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Teachers Share Their Online-Teaching Plans

(This is the second post in a multipart series. You can see Part One here.)

 

The new question of the week is:

How can we best support students when we teach online?

In Part One, David Sherrin, Lorie Barber, Janelle Henderson, and Cathleen Beachboard contributed their experiences.

Today,  Amy Roediger, Dr. PJ Caposey, Michael Silverstone, and Jeremy Hyler share their reflections.

Four Recommendations

Amy Roediger teaches Honors Chemistry and AP Chemistry and serves as an instructional coach at Mentor High School in Ohio.

For the last three weeks in my Honors Chemistry classroom, I have been facilitating a self-paced unit. I provided students with options for interacting with content (readings, videos, slides, simulations) and choices of lab experiments for three topics within the unit. Students have a checklist of assignments that need to be turned in and benchmark dates for completion of each topic. Fifteen-minute appointment slots were available each period for students to sit with me and really dig into concepts that were confusing. The class had 14 school days to complete the work; everyone took the test on March 12.     

As I passed out the test, I actually joked with my students that if we did have to embrace a remote-learning plan, our self-paced unit had laid the groundwork for how this would work. For three school weeks, they had been in charge of what they accomplished in class each day. They created their schedules in order to complete the unit on time. Several of them nodded in agreement, not knowing that later that day Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine would close the schools for three weeks.

Though DeWine was specific about the dates of the closure, he left some ambiguity about exactly how schools should respond, saying schools "should work to provide education through alternative means." In my school district, our administrative team drafted guidelines that require secondary core teachers to provide a maximum of 2-3 hours of work and a couple of assessments each week. All materials need to be available on Schoology, our learning-management system.

Though most of my students successfully completed the self-paced unit, many of them would say they would not want to keep learning that way. They acknowledge that time-management and organizational skills are very important, but they prefer teachers to take the lead. Some fall behind out of confusion or laziness; some refuse to move forward until they have achieved perfection. Whatever the case, many students are challenged by this type of environment even though their teacher is in the room, offering reminders and helping them along.

I drew on the experience of the self-paced unit as I developed my new online lessons. Each topic that I attempt to teach online will have three activities: a way to learn the concept (textbook reading or slides or videos or inquiry activities), an application activity (a simulation of an experiment or a video lab), and a quiz to help students gauge their progress. Because they will encounter new chemical content amidst the stress of a pandemic, I tried to pare down my lessons to the essential concepts. I will also provide a way for my students to get help or ask me questions and extra resources to help them understand the material. I am letting Schoology do most of the grading of assignments so that I can be available to create things as needed to help the students learn the content.

There are a few other recommendations I would make to colleagues as they prepare for online teaching:

  • My materials will be provided for a week at a time to give my students flexibility on how much they complete at once. Creating too many deadlines will be problematic as students try to keep up with school while managing whatever their situation is at home.

  • My materials are all numbered to indicate the order in which students should interact with them. Even with a lot of resources and a checklist and a teacher during the self-paced unit, students still get confused about what is due and what is not. What seems clear to teachers does not always read that way to students.

  • In a classroom there are routines—a method to turn in homework, things we always do at the beginning or end of class, ways we celebrate successes. Think about your digital routines. Can you make each unit of instruction similar in some way? Will the organization of your content create a learning routine? How can you add your personal touches to the digital environment?

  • Many digital tools are offering free versions to schools affected by COVID-19. Instead of getting caught up in the forest of interesting options, stick with a few things that you—and your students—are already comfortable with. The stress of trying to learn a new tool while trying to learn a new concept probably will not make you or your students feel accomplished.

As we embark upon this process, we must acknowledge that this will not be business as usual. We cannot expect that our students will have the same kind of experience in the quickly created online version of our classes as they would in a face-to-face typical situation. We will have to be flexible and understanding with our students and with ourselves. The events of our country and our world are more important right now than whether or not a student completed every part of a particular task. The essential takeaway will be the overall experience and what we learned about learning by trying it. 

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Dr. PJ Caposey is superintendent of schools for Meridian CUSD 223 in Northwest Ill., and a well-known speaker and author:

You have all this power, but you really have none. The story of a superintendent during the COVID-19 crisis. At the beginning of March, I told my board of education that I anticipated our schools would be shut down for some time, but that we did not need to prepare to make that decision as it would be made for us. Most people looked at me as an alarmist or at least someone suffering from extreme paranoia.

