Good news! A month of teaching from home has not killed me. It came close in Week Three, with my resting heart rate mounting from stress and an allergy medication contributing side effects of anxiety and depression. But the doc released me from the allergy med and we got –dramatic pause– Spring Break!
I don’t know that I have ever so much needed to step back from the craziness and unplug. Oh, I did a little schoolwork, but it was good to stop running at full speed and recharge for what will most likely be the long haul to the end of the school year.
One weird result of the break from teaching during Coronapocalypse was that I actually missed the structure and busy-ness of the teaching week. An unending list of potential indoor and outdoor projects did not disguise the fact that I was stuck at home. Other than a grocery run and a disguised outing as the Easter Bunny (complete with mask and gloves), I had a lot of time to be with myself. And I was pretty boring.
When school resumed this week, my students felt the same way. They had to admit that without anything else to do, they missed the structure of the school day and the strange disconnected connectedness of meeting online. And so, in the absence of our old normal, we tentatively begin to accept the new situation.
Here are a few things that are making life doable:
Orderly work space
A critical project during the break was to deep clean and organize my office. Windows and curtains are clean. New blinds hung. A huge bag of clutter went out in the trash. All my curriculum materials sit in organized stacks on the shelf. A new microphone headset arrived. The command post is in truly functional order. The room looks good. I actually like being in it. And guess what? After a week of teaching it is still in functional order! Order in my space does wonders for keeping the craziness at bay.
Plan for the week
The worst part of the first week of Corona Teaching was reworking each of my five lessons every night for the next day. My normal routine had been to work out the week’s road map by the Friday before. The last thing I did every Friday before leaving school was to post the week sheet on the class page. Then I left the building, drove an hour home, and enjoyed my weekend. Now, teaching from home, it is not sustainable to spend every waking minute thinking about school when the “classroom” is just behind a closed door.
A major Corona Teaching Victory came when I posted my week sheets on the class pages at the end of the day before spring break. It was a huge relief to resume that normal rhythm. My students and I are used to that. It saves all of us time and frustration–one document is posted and we all know where to find it. Of course, we can get derailed during the week. But we can address the changes the way we always did– in (online) class and by posting announcements.
Plan for the new reality
I teach foreign language. I can’t just assign pages of reading and comprehension exercises followed by a quiz. Language learning is a skill. While the students have access to technology to enable them to read and write and listen and speak assignments to me, it cannot really replicate what goes on in class.
Even with live online class meetings, we are not physically in class. The give and take online is not the same as in the classroom. So, the regular lesson has to morph into a new thing.
My lessons are morphing into a simple pattern:
- Things we need to do together
- Things they can do on their own
Live classes start with a mini-lesson where I present or explain material that is new or challenging. That will segue to an oral activity. I assign each student an example in an exercise, give them think time, and then call on them just as I would in class. If it would have been a partner activity in class, I play the role of the partner when I call on them. Not ideal, but at least, I can hear where the problems are. Then, that activity is often assigned again as a written activity.
Live classes end with everyone understanding their marching orders. If students have no questions, they are free to leave. Students who want answers to questions hang around.
Connecting students to my homescreen
I felt like a magician when I figured out how to display my homescreen on the students’ screens during a live meet. It opened up all sorts of possibilities! So far, I have tried the following:
- Displaying the online textbook page while I explain a topic. It is so much better to have them staring at the page while my cursor squiggles around pointing to things than for them to stare at my face talking about it. And when we work on an exercise in the book, I can point to the words the student is struggling with.
- PowerPoints. It is so much better to move the slides for them, than to talk at them and tell them to move to the next slide on their device.
- Kahoot! I use Kahoot a lot in class and immediately began using it as a self-paced non-timed comprehension activity. But now! Now, we can play a Kahoot together. It doesn’t have quite the same rowdy effect when everyone is sitting in their own homes, but it is still interactive.
- Online video/YouTube. I successfully showed students a video from the curriculum, just to start a lesson. They could have watched it on their own, but I wanted to “watch” it with them. In another class, I had a epic fail trying to watch a YouTube video. I watched it fine on my end, but they saw and heard absolutely nothing. I’m pretty sure I clicked the wrong screen when I did that. Oops.
Tossing redundant activities
Once upon a time, during normal teaching, there was classwork and there was homework. Homework generally replicated what was done in class. Now, there is no classwork vs homework. There is just work. As lessons morph, I look at each activity and remind myself:
- Do not cram too many new ideas into one day.
- Do not assign the same type of activity twice in a lesson.
- Assign only activities that actively advance mastery of the topic.
- Less is more–choose quality over quantity.
- Let go of the expectation that you will cover everything this year.
Respecting and managing time–theirs and mine
A few ideas are guiding me in respecting and managing time:
- Set a reasonable workload. Live class plus written activities should not exceed normal class time plus normal homework. Ideally, if redundant activities have been pulled, students should spend less time on my class.
- Have firm expectations for students. Students should respect our class time and assignment deadlines. I am not teaching an open-ended correspondance course.
- But be flexible. Some students will struggle with doing school this way. At this point in the year, I know who the most likely strugglers are. And I know who the lazy bums are, too. Grace to the strugglers. Zeros to lazy bums.
We are figuring this out. It is not at all perfect. Some students are still very casual about attending live class and meeting assignment deadlines. Tech challenges are real. Family demands are real. Teenage attitudes are just as real as they ever were.
What am I missing right now?
This crazy 2020 has become the year of the essential. The essential worker. The essential work. Right now, I am missing the fluff and fun of class. Movie days. April Fool’s fish. French restaurant field trip. I may very well end the year covering most of what I normally teach. Why? Because I have cut out anything that is not essential.
And that is going to get boring. I’ll have to think about that.
What am I happy about?
- So far, the students are scoring as well from home as they did in class. (Or as bad, depending on the student.) So I do not see anyone suffering academically because of this change.
- Because I am giving points for everything they do (which would not have happened with spot checks in class), the less-than-stellar students are probably doing more work than they ever did before! There is nothing so motivating to these kids (or their parents!) as a zero.
- Distance learning has taken on real meaning as several of my international students went back home and are now checking in to class every day from South Korea!