By MADELINE NAUMANN
This COVID-19 pandemic created a teaching train-wreck. As teachers, we were forced to learn a new way to instruct students. For many of my coworkers, technology was their greatest struggle this year. My personal struggle was different. I struggled trying to find a way to respond to my students as if we were back to normal (in person and face to face).
Pre-COVID, while students worked on assignments in the classroom, I was able to walk around and see students working. I was able to read what they were writing and quickly address any misconceptions while they were working. Students were free to ask quick questions for clarification on a skill, and I was readily available to help them, guide them. During a lesson, I was able to see if a student was struggling or confused just based off of the student’s facial expressions and body language. It didn't work that way when cameras were off and muted; I didn't know if they were lost in their learning.
When virtual teaching was thrust upon me, everything I knew in supporting in those moments listed above was taken away. I was lost in how to guide and help my students and I felt like a failure. For the first term of this year, I would teach a short math lesson, then give them an assignment to work on independently. I hadn’t realized until afterwards that without the guidance I was once able to offer, my students struggled a lot. When reviewing their work I found those simple errors I should have caught walking around the room. But I knew I had to find a new path as I was unable to change the circumstance of COVID.
Setting My Own Goal
I had to find a way to communicate with my students virtually in a similar way to how I helped students in person.
Through many trials and errors (and too many failures to count) I found solutions to the problems I was facing. I have much more to learn and practice, but by using these new strategies, I quickly saw improvements from my students. I was now able to interact with my students in ways I didn’t even know I could before. I was able to answer students' questions even when we were not on the screen together. I knew when my students were confused about the content. But most importantly, I could help students who needed more guidance and direction than others.
Here are a few suggestions that I found useful and hopefully can help other educators if they found themselves facing similar problems:
Nearpod: While Nearpod has many features, my favorite was the “Draw It” tool. While I was logged in as the teacher, I could see which students were participating in my class. As they worked on a problem, I could see in real time the students solving it on their own computer at home. It was as if I was walking around the classroom looking at student’s whiteboards when they were solving a problem. When students were done answering, I could “share” a student’s answer to the class without the student’s name showing. This allowed me to show incorrect answers and offered me the opportunity to have a teaching moment with students to dive in on how to fix their math problem.
Google Slides: I used to let students to work on assignments independently off of Zoom because I couldn't see their work. However, that all changed when I went to using Google Slides. As they work I can view every student’s Google Slide and check their answers before they submit it and leave zoom.
Cameras On: Luckily for me, we were allowed to require all students have their cameras on while teaching. I know this requirement wasn't allowed for all schools, but I could see when my students were confused or distracted or not doing their work because they left. In the fall if you are doing virtual learning, I would recommend to teachers make cameras on a mandatory requirement.
Premade Videos: I used Screencastify to record math skills. I saved those videos and attached them to online worksheets for students to watch while they complete their assignments. This allowed me to help students at home even when they worked on assignments independently after hours. I even had some students share that when they got stuck they would remember a line or phrase I said during the video to remind them of how to solve a problem. I know not every student watched the videos every assignment, but even if it helped one child it was worth it. Here is an example of one of my instructional videos.
“Mote” Google Extension: This was my last discovery. When teaching in person, any teacher knows there’s always at least one student who asks for the directions multiple times. The Mote Extension allowed me to record myself saying the directions for an assignment, or even reading a word problem aloud. I was able to easily insert the short audio clip into the assignment for students to click on and listen to. This is not a video, it’s an audio clip.
As many of us are attending summer professional learning, I encourage you to continue to look for ways to connect with your students as we return to in-person learning in the fall. Yes, it was was a challenging year, but I am thankful to have spent the time trying new things and experimenting. I know even when we return to in-person learning with every student back in school, I will be using these tools to teach.
Madeline Naumann is a 5th grade math, science and social studies teacher at North Salisbury Elementary School in Wicomico County School District. She is pursuing her Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership at Salisbury University. You can contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find her on Twitter @MadelineNaumann