While both may be true (HA!), this was just a quick combined study of sociology and math to see exactly where we were headed. And it was (and is) terrifying. As the crisis approached, work intensified. Suddenly, things that would have taken months to negotiate, pages of action plans to write, and weeks to implement were being done over the course of a single day. It may have been the proudest I have ever been as a superintendent.

There was little I could personally do but sit back and watch my team execute. It was like I was the head coach and this was game day and I was able to sit back and watch them execute. It was amazing.

And now, here we are. School has moved from the center of learning to a leader in the community attempting to respond to daily differing guidance and creating a sense of normalcy for students, staff, and anyone else we can help. We are working hard. I believe we are serving well, but to state the obvious, there is no playbook for this.

So, thus far, here are my takeways:

THE GOOD:

We now know what we are truly capable of as a school community. And it is amazing. We also know and our community knows that our people are willing to do whatever it takes to serve kids. Additionally, the new world of homeschooling or e-learning provides parents a small glimpse into the world of educators, and I believe (hope) that this will increase the general appreciation for what we attempt to provide to kids.

THE BAD:

The product is going to suffer, and I fear that this process will further exploit inequities in society regardless of how hard we try to avoid them. Even for kids who have access to Wi-Fi and digital tools, the support (pressure) from parents may serve to truly widen our gaps at this point. Additionally, when we return to school (which is NOT going to be in two weeks) the restructuring of curriculum to ensure essential skills are taught that were missed over the time of "quarantine" will be difficult.

THE UGLY:

This is scary. I am a mess. I assume many other adults are a mess thinking about themselves and their loved ones. Kids will lose people in their lives throughout this country. The economy will suffer. Lifestyles will change. Kids will miss prom. An athlete who has worked tirelessly for years will miss his or her senior season. This thing literally has limitless consequences.

THE HOPE:

We will emerge stronger. We will emerge with skill sets and capacity we did not know we had. We will firmly (re) establish schools as the center of the community as we continue to teach, lead, and empower our community. This is the most difficult collective challenge educators have had in a generation. I cannot wait to get through the terrifying next six weeks and start to be a key cog as we rebuild our system and our country.

Good luck and Godspeed.

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Planning for Online Connection and Collaboration with Primary-Grades Children

Michael Silverstone teaches at Wellan Montessori School, near Boston. Along with Dr. Debbie Zacarian, he is co-author of Teaching to Empower: Taking Action to Foster Student Agency, Self-Confidence, and Collaboration (ASCD):

Among the bigger surprises at the start of the COVID-19 era is how well-prepared we are to work off-site with each other and with administrators. In recent years, at my school, we have collectively created online calendars, collaborated on documents, and increasingly become more reliant on using online formats. Videoconferencing, for small-group planning meetings, is the only new wrinkle. But, after a few of these, once the novelty falls away, there have been more and more times that we're able to forget that we're not in the same room.  That's the good news.

But teaching and learning at a Montessori school with young children without being in person is a much bigger challenge, akin to trying to eat soup with one chopstick. The challenge is even greater due to how suddenly school closures had to take place. At my school, we were able to have one day together in person for planning, but it was a very short time to think about this. We grabbed what we could from our classrooms and went home to learn new skills. We had an additional week of collaborative planning from home before we rolled it out to students. In these very beginning stages, here are some guiding intentions and some discoveries I've observed in working with my team at the start of this online-learning era:

* Keeping priorities in mind. Whatever we offer our students in this format can never be a replacement for school, which provides its greatest value from the face-to-face relationships children have with their peers and teachers as they learn in one another's physical presence.  At least for the spring of 2020, during an extraordinarily challenging time for everyone, the main goals include providing children with:

  • A sense of continuity in their school lives
  • An ongoing connection with friends and teachers
  • A sense of structure, routine, and predictability in a time of change for students and families

* Creating routines that are reassuring. Regularly scheduled and purposeful communication between school and students and families provides a kind of emotional grounding and reassurance that young people need. It's beneficial for adults, too, of course, to know they aren't alone in providing continuity for their children. And personally, it's been a relief every time I find I have something in my day besides doing personal hobbies and watching the news. These familiar teaching tasks are thoroughly absorbing and allow me a kind of calm and empowered mood that I'm grateful for. 

