Three major pandemic lessons

Aziz SoubaiThree major pandemic lessons

Aziz Soubai

 

COVID-19 has impacted the world in many negative ways. Because of the pandemic we live in stressful times; airports have been closed and there is a lot of social distancing. Some schools are still closed and there are extra duties waiting teachers and educators. But, in this post Iím not going to talk about the virus; Iím not a scientist. I will, however, share three very positive lessons I have learned from this situation.

Interaction is priceless

Letís begin with the first one. Teachers are irreplaceable. Companies raced against time to design and develop learning management systems and applications, and create or update teaching and learning websites. Many materials and resources are now shared daily online to help students continue education or offer them some kind of remedial work. ďThe tech worldís quickness to react to the pandemic may not be surprising because they were best positioned to make the shift to a more digital world and to benefit from the new status quo.”

These amazing digital tools and devices are doing a great job to improve knowledge retention, improve engagement, and develop 21st century skills. However, face-to-face teaching and interaction is priceless. No matter how sophisticated† technology becomes, it canít equal the real presence of the teacher in an actual classroom.

Collaboration has power

The second point has to do with the power of collaboration. Many schools around the world were shut down because of the pandemic. This was an opportunity for teachers and educators to think of tools or platforms to allow them to stay connected with their learners and with colleagues for continuing professional development. I created Everyone Academy to encourage online collaboration among individuals (teachers, educators, university students, researchers), develop a sense of community, and provide equal chances for everyone to have access to education. The first webinar was with iTDi Faculty, Dr. Stephen Krashen, and then we conducted series of webinars with speakers from different countries like USA, Canada, Japan , Malaysia and Argentina.

I realized that we as educators need each other more than ever and we are only strong and better when we are together. Maybe this will sound like a clichť, but this is the new reality. This also means we need to maximize online and offline collaboration, share more resources, exchange experiences and most of all, train teachers to use educational technology tools.

Focus on what works best for you and your students

The third and final point is related to online or virtual education. †During these stressful times, we had the chance to see many technological tools, and webinars on how to use or integrate these tools in the classroom.† Technology is not reliable all the time, but it is essential for us to learn how to use it effectively. The lesson that I learned is that as teachers we should not try to focus on every technology tool and LMS. †You wonít have the time or energy for that and it will be useless. Here is my tip: try directing your attention and effort to one favourite tool that you think might suit your teaching context and the kind of learners you have. For example, I use Edmodo, and every day I learn new ways to integrate it into my classroom practice. I also train my students to navigate the application, ask questions and submit assignments.

I will conclude by saying that there are so many ways teachers can change the world for the better. One of these ways is continuous online collaboration.† This crisis has shown the huge importance of teacher-teacher relationships. This will in turn improve and strengthen teacher-student relationships, because when we meet and share our classroom challenges we grow and become more creative and innovative. Two heads are always better than one.

Teaching during Challenging Times: A Canadian Perspective

Patrice Palmer profile pictureTeaching During Challenging Times: A Canadian Perspective

Patrice Palmer

 

When I was asked to write this blog post, I thought about what the word challenge means. The Cambridge dictionary definition is:

challenge (n): the situation of being faced with – something that needs great mental or physical effort in order to be done successfully and therefore tests a person’s ability

When I reflect on living and teaching during a global pandemic, challenge is definitely the right word to use. I know for me, the last year has required great mental and physical effort to be active, well, and function at my pre-pandemic level. It hasnít always been easy and Iím not alone.

Challenges teachers face

In preparation for this post, I asked a few colleagues to tell me what their greatest challenges were for them in the last year. Hereís a short list:

    • lack of curriculum guidelines
    • finding balance and letting go of trying to do everything
    • keeping the online students engaged
    • helping students who struggle to maintain structure

Itís no surprise that we perceive ďchallengesĒ in different ways, and that the last year has been full of them in our personal and professional lives.

