Saturday, March 28, 2020

Thinking about the virtual side of teaching and learning

As we leap into the world of virtual teaching and learning, I believe that we are all noticing some bright sides to this as well as the many limitations that exist.

Clearly, virtual teaching and learning does not live up to the rich teaching/learning programs we can provide in real time with colleagues and students. Yet, as we engage in this way of teaching and learning, there is a lot to learn.

What am I learning during this time?

Teamwork Matters
Our grade-level team has worked together for years now to strengthen our team approach to teaching fifth graders. During this virtual learning time, that teamwork has been a clear advantage. Everyone on our team represents a different scenario during this time, and we are able to support one another's situation with a "divide and conquer" mindset with regard to serving all the students. We all have different capacities during this time, and we are maximizing that differential to serve students and families well.

Virtual Classroom
Over time we have worked on creating a "virtual classroom" which is a website that includes almost all the information and links that support our grade-level teaching/learning efforts. This has been a terrific resource to have during this distance learning time and remains a terrific resource when we are teaching and learning at school too.

Online Learning Menu and Independent Learning
We begin the school year by introducing students to the "virtual classroom" website, online learning, and independent learning mindsets and behaviors. This practice has helped us during this virtual teaching/learning effort and makes me want to do it with even greater depth and commitment next year as we begin the year. To help students understand how to learn on their own with a positive, can-do mindset and behaviors supports good learning wherever and whenever students are learning. During our virtual class meetings and conversations, independent learning mindsets and behaviors have been a positive common ground for the learning community of students, educators, and families

Choosing the Best Online Resources
Our system has a large number of very positive learning resources that students are used to using. This has been a good foundation to fall back on as we teach virtually. As educators, we can log in to see students' progress on these venues. While they don't replace the time-on-task with students, they do offer some good practice and learning. Continuing to choose, curate, and connect on how and when we use resources like this is a positive momentum for optimal teaching and learning.

Collegial Meetings
A few meetings weekly help us to keep the momentum going, but too many meetings are tiresome. There's a just-right quotient for this.

In addition to the energizing affect that seeing the students has on my work at home, I am also inspired by the need to respond creatively to this pandemic. Once I coached myself through the initial worries about imperfection, error, and change that supporting students virtually birthed, I was able to embrace the situation as a creative endeavor, one in which I'll try out a number of venues with colleagues to see what works best. For example, yesterday a colleague and I coached a small group of math students on fraction values using a Google document as a presentation board. I set it up so that we could move the fraction values into the right spaces. The example below shows the board, but doesn't provide the "move around" or edit opportunity that teachers and students have. I also played Fraction Bingo with students. After the lessons, the special educator who joined me and I were able to discuss the merits of both lessons. That conversation and critique informed the creative process that I'll use with next week's small group math talk problem solving lessons. In each lesson, students and I will discuss the many ways to solve open-ended, standards-based problems. For each lesson, I created a Google doc "whiteboard" to use as the focal point of discussion. I also added an enjoyable extension to each lesson that children can do on their own if inspired. The extensions included making marble mazes and play dough, and plans for their ideal room layout.

We are all learning a lot as we embark on a brand new situation and as much as possible we have to coach ourselves forward with positivity in the weeks that follow. This won't be perfect, but we'll learn a lot if we are open to it. Onward.