A Reflection on Teaching From Home: Week 1

While online classes may not be ideal, things could definitely be worse.

I wrote in Tuesday night’’s post that the first day of teaching my classes remotely/online was challenging. 

I thought it would be good to follow that up at the end of the school week with my insights after a few more days’ experience.

Things definitely got better as the school week progressed. 

All of my students seemed to relax and interact more normally as the week progressed. I think some of them found it really awkward and a bit artificial at first, and many others— myself included— just didn’t know what to expect. 

I had to make my expectations for behaviour and interactions super clear via email to a couple of kids. 
I actually made an explicit list of what I expected and what they were not welcome to do.  This helped to set boundaries for them, and they changed their attitude accordingly. Things were a lot better after that. 

My students have done some great work this week, and I have been able to give positive and constructive feedback to encourage them. 
This also encourages me: I can do this. The kids appreciate my effort and input. My classes are benefiting from the structure, the lessons and the encouragement I have given them. It doesn’t matter if I feel it’s not the same or not enough, or as though I am treading water. 
I am good enough. My teaching is valuable. I can do this. 

I am so thankful for  my school and its  consistent, uniform approach to the delivery of lessons and learning material. I’m also super glad we have followed the same routines and timetables. 

In times of turmoil and change, schools, teachers and students all have the greatest chance of success when everyone is on the same page and things are kept as consistent and stable as possible

In my discussions with friends and family who teach elsewhere, I have learned that this isn’t happening elsewhere. Timetables and class sizes have changed for some, some have new classes they’ve never had before, and others have no streamlined or consistent method of delivery or assessment. One poor soul is trying to deal with all of those complications and more. 
I am trying to be as supportive of that particular friend as I can be, and have suggested that if the school has left it completely up to him to manage, he might follow the practices my own school has implemented so that his students have some structure and consistency with his classes at least. He’s going to do that, and suggest those same things to his colleagues. 

Teachers worldwide are struggling with the same anxieties, challenges and logistics that I am. 
I am note alone. 
Nor are my students. 

We should not be discouraged if we don’t get through the regular program, or if things don’t always work the way we’d like them to.

Our online classrooms provide valuable connection and communication for the kids. It helps them to feel less isolated and cut off, and gives them regular opportunities to think and talk about life beyond corona. 

Ultimately, my students are safe and healthy at home, and learning every day. Those are blessings that should not ever be taken for granted in this strange coronaverse of 2020. 

I can honestly say I am looking forward to another week of positive, encouraging lessons and interactions after a well-earned rest this weekend. 

Why Teaching From Home Is More Difficult Than You Think

One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome

As a teacher, I know there is no substitute for being in the classroom, engaging with the students and supervising their work, making suggestions or guiding their thinking. When you create a constructive, productive learning environment, students thrive. 

Over the past few weeks, my school has worked really hard to reproduce that in an online learning environment. My colleagues and I have put a great deal of thought and preparation into making our students’ experiences of learning from home in online classes as interesting and beneficial as they can possibly be. From where I stand, we’ve done a great job of preparing for teaching and learning from home, and I really hope that our students and their parents feel the same way. 

Today was our first day of teaching and learning remotely. My students were well behaved and cooperative. Most seem to have coped with the challenges of doing school at home, some of them sharing an environment with their siblings who were also doing their lessons at home, quite well. We got through everything I had planned for those initial lessons. Judging from the work they handed in today, the kids generally worked as well as they usually do in a classroom environment. 

I don’t know how they all felt at the end of the school day, but by the time 3.30pm rolled around, I was exhausted. 

Make no mistake: online teaching is really hard. It’s mentally demanding in ways that physical presence in the classroom is not. It’s harder to hear students when they speak, and it’s harder to be sure that everyone understands what you say or what you want them to do.  Even marking the roll poses new challenges when you can’t simply identify empty spaces in the classroom. Things that have become instinctive for teachers are now impossible, and we find ourselves reinventing pedagogy, teaching, communication, and the delivery of lessons and lesson materials. 

You can no longer maintain classroom management by circulating around the room or standing in strategic places so you can see what kids have on their screens. You can’t just look over a kid’s shoulder and remind them of a principle or fact that they need to consider. You can’t make a teaching point of quickly correcting an error or oversight. 

To an extent, one has to just accept that and move on. If a student is easily distracted or willing to be inattentive, that is understandable: there’s a lot going on,  they’re at school without being at school, they’re in their own environment, and some of them are genuinely anxious about the dangers and the restrictions that Covid-19 has brought about. Really, the best you can hope for is to find a way to gently bring their attention back to the task and try to re-focus them. 

It’s a tricky set of circumstances for the kids as it is, and adding learning at home to the strangeness of social isolation and distancing is a situation that some kids — and some teachers — will undoubtedly find awkward at best. 

Still, it’s good for all of us, kids and teachers alike, to have a routine and a variety other things to think about. It is healthy and constructive use of the abundant time we would otherwise have on our hands at this point in time. 

