The 2020-21 school year has been a year of growth for me, and for the teachers I lead. In the fall I had the privilege to work with 150 Math/Science/Tech teachers, as part of a huge Online Secondary School. And then in February I joined a smaller K-12 Virtual School, with students engaging both synchronously and asynchronously.
Last week our K-8 teachers gathered, and compared notes for the year. And here’s what they told us worked for them:
Our teachers made use of a range of technologies to connect to families, and maintain student/teacher/parent communication. Our teachers provided weekly communication schedules, built community through circles, and encouraged their families to share images and videos of their children’s learning.
With a minimum of five hours a day in front of a computer, our teachers became experts in chair yoga, and implemented multiple monitors and drawing tablets into their toolkit.
Particularly in our primary grades, our teachers became event planners: Dinosaur Tea Party, Snow Castle Challenge, Jump Rope for Heart and Tinker Tuesdays were all planned and scheduled this year.
Rather than isolating during COVID, our families and teachers forged deeper connections and achieved greater academic gains than they had in in-person classes. The use of large-group, small-group, and 1:1 interaction resulted more focused learning within a supportive and friendly learning environment. Our teachers found they had more time to work 1:1 with students, and appreciated the ability to develop language skills without the interference of masks. Their lesson planning became more creative, and was presented in a structured format that allowed for improved support from EAs, other teachers, and family members. Students with special education needs were more easily integrated into the activities of the class, and were able to safely learn.
As a result of the change in environment, our teachers had to increase their creativity and flexibility, and they found that it paid off in huge improvements for their students. They used humour with their students, and teamwork with their parents. Because they were limited in the classroom materials available to their students in their homes, they differentiated tasks and were “wowed” by the results.
Teaching Strategies that Worked
- One-on-one meetings and instruction
- Running Records
- Predictable routines
- Socializing and Sharing at the start of each day
- Weekly checklists
- Real-time assessment and feedback
- Playtime structured to allow students to play together
- Reader’s Theatre
- Asynchronous sessions, with “expect a teacher call”
- Interactive Games
- Boom cards
- Chrome Music Lab
- Raz Kids
- Book Creator
- Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song
- Virtual Field Trips – Toronto Zoo, Art Gallery of Ontario, etc.
- Use of “spotlight” in Teams to focus on students when they speak
- Office 365 tools
- Screen shots
- Mote – to record audio on slides
- Cool Chrome extensions
- Guest Speakers
- PE with JOe the Body Coach
- Apps: Teach your Monster to Read, Lalio, Kodables
- Robotics Canada
- Pearson Bookshelf
- Use of Breakout Groups
- Dictate and Immersive Reader
- Edsby poll to take attendance
- Math Antics – YouTube
- Use of Learning Management System – especially useful for split grades
- Awards in the Learning Management System
- Sharing of Learning Management System “shells”
- Pre-recorded “How To” videos
The impact of teacher learning this year will only be able to be measured once they return to their physical classrooms in the fall. There is little from the lists above that cannot become part of our teachers’ toolkits as they move forward, so I am anticipating even more positive results for the 2021-22 school year.
My prediction that parents might now wish to opt for continued remote learning for their children was absolutely wrong. Our experiences this year have shown parents that they need teachers in classrooms even more than they need teachers online. Our successes this year were as a result of extraordinary efforts on the part of our teachers combined with intensive support from families at home. As parents and caregivers return to their in-person work, they do so with a greater appreciation for the work of our educators, and a strong value for the in-person interaction that our classrooms provide.
Remote learning will now be added to our collection of supports for students, but I believe it will not become the preferred mode of learning for most of our kids. A safe, supportive classroom, with access to technology tools to allow for access to resources, thinking tools, and media to share learning, is the best option for our students as we move forward.