When I was teaching, I really looked forward to parent conferences. Each of my students had a folder filled with assessments, writing samples, and other pertinent evidence of learning growth (or needs for improvement). Students facilitated their conferences, talking about what was in their folders, and gaining a sense of accountability and ownership of their learning. Afterwards, I’d talk with the parent(s), grandparent(s), or guardian and inevitably get to know about other family, their work, and family plans. Parent conferences gave me a sense of deeper connection to my students through their families. That connection would start a bit at Back to School Night, but a one-on-one, sit down convo was much better than the 30-minute “this is who I am and what I expect” show and mingle in the second week of school.
Once upon a time, in a land not too far away (Los Angeles, CA), I once engaged in, planned and facilitated, and tried to stay awake through quite a few professional development sessions. Most were mandated and scheduled right before school started in the hopes that something would transform our practice so much that 100% of our students mastered all learning objectives in 180 instructional days. After a few weeks of school, many of us were overwhelmed and discouraged that all of those awesome strategies and techniques didn’t work with every situation, every subject, or every student. I do not envy district and school administrators tasked with the responsibility of selecting and organizing PD each year.
When news of the coronavirus pandemic started to hit close to home (in the U.S.), it became clear that acquiring face masks and shields was a challenge. In many areas, personal protective equipment, or PPE, were in short supply. It was vital that our frontline workers had the protection they needed to keep themselves and their patients safe. In addition, safety was an issue for daily activity by ordinary citizens.
Do you remember the first time you made a paper airplane? Who taught you to fold one? Did your plane fly? I think I was about 6 years old and my uncle visiting from the Philippines showed me how to fold one using one of my homework sheets. I was fascinated as I watched him make the folds, ensuring that each fold was precise, explaining each step. Then he took the newly built paper airplane, lifted his arm, and – whoooosh!-- it flew across my living room. It worked!! This was my first exposure to science and engineering, and it was one I often repeated throughout my elementary school years – design, construction, and test flights to identify the “perfect” paper plane. I was doing STEM before STEM was part of our educational vocabulary! Well, today is National Paper Airplane Day and this is the perfect time to explore the different areas of STEM with one activity.
Today, you’re facilitating your weekly online lesson and the focus is transition words. As usual, your ‘regulars’ are doing what they do best – answering questions, participating in discussion, and sharing examples. Your quieter ones are sending you chat messages when they have questions or are confused. Who you’re not hearing much from are your English Language Learners, or ELLs. They are on camera, smiling through the lessons, even raising a ‘thumbs up’ when you ask the class if everyone understands. But you’re having doubts about how well they are comprehending. You can’t easily stand next to their desks and check work. Your aide isn’t there to do a double-check or ask a question in the native language to ensure understanding. What can you do to help your ELLs in a virtual classroom?
Assessment isn’t a new idea or one limited to teaching. We assess daily – What is it that I like about this TV show and should I watch it again? What criteria will I look for in my next sofa purchase? What is my diet goal and how will I check my progress in meeting that goal? Learners of all ages are regularly assessing things like clothes, games, movies, even social media platforms according to a set of criteria.
Math questions and story problems have the unique reputation of being the focus of many memes on how confusing they can be (Question: If you have 3 pencils and 6 oranges, how many waffles will fit in a car? Answer: Blue because ducks quack.). Now imagine a teacher repeating, reviewing, restating terms and solution steps so that students finally understand. A scheduled one-hour lesson can easily take half a day! Now imagine that scenario in a virtual environment. (I can already hear the crying…from teachers, students, and parents!) Thankfully, G Suite for Education has tools that can support math teaching and learning, while making the experience engaging, interactive, and successful.
As we have all learned recently, not only can teachers adapt well to change, but they can do it quickly! Having been accustomed to in-person interaction — roaming a classroom to check ongoing progress, meeting with small groups at the “round table” for personalized instruction, and generally just being able to be with their students -- shifting to a remote, distance teaching environment has been a challenge. Yet, millions of teachers have done so with an enthusiasm and grace that is astounding and admirable.
From when I was little girl, I have always wanted to teach. Many of my teachers influenced my decision, most especially my high school English teacher, Ms. Weiss. She was generous with her time, taught in a calm but engaging manner, and above all, always made me feel like I mattered. I can imagine that if Ms. Weiss was still teaching today, during this time of social distancing and stay-at-home directives, she would be checking in with each of her students via email, text, or phone, setting up one-on-one virtual chats to provide help with assignments, and facilitating collaborative writing sessions with her classes. Teaching, and students, was her heart.
How many of you have watched videos featuring a popular chef whipping up a dessert, or a lost puppy being rescued? I know I’m not alone in saying that watching these types of compelling, engaging, and short videos has led to experimenting in the kitchen, sewing a simple face mask, learning a new dance move, and playing with the idea of adopting a new pet. Videos have made an impact on how we learn things for daily living and are essential for our young ones who tend to be more engaged and focused on short lessons via this medium. Why have more and more educators turned to video?