As tired as I was, they day did end particularly well. After spending 90 minutes with one of my classes this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised when three of my students thanked me for the lesson. In the past, wishing each other a good afternoon or a pleasant evening was not unusual, but having students actually thanking me for double English after lunch on Tuesday is totally new. 

I spent the rest of my regular school day responding to the work they submitted, and giving my students some feedback on their ideas and responses. It was nice to be able to 

At 4.15pm, I made myself a cup of coffee and almost cried into it with gratitude for my good but mentally exhausting day, and for the caffeine upon which I would rely for the next couple of hours while I cooked dinner and did everything else I needed to do. 

When dinner was done, I looked at my husband and asked if it was too early to go to bed. 
“It’s 6.15pm,” he said. 
“So probably, then?” I asked. 
“Yeah. Probably.” 

Maybe I’ll just spend the time between now and bedtime thinking about what gift I’m going to buy myself for Teacher Appreciation Week. 
Whatever it is, I will have earned it.

One teacher’s thoughts on the first day of teaching and learning while #StayingHome
#teachingfromhome #TeachFromHome #TeachingOnline #teachertwitter

Image by Wortflow from Pixabay

The Workers Australia Can't Do Without.

When half the country seems to be working from home, there are some very dedicated people keeping the place going.

As Australia has begun the process of going into partial lockdown in response to the corona virus pandemic, it is becoming astoundingly clear who the country cannot do without. 

Here’s the thing: it’s not the billionaires, the movie stars or rock singers, the football players or the fashion models. 

Don’t get me wrong. They’re important people. But who are the ones we rely on to keep doing what they do so that the majority of the population can actually isolate or socially distance themselves in comfort and safety? Who is actually unable to stop working and stay home in the interests of self-preservation?

It’s the doctors and nurses, police officers, firefighters, and paramedics, the people who stack supermarket shelves and work the checkouts, and the teachers. It’s the people who work the service stations and fast-food and takeaway restaurants, the cleaners, the truck drivers, the retail workers… and the list goes on. 

They are the people who are still going to work every day, regardless of their potential exposure to germs – and not just Covid-19, either — and to the frustrations, anxieties and hostility of the general public. 

Most of them can’t work from home. And, with the possible exception of the doctors, most are paid nowhere near what they are worth. 

Teachers could, of course, deliver their lessons online as my own school is planning to do if we are ordered to close the college. That’s not as easy as it sounds, either, especially with younger students. It’s a lot more planning and preparation every day, as the curriculum will still need to be delivered as fully as possible. There won’t be any less marking, either. 

Of course, whether or not schools will be closed is still a matter of debate in Australia. The government doesn’t want to close the schools, because that would mean the people in medical jobs would have to stay home to look after their kids. Who would look after the sick people then? 

So when you are out shopping for groceries and annoyed that the shelves are half empty, don’t take your frustrations out on the store workers: they can’t stack shelves with what has not been supplied. Save the blame for the people hoarding basic goods out of selfishness and greed. They’re the real reason you can’t buy the basics at the moment. And let’s be honest: when those people are at home self-isolating and eating ten people’s worth of pasta and rice, and the loo gets blocked up with all that hoarded toilet paper… they’ll still want the plumber to come out and fix it. 

When you have to wait in a longer-than-usual line to collect takeaway food, don’t give the servers attitude for the delay. They are doing their best under extremely demanding circumstances. And remember, they are saving you the effort of cooking for yourself, so there’s that to be thankful for. 

When you see a medical worker or first responder getting coffee or taking a break, don’t kvetch about them having some downtime. Instead, thank them for the tough job they’re doing, especially if it’s a job you wouldn’t want to be doing during a global health crisis. 

When you hear about nursing homes, hospitals and schools closing their doors and not allowing visitors in, don’t complain about inconvenience or behave like its an overreaction. Thank them for being proactive in taking extra measures to protect the people for whom they have a duty of care. 

When you hear people complain about the inconvenience of social distancing and working from home, remind them that some people don’t have the ability to do so. 

They are the workers on the front line, keeping the country going while everyone else stays home. They should not be on the receiving end of anyone’s bad behaviour.

Top Four English Language Podcasts

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you. 

Promo Top Five English Podcasts Plain

Pleasantly surprised by how popular last week’s post on my top five history podcasts proved to be, I decided to share a little more of my podcast-loving joy with you this week.

It’s common knowledge that I’m pretty nerdy about words.

I love them. I love the way they work. I love knowing where different words and phrases came from. I love using them to write and communicate ideas in interesting ways. I love knowing which words are related to each other, even when they don’t actually sound much like each other anymore, like long-lost cousins who bump into each other when they leave home to go to university, and discover their common history that the family has been hiding in the dust and cobwebs behind the skeleton in the closet.

So, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to podcasts about the English language, its roots and evolution, and how it works.

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you.

So, without further ado, here are my four favourite word-nerdy podcasts.