* Scheduling a weekly online class meeting: In our school community, we are offering participation in our online outreach as an opt-in activity meant to offer continuity in children's lives. Our school has offered computer loans to any students who need one for learning and connection during this period of separation from school. We are planning to have one 20-minute online video-conference call that all students will be invited to take part in. It will consist of a greeting, a sharing, an activity, and a closing. The intention is for our students to see their classmates' and teachers' faces and feel how they are connected and supported by their school community.  If this video tool were not available, a periodic mailing might achieve some of these goals in other ways.

* Empowering students to develop learning goals: The  initial plan at my school is to hold twice weekly 10-minute one-on-one video conferences with students to devise a series of work goals for the week. We expect that some of our students may have ambitious goals and others  modest ones. We plan to adjust as we go and provide options that will be  sent electronically. The important thing, we believe, is for students to get the message that we  are there for them, think about them, and care about their learning and well-being. In whatever ways we can do that, our goal is to provide a sense of stability, guidance, and care. As educators, that has always been a guiding purpose and ever more so now.

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Ideas to Engage Students

Jeremy Hyler is a middle school English and science teacher at Fulton Middle School in Michigan. Hyler has co-authored Create, Compose, Connect! Reading, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools (Routledge/Eye on Education, 2014) with Dr. Troy Hicks, From Texting to Teaching: Grammar Instruction in a Digital Age (2017), as well as Ask, Explore, Write. Jeremy blogs at MiddleWeb. He can be found on Twitter @jeremybballer and at his website jeremyhyler40.com:

The closure of many of our nation's schools has led to confusion, fear, and uncertainty for both students and educators. In the state of Michigan, schools are shut down until April 6 (for now). Some districts have pushed to online, while others had too short of notice for the transition. No matter what schools are doing now to fight the pandemic, we can't overwhelm ourselves, our communities, or the students.

There is no doubt educators have been coming together in these trying times. My inbox has been flooded with invitations to Twitter Chats, Zoom Meetings, and to share out resources I may have. Rightfully so, teachers are scrambling to collaborate, discuss the current situation, and share those resources. It has been a blessing to have such a wonderful Personal Learning Network (PLN) that wants to help anyone that needs it. I am truly grateful. However, though the resources are plentiful and can be beneficial to use, the training is missing for many of the resources that are shared. Yes, teachers may now have the time to "play" with these resources, but teachers also need professional development on tools that are shared. And, let's be honest, there isn't time to learn how to use these tools effectively and efficiently. Again, I am grateful for the many resources that I have, but it is difficult to use some of them without being trained. Tools, where teachers can create videos or set up classes (Google Classroom), should have training or professional development to help with the ins and outs of the tool. So, without sounding ungrateful, we simply can't flood fellow educators' inboxes and Google Documents with resources that may never be used. Instead, we need to perhaps share tools that are easy to use or offer ourselves up for training.

Thinking about all of those resources can be overwhelming for some, so once you do find your niche in this way of reaching your students, I would encourage educators to keep it simple. For many students, it is already stressful because they may not know where their next meal is coming from. Below is a list of easy and simplistic ideas to help engage their students while they are at home:

  • Book Talks - Have students write 1-2 sentences about what they are reading. Have them include the author and title in their response. They could even record a short video as well. 

  • Writer's Notebook - Encourage students to write every day in a writer's notebook. The fact they are missing 3-4 weeks of school makes a great story! Am I wrong? Also, take those notebooks outside (cue the quirky science music) and write down what they observe. 

  • Reading Hour - Oral read live to students online for 30-60 minutes. Open a Zoom room for students to join in. 

  • Us Flipgrid and set up a grid for students to do a video diary. Tell them to be school appropriate but don't get too picky about what they post. 

  • Use tools like Screencast-O-Matic to create videos so students can see you. Just say hi and tell them what you have been up to while away from school

Our time away from our students doesn't have to be more stressful for us as educators. Keeping things simple and open can reassure our students we will get through this tough time and be better because of it. Going forward, we must stay positive and not overwhelm ourselves or our students. This is a time to reflect on our practices and think about how we can be better educators. 

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Thanks to to Amy, PJ, Michael, and Jeremy for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first eight years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn't include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the "answers" category found in the sidebar.

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I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

Look for Part Three in a day or two ...

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