A Whole New World of Teaching

By: Kay Walling, guest writer High school ELA, Texas

To say the 2020-2021 school year was different is like saying lava is hot. This year started with all students participating in online learning. While teachers and staff were in the school building, students were at home. Our district was lucky in that we began our one-to-one initiative four years ago. When the pandemic hit, our students already had their laptops. What students, parents, and teachers did not have was a firm grasp of the demands of online learning. 

Online learning demands self-discipline. Most high school students do not have the self-discipline required to sit in front of a computer for eight hours doing classwork. It is far too easy to open the Google Meeting, turn off the sound, and turn on something else. Students were texting friends, playing video games, and watching television instead of listening and participating in discussions. Time allotted for completing an assignment was used for anything but completing the assignment.  

I had to become a different kind of teacher.   

  • First, I had to find engaging online activities. I found a number of applications that use gamification to attract students’ attention in competitive, fun ways.  

  • Second, I had to allow students to work at their own pace. Self-pacing is a distinct advantage of digital learning, but it requires the teacher to create lessons a student can easily review.  Luckily, there are many applications that allow the teacher to record a presentation. There are also applications, like MI Write, that provide students with directed feedback and mini-lessons. The fact that I could not be physically present to give one-on-one feedback did not hamper my students from getting the assistance they needed.  

  • Third, I had to exponentially increase my communication with students and parents. 

Our school district uses Google Classroom, and I used its features to rapidly provide feedback to students.  For example, after I posted an assignment grade in Google Classroom, I emailed a reminder to all the students who had not submitted the assignment. I emailed every parent a progress report each week using our student information system. The progress report not only included the grade for each assignment, but it also listed any missing assignments. I created a Google Voice account with a local telephone number for parents.  This kept my personal phone number private and still provided voice and text access for parents.  I found texting parents got better results than leaving a voice mail message.  Generally, within five minutes of sending a text message, the student would say “Miss, why did you text my mother?”  

Creating digital lessons was initially more work, but they are now part of my teacher toolbox. Increased communication was initially more work, but I plan to continue the reminder emails to students, the weekly progress reports to parents, and the text messages. The challenges created by online learning created new opportunities for me to become a more effective and flexible teacher.