can you set up 1-on-1 video chat sessions with them to re-teach a concept or check in on them to see how they’re doing? How will you differentiate learning for your students? A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
Movement Every Day
Students typically have opportunities to exercise each day at school, whether this is through PE lessons or recess. When quarantined at home, they will likely not get as much exercise. Assigning daily PE lessons (minimum of 30 minutes/day) in the form of good quality exercise videos is a good way to ensure they burn off some of their pent-up energy. Providing a variety of exercise options each day of the week will ensure they aren’t bored. They could dance on Monday, do yoga on Tuesday, cardio and strength training on Wednesday, etc.
Screen time is also a consideration. We all know the research that says it’s important to limit screen time for kids. Teaching virtually puts students in front of a screen for an extended amount of time each day. We need to be mindful of the time we are expecting students to be in front of a screen each day and how long each stretch of time online will be. Consider the students’ ages when deciding on how much screen time to expect. One way to reduce the amount of screen time is to break up the learning throughout the day, scheduling in brain breaks, time for movement, etc. Another way is to assign offline activities, such as ongoing projects, science experiments that can be done with household items, hands-on math activities, art activities, free reading and free writing.
Another consideration is the workload for students. What might take 30 minutes to do in the classroom can take some students an hour to do at home. What I’ve learned is that less really is more. I started out assigning way too much, only to realize it wasn’t working. Since pulling back, I’ve seen improvements in students’ motivation and ability to complete the daily tasks. We can’t forget that our students are learning in a new environment, with many distractions they aren’t used to, and to expect them to do the same amount of work at home that they do at school is unrealistic. Asking for reflections from students and parents has helped me gauge whether my expectations for students were appropriate. You can do this in a variety of ways, such as surveys, 1-on-1 conversations on video conference calls, or having them create video reflections with given questions.
Connection/Sense of Community
Making the move to online teaching allows students and teachers to connect digitally, but we must not forget the need for real connection. Students will watch your video lessons and then complete work independently at home. Most likely they’ll submit their work via an online learning management system, such as Seesaw, and you will comment on it. These connections are sterile and do not replace the daily interactions we have with our students at school. They miss their friends. They miss you. How can you connect with your students? Using an online tool, such as ZOOM, that allows you to connect your entire class is a good way to keep the sense of community alive. You could read a story aloud, have a morning meeting, or teach a mini-lesson. Alternatively, you can chat 1-on-1 using video conference tools, such as Skype, ZOOM, or Microsoft Teams, to form those connections with individual students.
There’s so much more advice to give about staff wellbeing, virtual learning tools, organization and structure of your day, etc., but given the length of this post, I’ll wait until tomorrow to continue my advice. Please comment below if you have any questions or want me to include anything in my next advice post. Best of luck!