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Teaching During COVID – Adaptions with Virtual Instruction

In this post Resident Graduate, Tom Martin shares his experience of adapting instruction for his students during this time. The blog post below was written by Thomas Martin, a Cohort 2 Resident at Crossroads Academy, on April 23rd, 2020 and updated on May 4th, 2020. 

Transition to Virtual Instruction

If you’d told me in August of 2019 that my days in April of 2020 would consist mainly of Zoom calls with 6 and 7 year olds, I’d have said two things in response: “No way!” and “What is Zoom?”. While the latter question has been answered in great detail, the former remark is still taking some getting used to. 

The lives of teachers, students, and families around the world have been dramatically altered by the emergence of COVID-19, in ways that few of us could have possibly anticipated. With these new challenges, we have all had to adapt our habits, routines, and perhaps most importantly, our mindsets. While the transition to remote learning has looked different for all of us depending on a number of factors, I think we can all agree that we have learned some lessons along the way. And though the day-to-day work of teachers and students may look very different than it has in the past, upon some reflection I’ve come to following as lessons I plan to carry forward with me in my work as an educator, online or otherwise.

My new “classroom” took some getting used to, and perhaps could use some redecoration.

 

Technology Reigns 

Students today have only experienced a world in which technology pervades every aspect of their lives. They use technology to play games, talk with friends and family around the country, and for entertainment. Why wouldn’t they feel very comfortable learning this way as well? Technology offers interactivity and access to experiences that other forms of instruction cannot. While technology plays a crucial role in remote learning for obvious reasons, we would be remiss to pivot completely away from technology when we are able to return to our classrooms. Flipped instruction, choice-based learning with technological options, and online learning platforms should be considered as tools to carry with us back into the classroom. Doing so will help us maintain engagement, expand our possibilities, and prepare students for an even more technologically based world in their futures. 

From “Covering” To “Uncovering”

Much of my remote instruction has taken the form of screen capture videos I’ve produced using Google Slides, where I’ve created pseudo-animations as I move from slide to slide to demonstrate math concepts. This is often kind of tedious work, but it has benefited me in one major way: it has forced me to slow down my thinking, and break down concepts into minuscule bits of information that are easy to represent visually, and easy for students to take in and understand. Often in the “real world” of teaching, I would find myself moving so quickly in my planning and instruction that content felt more like something I needed to “cover” rather than something to explore authentically and in-depth. While at times working slowly in this way can feel like I am stuck in one place going nowhere, perhaps this is precisely what students need: time to sit with and wrestle with new ideas and “uncover” new understandings themselves. Let me be clear: we have a duty to cover a wide breadth of material, and must move with dispatch. At the same time, might it better serve our students, and ourselves, to move more methodically?

Greeting students has my camera roll looking a bit different these days

Evolution of Practice

I am not an “experienced” teacher. That is to say, I do not have many years under my belt. While it feels strange to admit, I’m sure many other beginning teachers would not disagree with me when I say that many of us are quick to fall into habits and mindsets, for better or for worse, and to stay there. We find what we think works for us and for our students, and many of us may be content to stay in that lane and continue with what is comfortable rather than what is most effective. What my experience with remote instruction has taught me here is that we must all not only be willing to evolve our practice, we ought to seek out opportunities to do so. This is often uncomfortable, but it is a crucial aspect of our work as educators. 

Stronger Together 

Perhaps the largest shift in the work of teaching and learning has come in the new reliance on families and family involvement in remote learning. This is particularly true when it comes to younger students, like the ones I teach. Needless to say, there are concerns when it comes to ensuring that educational opportunities during this time are equitable, especially considering that families have various capacities to support remote learning due to a number of factors outside of our control. Entering into this period I had many worries on this front: will parents be on board with the way I present the content? Will students be motivated to complete learning activities? How will communication function? These are concerns that have always been present to some extent, but they’ve been highlighted by the shift to remote learning. What has been reinforced in me, though, is that families are, nearly without exception, prepared to learn and grow right along with us in support of their scholars. Whether it be coming on board with the “new way” we teach concepts, or growing familiar with platforms like Google Classroom, this time has taught me that we ought to all reinvest in family involvement, in or out of the classroom. Families are students first and best teachers, and together we can achieve much more than either party on their own. 

Make It Matter

The question I, and probably many people reading this post as well, am receiving most often from parents is “How do you keep my child motivated to complete their work?”. A valid question, as most parents and families are not equipped with the kinds of tools that help us guide students through a long day of academic content. And unfortunately, we as teachers are without many of those tools when engaging in remote learning. We may have some control over the presentation and mode of delivery of content, but we are not side by side with our students, facilitating each step in the learning process. One major conclusion I’ve drawn from this time is that it is as or more important than ever to ensure that what we teach to students is relevant to their lives. If we want students to be engaged in the work of learning, the work of learning ought to build toward something that is genuinely meaningful to them. This is true within the walls of our buildings as well, and after being so clearly illustrated during this time, it is a lesson I will not soon forget. 

I hadn’t anticipated any e-mails from 7-year olds this year, but am so grateful for them

Some of my 44 reasons to look forward to our return to schools

At Our Core

The clearest lesson I am taking from this experience is that the relationships we build with students is the core of our work as educators. I don’t mean to present this as any sort of revelation, and I imagine this is the main reason most of you chose to participate in this work. But nothing has demonstrated this truth to me so clearly as being socially distant from my students. While the school year technically continues, albeit in an altered manner, this experience has me more ready than ever to return to the real work of teaching, when it is safe to do so: greeting children, full of promise, at the door, diving into the difficult work of learning and growing, and traversing all the highs and lows of that work together.

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