Schools are releasing their reopening plans, and the national discussion seems to have shifted its focus towards whether or not schools should reopen. As a teacher, I certainly have thoughts about how wise it may or may not be to reopen, but I also try to remind myself of these facts:
- We do not have many great options. Neither online learning nor face-to-face instruction during a pandemic are ideal options.
- We do not have great data to use in order to make decisions. This Mother Jones article explains why that is the case.
- We will eventually need to return to face-to-face instruction. I do not want to rush into an unsafe environment due to frequent community transmission of the coronavirus and due to various people’s higher than average chance of suffering greatly from COVID. At the same time, I also realize that at some point, we will need to be back in person and so I need to plan for that.
Precautions that I plan to take when we are in the classroom
- Wear masks and strongly encourage students to wear them properly too. Even though we’re in Florida, Duval county has a mask mandate, so we can enforce that.
- Space desks. The six-feet rule would be ideal, but it’s highly unlikely that I can fit my students’ desks in my classroom with that rule. I will try to keep chairs six feet apart. If I’m not able to fit all my required desks in the room, based on this video from PBS and the article in the next bullet, I will try gradually decreasing that distance until I can actually fit all the desks. If students do not have masks, four feet will be the absolute minimum with which I’m comfortable; but if students have masks, 2.5-3 feet will be the absolute minimum with which I’m comfortable (cf. this article in Physics of Fluid and this experiment published on Live Science and this article in Journal of Aerosol Science). I know students, the cleaning crew, and I will move the desks throughout the year, so I will mark the desks’ locations with tape on the floor.
- Keep my door open. According to this article about aerosols, the novel coronavirus, and comparisons with the flu, with an “airborne” virus, the chance of infection seems to be lower if ventilation puts new, cleaner air in more often and removes the air that may or may not have viruses from an infected room occupant. Even though I am currently relieved that, our heating/cooling units blow air in from outside as well as recycling it from my own room, I’d like to enhance the replacement of air by keeping the door open.
- Distribute handouts from a table near the door or near my desk. In order to limit the time passing papers and the number of hands on each paper, I plan to have students pick up handouts as they enter the class.
- Plan my class as if it were online. I cannot foresee a scenario that does not involve some online teaching at some point during this school year. Therefore, to ease the transition online, I am going to plan my course as if everything were online (with many thanks to my brother-in-law and various online articles for many suggestions):
- Present new information through videos. I’ve already started doing this, and you can find many of my videos for Wheelock’s Latin in this YouTube playlist. Here is an early instruction sheet for how I make my videos, but now I mainly use QuickTime’s Screen Recording feature.
- Frequent communication with information in many places
- Communicate clearly and simply with few distractions
- Keep learning objectives in mind when planning
- Share goals to help students understand the purpose of activities
- Easy to find assignments and handouts, which are largely digital — a good learning management system can help
- Our school does not have an LMS like Blackboard or Canvas, and it relies on the Google suite of apps. We are required to have a Google Document and Google Classroom stating our homework assignments, so I’m turning the Google Doc into an LMS and plan to explain to students where everything is.
- Clearly stated expectations and requirements for interaction
- Protect student data
- Offer alternative and/or easy ways to access information. This is partly why I like to host my videos on YouTube, because it’s familiar, easy, and can add captioning of varying quality.
- Record my classes and post them where students can access them. Not only does this allow me to observe and improve my own classes, but it allows students to review, catch up from missed classes, or continue to participate from home if they are willing and able to.
What I learned about remote learning during Spring 2020
- It helped having a second monitor (thanks to an old television).
- Students required much repetition and clear communication.
- Students learned more slowly and perhaps less effectively than in the classroom.
- Students were not very good about turning assignments and assessments in on time, but they tended to be pretty good once I reminded them once or twice to submit them.
- Flexibility, grace, and replying to e-mails quickly were very helpful.
- Students were generally trustworthy with academic integrity, especially when we had developed trust between us already.
- Remote learning generally went well due to relationships we had already developed on campus.
- Parents helped set up most of my students at home, at least to the point of coordinating where all their children would do school at home.
- Student motivation and engagement was difficult to maintain.
What good strategies I developed during remote learning
- I tried not to overwhelm my students with new applications or activities since it was hard enough offering tech support in the classroom.
- Greater communication with parents about students’ mental health.
- Leaving my desk during class (such as to answer the doorbell or whatever) was actually a good opportunity to let students socialize (and have something to talk about, like guessing where I went).
- Ridiculous videos or music videos are a good way to break up the class period and give everyone a mental break.
- Online games can still be good, but Quizizz was more helpful than Kahoot because students with one device could still see the questions and the answers.
- Breakout rooms are a great way to have a quick, private conversation with a student.
What new things I want to try during Fall 2020
- Use whiteboard.fi more often. It is an online website that allows the teacher to share a whiteboard on students’ devices, students to have a whiteboard on their own devices., and the teacher can see each students’ whiteboards at once. This seems like a pretty versatile tool, like mini-whiteboards at students’ desks, that will prevent students from having to constantly disinfect whiteboards between uses.
- Try group note-taking in some classes. I have done something similar with class translations as students transition from textbook to unadapted Latin, and it has been pretty helpful for students to review. However, we often have a class scribe who wants to help the group and can type more quickly than their classmates. I’d like to share the work more evenly, like it’s described in this Chronicle article. The article also mentions how it is a way for students to improve their note taking skills by imitating their peers.
- Provide more opportunities for group discussion, whether as mental breaks or social chatter or icebreaker-type warmups. These questions seem like much more gripping questions to start class than “how are you?”