#1. The History of English.  This podcast gets into the down and dirty of where the English language and many of the words and phrases we use came from. If you suspect that Mr Webster didn’t just go out into a cabbage patch and find a newborn lexicon crying for its mother, give this podcast a try.
twitter: @englishhistpod
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

#2. Lingthusiasm. This podcast explores different aspects of the English language in just over 30 minutes for each episode. It’s interesting, word-nerdy, and fun.
twitter: @lingthusiasm
http://lingthusiasm.com/

#3. The Allusionist. This podcast focuses more on lexicon and how we use words to craft and deliver meaning in particular ways. The episodes are a bit shorter than the first two placegetters, staying under 20 minutes a shot.
twitter: @AllusionistShow
www.theallusionist.org

#4. The English We Speak. This podcast from the BBC World Service explores those words and phrases we use every day in episodes that last about three minutes each. This might be a good place “to cut your teeth” if you don’t want to “go the whole hog”.  You’re catching on. Cool.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/the-english-we-speak

 

I’d really appreciate it if you would leave a comment.
And click “like”.
And if you shared my post, that would be almost like Christmas.

Almost.

New horizons. 

I’m about to embark on an international classroom collaboration with my Year 10 History class and some students who attend the school where my cousin teaches in Detroit, USA.  Our students will discuss world events, their interests, and their perspectives on issues and challenges that they face as young people in an increasingly globalised world.  

This has not been done at my school before, so I am very aware of breaking new ground for my students and of my responsibility to  mentor them and protect them while flinging them out of the proverbial comfort zone of our classroom “nest”. The online classroom environment where this collaboration will take place will be monitored and moderated by myself and the American students’ teacher, who I’m sure shares my anxieties and my excitement as we embark on this experimental educational journey together. 

I’m excited because while these kids’ lives are worlds apart, they live in the same world and witness the same events from their own unique perspectives.  I’m excited about collaborating with another teacher and having our personal professional horizons broadened, too. 

My hope is that they will broaden their horizons and see things from different points of view while becoming more aware of what is happening in the world around them. 

Hopefully we will all be inspired as well as informed. 

Unexpected Resistance.

I started the term with great hopes of the digital classroom and online publishing changing the world for my students. I hoped that it would open up to them a new way of expressing themselves and responding to different challenges and ideas. I wanted it to feel more like learning and less like school.

Some have embraced the opportunities and are writing and blogging with style. Others have simply handed me the piles of papers that I have been accustomed to accepting. Is this their comfort zone, or is being encouraged to do things in a different way just too confronting?

I asked one young lady – a good student – why she had opted to give me paper rather than a URL. Her response? “That’s not the way English is meant to be!”

Wait. What have I missed? Aren’t English classes meant to be about powerful ideas and the ways in which they are communicated? Isn’t the power of imagery it’s ability to deliver meaning in an out-of-the-ordinary way? Isn’t the strength of punctuation it’s ability to direct the reader which way to read and understand someone else’s ideas, because there are myriad ways in which they could be presented?

I wonder if what is really behind this unexpected resistance is a lack of confidence. Perhaps my students are happy for me to read their work, but they don’t think it’s good enough for anyone else to read.
I really hope not.
These are all vibrant, bright young adults with different talents, interests and experiences. Each of them has a valuable perspective on the world around them.

Phase 2 of my brilliant plan is going to have to be encouragement. I will communicate to every student that their ideas and feelings and responses are valid and interesting. I will remind them that they are unique and valued. I will laugh with them, work with them and then remind them that the Internet is there, waiting for each of them to conquer it.

Here goes.
I think I am going to be exhausted.

Going digital in the classroom.

I’m about to try some new and exciting things with my senior high school English students.

We have already been using a virtual classroom on edmodo.com  to communicate with each other, post assignments and reminders, participate in quizzes and polls, and to turn in assignments.  This has been a great success – a student can lose a piece of paper but they are never so keen to lose their connection to the internet.

This year, we are going to advance to some more creative uses of online spaces and tools.

Rather than making posters that they will throw away, we’re going to try some online collaborative space.
We will be using PC apps like Twiddla, Popplet and Wallwisher, or iPad apps such as Popplet, Mindmeister and Idea Sketch where students can collaborate and present their ideas visually.

Of course, this is not intended to replace writing – essays, creative pieces, opinions, and the like… but to help students crystallise and organise their ideas as part of the creative and analytical processes.

They will also be challenged to use blogs on WordPress, tumblr or Pinterest instead of hard copy scrapbooks.  They will be encouraged to present their writing folios online, enabling others to read their work and be inspired by each others as authors, not just students submitting an assignment.

This isn’t just “going digital for the sake of going digital”.  I’m hoping that it will engage and interest them, not only in what they are doing individually but also in what their classmates are doing, too.  Wouldn’t it be great if they could inspire, encourage and help one another through collaboration and presentation?

We are not throwing conventional literacy out the window. Each student will be writing with pen and paper every week, developing their skills of creative and analytical thinking and writing, and responding to the ideas and challenges delivered by a range of texts.   My aim is to complement the conventional literacy skills of my students with creative, considered and directed engagement in the digital world.

It’s an amazing world that we live in. I know some teachers have to be dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ into the world of online resources and publishing, but I’m keen. I believe that my students and I are going to love it.