As many of my fellow teachers can attest, we have entered uncharted waters.
COVID-19 has put us to the test, but we are teachers.
We will adapt for the sake of our students!
I know many of us hoped we would never be in this situation. We watched the news evolving overseas and thought, "we will be fine." Yet, here we are. Our schools are shut down, as well as many of our restaurants and public gathering places. We are faced with a difficult learning curve that (let's face it) may be our reality for some time now. But as teachers, we are experts at adapting! I am of the mindset that if we share our resources, we can help support each other through this time!
I teach first year high school Latin at my local branch of Chesterton Academy of the Sacred Heart. We might be a small, classical school, but we – like the rest of our state of Illinois and, indeed, our country – are trying to learn how to take our classes into the digital realm. I thought I would share a process that is working for our school, as well as some tips for those of you struggling with the idea of adjusting your lesson plans to include a screen.
1) VIDEO-STREAMING SOFTWARE AND ONLINE LEARNING SITE
It goes without saying that the first items on the agenda are to choose a video-streaming platform and online learning site. Individual schools might have made this decision for you already, but the software my school is using is ZOOM (video-streaming software) and MOODLE (online learning site).
The key elements to look for are video streaming that doesn’t take up a lot of bandwidth, so that you can fit as many people in a group call/meeting as possible without slowing up the feed.
Even if your school selected an online platform for your course material, consider taking a look at MOODLE. They have awesome resources – insight into how to manage your course, templates for lesson plans and quizzes, forum options, etc. – to help you think through the online learning process.
2) ACQUIRE A HEADSET AND MICROPHONE
While many computers have fair quality speakers and microphones, you might want to invest in a set of headphones with an attached microphone. When you have lots of people in an online meeting, it’s helpful to have as much of the background noise cut out as possible. A set of headphones and microphone will make that easier than simply using the built in hardware on your computer.
Apple computers tend to have fair audio pick-up in their built-in microphones – my MacBook Air has done pretty well – so, this is not 100% essential. However, my school has opted to strongly suggest it to all the students, and it has definitely helped clean up the audio feed.
For any math teachers who are worried about the lack of necessary mathematical symbols on a keyboard, you might consider investing in a drawing tablet. These devices can be shared/projected to your computer screen, so that your students can see what you are “drawing” on the tablet.
3) PLAN AHEAD TO LIMIT DELAYS
This point might seem obvious but needs to be stressed, nonetheless. Before starting right in with classes, schedule at least a couple of technology tests to make sure all the students can utilize the video-streaming software, enter the class group effectively, and access the online learning resource. This seems simple; however, my school ended up using more than the allotted 4 hours to get all 27 students connected!
Our process began with an all-school meeting at the beginning of the day. Almost all students were able to access this meeting, but it was difficult. This meeting was what caused the most delay. Then, individual classes met in separate sections with their instructors to simulate class sessions. By that point, all the bugs had been successfully worked out.
This will also allow the staff some extra time to familiarize themselves with the video-streaming platform and it’s capabilities with a full “class” of students – i.e. muting and unmuting, clustering students into online “rooms” for group work, using an online whiteboard etc.
4) LESSON PLANNING – BE GENEROUS
As much as we all want to jump right back into our class routines, the reality is an online platform will have some positive contributions and some drawbacks that will definitely shake up the normal classroom routine. As you and your students learn to adapt, consider lightening the work load for the next week or two, so that you can allow for technology issues, online learning curves, and whatever other unexpected situations may arise.
You can always fill the lesson plans back up to max capacity as the faculty and students become more familiar with the online learning platform. I personally have cut back about 50% of the work load for this next week, so that my students feel less pressure and can adjust themselves. It is always possible to pick up to full speed again, once everyone has found their online footing.
5) MOLD HOPE-FILLED ADULTS!
This is an uncertain time, and it is tempting to spiral into a state of anxiety and worry. As teachers, our task is not just to instruct our students in classroom subjects but to help form them into mature adults. It is exactly in times like these that we must step up to the plate and help show them through example how to navigate stressful situations without succumbing to fear. As teachers, this should be part of our normal job as well, but especially over the next few weeks (or months), make a concerted effort with your students.
Praise them when they succeed.
Motivate them when they are discouraged.
Build them up when they struggle.
Encourage their creativity.
Show them how to focus on what they can practically change, instead of worry about things they can’t control.
G. K. Chesterton famously said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” Let us, as teachers, help our students learn life lessons through this crisis, stepping beyond normal classroom material and using this situation to instruct them in how to respond as adults to the world’s most demanding challenges.
Deus vult! Ad Jesum per Mariam pro gloria Patris,
Ms. Anna Berlinger
Latin 1 Instructor at Chesterton Academy of the Sacred Heart
Owner of Celtic Homestead