Just like my original Distance Learning post was mostly for my own good, so is this reflection post. Who knows what the 2020-2021 school year will bring; I want to remember certain things that worked (or didn’t) as this year comes to a close to make the future less daunting. My Twitter feed was a play-by-play of trial and error, this is the highlights related to my initial distance learning post.
- Weekly Announcement – this worked mostly as anticipated. Some students requested more detail in the directions, but most were content with the cliff notes version with the wealth of links directly to the assignment. Parents often commented that they were able to follow with the weekly assignments without getting lost in the navigation. A disadvantage was the week and a half assignment cycle – that’s how long we spent on each topic, so half the updates included 2 different topics.
- Learning Support – I used a Google Sheet and the Form Mule add-on to send frequently, personalized emails to individual students. I also created GoogleDocs with abbreviated assignments and simplified instructions. However, when emailing students and parents (36 total), only one student in a 2 week period actually clicked on the Bitly link to access the GoogleDoc. So while I was providing the resources, they were not being accessed.
- Check Ins – the Zoom check-ins were attended by more than half the students. I kept them to 20 minutes so I could meet with multiple small groups. I also sent weekly (more or less) emails to every student on the team using the same Google Sheet / Form Mule combo. This could take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days depending on the level of personalization.
- Office Hours – we had weekly team office hours. They were sparsely attended. However, 5 students pulled their grades from failing up to a C by attending office hours the last week, so it was successful, even if under-utilized.
- Grade Book Messages – I didn’t use these for every assignment. I saw that the students who needed it most were not reading the messages. A student shared their screen for help during office hours and I saw they had 117 unread messages, many from me with tips for completing missing assignments.
- Assignment Feedback – While I provided it for every assignment that did not earn full credit, same issue as above. Students were reading it. They would just tell their parent they had no idea why they did not get full credit and either not resubmit or resubmit the exact same thing. I would need to intentionally teach how to check messages and feedback on Canvas. Honestly, I learned so many grade book tricks out of necessity, so I can share some of the random knowledge with students.
- Digital Task Tracker – Not a single student opted to use this, so I won’t waste the time recreating this.
- Scripts – I thought I would move away from the scripts as time progressed, but I didn’t. It kept me consistent between classes and in the separate recording I needed to do for students not attending live. Because I recorded first, I was much more comfortable during the Zoom mini-lectures. Even the discussions I had opening statements, closing statements, and anticipated questions to prompt students with. This might continue next year, especially if there is a mixed classroom setting.
- Graphics – I used graphics for waiting for more students to log in as well as some quick checks/challenges. I really liked the idea of pixelating images that went with the topic and asking students to try to figure out what it was.
- Settings – Different meetings required different settings. I only used the Waiting Room before beginning the lesson. After that I allowed students to automatically join (still with the password). I never had to remove someone who wasn’t supposed to be there and it prevented students from being locked out and missing class. Yes, I muted on entry. When I had office hours, I used the chime to notify when a student joined, since my camera was off while there were no students.
- Chat box – Great for quickly sharing links with students. Only one student tended to type random things, and they rarely attended, so it was a non-issue.
- Added Interactions – This was a student request the 2nd week. She said she missed her peers and wished there were additional ways we could interact. So I hosted optional Zoom review games, including digital breakoutEDUs.
- Small Groups – It took me seeing someone’s random tweet to learn how to set up the breakout rooms on Zoom, but better late than never. I used them for office hours and digital breakout games (breakout rooms for breakout games).
- Workspace – I thought I would use the GoogleDrive Workspace feature more, but I didn’t. Instead I went with Option B, which was having an obscene number of tabs opened all the time (at least 20).
- Schedules – I created a schedule that I kept on my laptop desktop to keep myself accountable for work. Certain times were set aside for specific tasks. This was extra important with two toddlers, set times I needed childcare support. Luckily (?) my father-in-law was unable to work during this entire time, and would stop by about once a week for the two hours I needed for direct instruction.
- Home Office – A random storage room was converted for a home office with a locking door. It kept all my school stuff in one place, still chaos, but manageable.
- Canvas Homepage – This was one of two major changes I made during the course of distance learning. Instead of having a visually appealing homepage, I got rid of the distractors, and just had the active modules and the most recent announcement at the top. I don’t like the way it looks, but the students reacted positively to it.
- Canvas Workflow – I also learned how to use the Requirements feature for the Canvas modules. Each week improved the effectiveness of the check marks. It took until the penultimate week to feel fully satisfied. This was also a good framework for conversations as a PLC about what was expected. The students liked the green check marks identifying what they had done and what they still had to do.
- Must Do / Pick One – The structure of each topic worked as hoped. There were a few Must Do items. The main assessment was the Pick One that students selected; each was unique and allowed for students to show their knowledge in different ways. The work quality and quantity did decrease as the weeks progressed, but that wasn’t surprising.
- Nearpod – I’ve been a longtime user of Nearpod and they didn’t let me down. I could record audio on the slides for students to listen to me instead of reading a boring presentation. It included videos, virtual field trips, websites, images, information, and quiz questions. I could view reports to see which students accessed them and how much they interacted.
- Newsela – Also a longtime user of Newsela. There were a plethora of articles about each of the ancient civilizations, so I created rich text sets. I assigned one article per civilization, but the other articles were options on the Choice Board. The benefit was students could change their reading level to better understand the articles.
- Flocabulary – Except for Hunters & Gatherers, each group had at least one Flocabulary video that corresponded. Greece, Rome, and the Renaissance had multiple applicable videos. I really liked the Read & Respond activities and hope to use those more in the future.
- Choice Board – This was a student favorite. In all surveys, they said they appreciated the options available. I tried to design high interest activities with a mix of resources. There were many resources we used more than one week: Newsela Text Set, Duolingo, BreakoutEDU, Quizizz, Kahoot, Edpuzzle, Nearpod Virtual Field Trips, Quizlet, and some hand on creation activities. Students had to complete one, but most completed multiple options per civilization.
- Digital BreakoutEDU – I’m proudest of these. I created digital breakouts for Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, and the Renaissance. Only one of these existed pre-distance learning. Being stuck at home was conducive to my design process; I could practically stop what I was doing whenever inspiration struck. Students enjoyed working together to try to solve these.
SO NOW WHAT?
After reading the CDC potential recommendations for school in the fall, there is a lot to think about. I felt more confident in what we were doing by the end of the process. There needs to be more SEL and intentional teaching of the learning management system – hopefully to motivate students to engage in their own learning and to remove the excuses to not have access to the learning. I’m already brainstorming my next digital breakouts. If some students are at home while others are in school, there will be more robust learning progressions, but that can be managed with strong communication and efficient tech tools.