While we don’t have any official ruling on whether the physical school buildings will be open to hold students and teachers, teachers should start thinking now about how they’ll begin the year in a remote teaching situation.
Start this thinking by reflecting on the final months of your school year. Ask yourself, what went well? What didn’t? As you engage in your reflection, center your thinking on your role as teacher. Take ownership and have agency over what happened during the closure. If the reflection focuses on the problems with your administrators or deficit views of students and families, it will be challenging to grow from this period of reflection.
Coming out the reflection, make a list of the problems and gaps that you’ve identified. Collaborate with your department and grade-level teams on how you’ll go about finding solutions to these issues and how you’ll address problems. If you have access to technology integrators in your building or district, schedule meetings with them to discuss issues, and to get professional development and coaching to help you.
Below, I’ve hyperlinked a series of the best blog posts on characteristics of online learning. I would encourage you to read all of them.
Jennifer Gonzalez’s “9 Ways Online Learning Should Be Different from Face-to-Face.”
Eric Sheninger’s “The Vital Role of Digital Leadership in Transforming Education.”
A.J. Juliani’s “The 9 Dimensions of Online Learning.’
Catlin Tucker’s “The Buildling Blocks of an Online Lesson.”
I’ve started to think about September and how I’ll start the year with my students without the virtue of a classroom for connection. Yes, as I said above, there’s no official decision made, but in my mind, starting to think through this now will make August easier, and if we are back in classrooms, the shift of the materials to a face-to-face model will be fairly easy.
For me, the first weeks of school and the first weeks with a new class involve three key themes: Building Relationships, Routines and Proceedures, and finally baseline Academics. Below, I’ll outline these in some more detail.
Icebreakers and team building: 80% to 90% of my first class times with students will be spent focused on getting to now them, building relationships, and doing some online icebreakers. Check out this blog post on how to move those first-days icebreakers into online environments.
Finding out what my kids are passionate about. One of my first informal writing prompts is asking students what they are passionate about. They write on this topic for a few minutes and then share out. For me, passions are the big things that drive them, so I hear a lot about sports that are important, how family is central to their lives, or a hobby like horseback riding is motivating.
Finding out what my kids are interested in. I also like to have activities around their interests, which are for me may be smaller than a passion, but none-the-less, still important. I want to know what kinds of games they play, what genres are music they listen to, what they binge on Netflix. My favorite activity is to have them create a playlist of their five favorite songs. I take these lists, create playlists in my Apple Music account and then play them when we have work time.
Routines, Procedures and Protocols
Organization of the Course: I’m going to spend about 5% of the time showing students how I’ll organize each weekly block, or two-week block of course material. Making them literate in how things are set-up will help establish clarity when they need to access materials and lessons. As part of this, I’ll also use this time to develop digital literacy around the tools that I’ll be using most. This means some form of a Flipgrid, Google Slides (shared and as Schoology Google Drive Assignments), Google Drawings.
Lessons: Part of this 5% time in my first few weeks will be on the actual instruction that we’ll be working on. During the closure, most teacher provided, direct instruction was done via video with a series of Zoom office hours to help students connect and ask questions. At some point, there will be a short lesson, on some concept, so that they can get into the procedures for watching videos, taking notes, and doing some form of formative assessment.
Assignments: As I alluded to above, most of my assignments are given via Schoology Google Drive Assignments. I’m fairly adept at this tool; however some students come to my class never having done this kind of assignment. They need a little orientation to how to access the assignment. After the assignment has been given feedback, they need to be directed on how to access the feedback, and what to do with it.
Contacting and Conferencing: I’m thinking through my rules, routines and procedures for how students can contact me, and when they should do so. It means I’m thinking about how often I want them checking-in and what ways we’ll do this both synchronously and asynchronously. One of my other tasks is to figure out conferencing schedules and how this will fit into all of the above.
Baseline Academics: Writing and Discussion
As an English teacher, the development of student thinking through writing is the core part of my academic practice. The overwhelming majority of the writing students are assessed on comes from text-based responses to the literature we’re reading. One of the core ways we come to understand the the texts we’re reading is through written and oral discussion. Above, I laid out a framework of activities that situate academics in the rear seat of the opening weeks of school.
However, I’m thinking about how writing can be a way to get students to share themselves with the community we’re building, and how I might use shorter literary texts as a way of connecting and engaging students in conversations to sense who they are, allow for the sharing of ideas for self-expression, and to be ready to make the turn towards academic work.
Over the next several blog posts, I’ll be sharing reading that’s helped me prepare for the coming year, how I’ll organize this time, and what activities I’ll be using. Please follow along, and feel free to reach out to me for further discussion and problem solving.