The first time the coronavirus interrupted my life, I was in a seaside cafe on the charming island of Con Dao off the southeast coast Vietnam and we learned that our daughter’s flight, through Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, had been cancelled. This was in late January, over the Tet holiday, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year. Back in Ho Chi Minh City we booked her another flight and learned that the school where I am a grade 10 EAL teacher would be closing the campus to students for at least one week and maybe two. That was on February 4.
Initially, we thought the move would last two weeks. Now, March 23, we’re in week 8 of teaching online. For the first 6 weeks, students were at home learning and teachers were at school, teaching remotely from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Each morning we met our advisory groups online to check in. We shared stories, songs, movies we liked and videos they were watching. I sent them mindfulness videos and twice a week we practiced breathing together. We planned some wellness activities during the day for teacher-breaks like yoga, kickboxing, body combat and then added cooking classes and baking contests to keep teachers engaged and lighten the mood. We produced tik-tok videos that we pushed out to show our students how much we missed them. And the weeks went on.
How we rolled it out
Most of us had been using Google classrooms and all of our kids had computers, so it seemed a fairly easy switch: Take all of our lessons and push them out in an online format. Initially, I was excited. All this opportunity to grow and extend myself as a teacher. My hyperdocs grew more colorful and I added memes and music. Padlet became my friend and I used it for students to hold their work as well. I became adept at Loom and screencastify, edpuzzle and flipgrid. I stretched, I grew…
My students, on the other hand, were overwhelmed. I could hear it in their voices. Their annotations grew more scarce. Students stopped showing up for check-ins. They were suffering. Because I couldn’t check for understanding through a simple “thumbs up” or a confused expression, I was constantly evaluating all the work I had assigned. I was suffering.
I decided to cut back. And rethink. And talk to my students about what they were experiencing. And I was growing as a human.
Here’s what I learned.
I don’t always know WHAT to do, but now I think I’ve figured out what NOT to do. …
- Don’t give too much work. Do your own assignment as well. If you think it will take them an hour, give them two. They are learning, just as we are, what works for them.
- Don’t expect them to hand in work on time, especially if you give them too much. Do be generous with your expectations. Remember, some of them are sharing computers with siblings and parents.
- Don’t be stingy with choices. Do give them three options. But not 10.
- Don’t expect students who are shy, have few friends or who have problems socializing to reach out. They won’t. Do reach out to them.
- Don’t be wordy. Pare down instructions. Bold important words. Do give them a checklist to follow. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. And that’s it. Turn it in.
- Don’t forget that they (and we) are living through a historic period. Do invite students to share what they are thinking. Do encourage their creativity and optimism.
- Don’t teach curriculum, teach students. Do find out what they’re interested in and make it work. You know them. And if you aren’t sure, ask them. You can use Google forms, (actually, I just asked them) but you could try Survey Monkey.
- Do put them in study groups. Make sure they are reaching out to one another. Don’t make the groups too large, 3 to 4 is good.
- Don’t forget that parents are overwhelmed. Do help parents by scheduling meetings or by creating study groups for them.
- Don’t forget to put your own oxygen mask on before you head into the virtual world. Do get enough rest, practice mindfulness, eat good food, get some exercise every day. You can’t help THEM if you aren’t well yourself.