Reflecting on Distance Learning
The possible first round of distance learning is done! My last day of teaching in the classroom was March 13th; however, I started to prepare myself and my school for online teaching the first week of February. As a history teacher, who for some reason loved to read books about pandemics of the past, I saw the writing on the wall. I spoke with my school’s director to get the ball rolling, so we were prepared for a possible shift to distance learning.
Technology and Internet
I am lucky to work at a 1:1 school, so all of our students and staff had chromebooks or laptops. We were prepared that way and also knew we had three options to help our students get Internet service if they did not have it. If they lived in the city, our local provider would connect them for free. For our rural students it was either satellite Internet or a hot spot. Either way, we knew how to help.
All Staff on the Same Boat
When jumping in to distance learning, I created a Google Classroom site for our staff to link a whole bunch of “how to” videos and to also link to platforms that we could use across the board (Helpful Distance Learning Resources). One way our high school was able to be successful was that we all used the same online web tools and platforms so students would not be overloaded with numerous new platforms, websites, and web tools. For example, we all used Zoom right from the start. I also made a school-wide video for the students on how to be successful with online learning.
I have used Google Classroom for years, so I was ready to utilize it to its full capacity and so were my students. I did note that I had a few newer transfer-in students, so I still created a “Distance Learning” section in my classroom and also put “how to” links in there to assist them.
Weekly Calendar & Early Posting
I tried my hardest to have my items posted by the Friday the week before (with due dates listed by any assigned work in that post) so my students had time to see what was going one for the following week. This helped them plan out their week better. I also made a short video explaining the calendar for the week so my students could hear it verbally and I could give some pointers about the week. This helped reduce questions and the students thanked me for the multiple formats. I also posted my videos in two formats, via a direct upload from my Google Drive and from YouTube. I figured if one wasn’t working, the other would. I did this easily with WeVideo as it only involved one extra click to do it.
I Did Not Have to Create It All Myself
Although I made numerous videos of lectures and posted them on my YouTube Channel, I also utilized other people’s videos and activities. I had 4 different preps and 5 classes in total. I also still had other obligations and my own kids at home to help teach and watch. Noting that others had valuable resources helped me find a balance that kept me on track. I also worked with another teacher in my department that taught one of the same courses as myself. We split up the creation work which also helped immensely.
Balancing My Own Kids
My husband was also home at the time, so I was lucky to have another adult in the house. I tended to work with my daughter’s schoolwork starting at 11 am and helped her until she was finished. My son was 2 when it all started, and it was mainly prepping activities to keep him busy when I needed to sign into Zoom or record a video with WeVideo if my husband was unavailable at that time too. This helped, but I also found that 11 pm was also a great time to record lectures and adopted a Mediterranean sleep schedule.
Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Learning
Each week I set-up Zoom Office Hours for my students to sign-in and ask me questions or just to talk to me or other students from class. I did not have a specific time where every student was signed in at the same time. I felt that Social Studies could be more independently learned at an 11th and 12th grade level than say math, science, or a world language course. By me not having that set time, students could have a short break in-between the other classes if need be. However, that is what I could do at my school. Not all schools are the same, and I completely understand that
The Most Important Aspect: Commenting to Students
This one I learned from my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I helped her set-up a Google Classroom (She really did it by herself, I just answered a few questions). She posted the packets the district made in there and some other work that was differentiated to hit different skill sets. This was great for my daughter who thought that many of the packet activities were “boring.” Either way, when I submitted work daily, she always made at least one short comment. This really encouraged my daughter and she waited to see what comment she would get. She really loved it when she was called a Rockstar!
I started to email students I currently had or had in the past that I knew would need someone to reach out to them to see how they were and to just talk. This really encouraged them and probably created a similar reaction (just on a teenage level) like my daughter had. So if you can, reach out to your students if you can. I understand there is a difference between elementary school with a limited number of students and middle and high school where there are possible hundreds of students. So, set up something reasonable. Google Classroom comments makes it fast and efficient to do so.
Taking Care of You
Distance learning brought in new challenges, and for me, a lot more work than usual. If the same is for you, find balance and remember that you matter. We, as educators, cannot accomplish everything and we all need to know where to stop. Like I said earlier, you do not have to create everything from scratch. There are great Facebook pages out there where people share materials for free and other websites do the same as well, like SHEG. Utilize resources that are out there to enhance your students' learning, while also creating a balanced life for yourself.
My state will decide what we are doing by the end of July, so right now I am preparing for in-class teaching and distance learning. If you are a social studies teacher and are looking for resources, check out my YouTube Channel or my TpT store. Also, one again, click here for resources to help you teach during distance learning.