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?
“I think I have learned that the best way to lift one’s self up is to help someone else.” – Booker T. Washington
Whatever our opinions are on in-class vs remote learning, the unpredictability of coronavirus has necessitated that many districts opt for the latter to ensure the safety of teachers, school staff, and students. That being the case, the following are helpful tips for teachers, parents, and students.
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.
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?
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.
Now that most of you are finding your rhythm with distance learning, here are some reasons to start using Google Classroom*, if you’re not already.