The past couple of decades have shown that the pace at which technology has influenced teaching and learning is moving at hyper speed, and within the past two years – warp speed. Not only have this generation’s students grown up in a technology-rich environment, but they also benefit from lessons and activities that are interactive and immersive. Educators have seen the advantages of implementing educational technology, like interactive whiteboards, that offers students multiple opportunities to engage and collaborate with others.
Have you hit your rhythm with lesson planning, teaching, meeting with students, and grading assignments? Are your students excited each time they walk in the classroom or turn on their web cameras for a live virtual lesson? Do you wake up each morning with so much energy that the cup of coffee you pour is really unnecessary? If your answer is ‘Yes’ to the previous, Kudos to you! (I’d also like to interview you for my next blog.) For the rest of you, there may be moments of ‘Yes’, ‘Sometimes’, and ‘I wish’ for each of these questions and that speaks to your hard work and effort to make learning an enjoyable experience for all.
Coming into this new school year has been a mixed bag of emotions for everyone: anxiety, disappointment, frustration, excitement, sadness. Because many schools are starting the year with remote learning, add stress and hopelessness to the list especially for those juggling more than one child in school, work responsibilities, and maintaining some semblance of balance at home. There are quite a few social media posts of children trying hard to be excited for learning online but struggling (haven’t we all seen the little boy lying across his chair out of view of his teacher during a virtual session?!). Understandably, this leads to concerns of substantial learning loss for our students.
I love feedback. I appreciate how feedback has helped me to improve in different aspects of my life. I believe in giving feedback that makes someone feel good about a job well done. For me, feedback is essential to growth! Yet, I can remember countless afternoons struggling to write feedback on all my students’ essays before the next class session. I wanted to be thorough and write about all of the points I’d reference in the lessons but my hands would cramp, my brain was mush, and by the last student’s paper I was barely writing a sentence or two that I hoped would help them improve. It wasn’t until a colleague showed me what she did — quick notes on each student’s work as she walked around and observed them during independent work time — that I began to feel like my time was being used more effectively and my students were able to implement recommendations as they worked. I also found that because I was saving time, I could talk with each student and really understand their comprehension and academic needs. Those quick convos with each student were some of my favorite times as a teacher.
Talking about math is more than merely describing the steps in solving a problem (“First, add the ones, then the tens. If you need to regroup, do that.”). Math discussions are focused on the process of working towards a solution, understanding how others’ think about that process, and developing a plan for similar problems. Students should be pushed to think beyond an explanation of steps to an explanation of process, including making errors and how those were resolved. They should also be encouraged to use different methods and tools when solving a problem, then sharing these ideas with others to build a bank of strategies. In a physical classroom, this can be challenging so how can it be done while distance teaching? More than that, how can it be done successfully?
As more and more school districts are making decisions about schools reopening and how learning will take place, an approach that is being considered is blended learning. It is doubtful that many have not already heard of blended learning so let’s refer to its simplest form – bricks and clicks learning (‘bricks’ is face-to-face learning in a physical classroom; ‘clicks’ is online learning in a virtual classroom). Most teachers and students have experience using desktops, laptops, and/or tablets to do things such as research information or take state tests. So, bricks and clicks is familiar and in some cases a whole school initiative.
When I look back at my time in the classroom, memories that most often pop up are seeing and hearing my students work together to finish a project. Many times, they were in groups of three or four busily drawing, coloring, writing, talking. For the life of me, I can barely remember the projects themselves, but I can remember the chatter, laughing, arguing, and smiles when the project was finished. I used to feel like, this is learning! Many teachers have probably experienced and felt that same sense of excitement and accomplishment. When we see our students fully engaged and involved in a project, it reveals their interests and connection to the topic. You will likely see many ‘aha’ moments.
It’s that time of year when it is cold outside and there is an increased chance of school being cancelled because of snowy or icy roads. Snow cancellations or delays may not be prevalent all across the country, but even San Antonio recently had a snow day. I think most teachers and students would agree that snow days are great—as long as everyone is safe at home. My students love an unexpected day off. It’s like a bonus weekend!
One of the roles I was least prepared for when I became a principal was that of “lead investigator” of the school. I quickly found out that hours and hours could be swallowed up by a simple restroom issue or playground problem. I had no idea what to do or how to do it when it came to questioning students—nor did I realize how much time it could take.
Over the years, I have developed some techniques to help make this process work better, both for myself and for the students. Some of these ideas increase efficiency, some increase effectiveness, and some are just general guidelines to help maintain rapport with both students and teachers.