Depending on where you teach in Canada, you may be in class, teaching online, or in a hybrid model. I currently teach at a college and in March 2020, faculty had a week to get all course content online, including final exams. It was incredibly stressful to pivot so quickly; however, teachers being the professionals they are, made it possible.

Teaching into the abyss

More than a year later, I have yet to step foot in a classroom, and I believe it will not happen in 2021 since we are in a third lockdown in my province. I do like teaching online and havenít really missed having a physical classroom but I do miss personal interaction with students. Because I teach adults, cameras are optional so I usually teach to black squares. A few brave souls will keep their cameras on. My son, who is a college student, told me one of his professors begged students (even a few) to keep their cameras on since she found it hard to teach into the abyss.

One challenge for me has been changing how I teach. In-person methods do not easily translate in Zoom which I quickly learned. In the first week or two, I was speeding through my Powerpoint slides. It wasnít until a brave student unmuted her microphone and asked me to slow down, did I realize what I was doing. Because I couldnít see students taking notes, and then looking up when they were done, I went through content too fast. Now I make sure to stop sharing my screen every few slides to check in, ask questions, and hopefully engage students enough to contribute a comment or ask a question.

Although Iím getting used to not seeing students on Zoom, I do find the silence difficult.† Iíve taken advantage of webinars and articles that provide tips for increasing student engagement. ďZoom fatigueĒ is described as the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with using virtual platforms. Itís real for both teachers and students who are feeling weary. Occasionally, when Iíve finished my online class early, students have reacted with joy and quickly logged out.

The importance of social presence in online learning

Dr. Robin Kay is a Dean at a Canadian University and has written about the importance of social presence in online learning. It is defined as ďthe ability of participants to identify with the community, communicate purposefully in a trusting environment and develop interpersonal relationships by way of projecting their personalitiesĒ. I agree that having a strong social presence is important so I have built in discussion posts and weekly break out rooms. Kay suggests that maximizing social connection among and with students can occur with quick feedback, responding to emails, short videos to the class, and establishing a virtual presence. Iím definitely adding more discussion posts, and a break out room activity in every lecture. Students tell me over and over how much they enjoy break out rooms.

I have also been learning to use new tech tools, like Slido and Wheel of Names† to provide some novelty. Our brains can quickly become tuned out to the mundane so I try to shake things up a bit.

Teacher and student self-care is essential

For the most part, I feel Iíve mastered the challenges of teaching online. However, as a teacher self-care advocate, itís important for me to be aware of my mental health. Daily walks are a must no matter how cold it is here in the winter. Frequent calls to friends lifts my mood. Cooking with my son and watching NBA basketball is an activity that makes me happy. Reading fiction as an escape has been pure bliss. As we enter the second year of the global pandemic, Iím more conscious than ever about my own health and well-being, and making sure students are supported, encouraged and treated with compassion and kindness.

I do believe that at some point, life will return to normal but in the meantime, itís important to remain hopeful. This quote by Dr. Charles Snyder, a psychologist and renowned hope researcher, is a good message during challenging times.

A rainbow is a prism that sends shards of multicolored light in various directions. It lifts our spirits and makes us think of what is possible. Hope is the same Ė a personal rainbow of the mind.

References:

Cambridge Dictionary.

Kay, R. (2020). Thriving in an Online World: A Guide for Higher Education Instructors. Faculty of Education Ontario Tech University, Canada.

Lee, J. (2020). A Neuropsychological Exploration of Zoom Fatigue.

Snyder, C. (2002). Hope Theory.

Dancing on my own (A story of teaching kindergarten online)

Yitzha Sarwono BoonDancing on my own (A story of teaching kindergarten online)

Yitzha Sarwono-Boon

 

It was a weekend in February 2021. I had sent out a few messages to students and got a few lovely messages back. I was in front of my computer, preparing materials for next weekís classes while reading my assistantís reports on studentsí assignments. We were chatting and laughing at our students’ cute and funny photos on Edmodo. We were also discussing video assignments. We were trying to decide which assignments would be posted in a video collage on the school’s Instagram. It all looked so normal, but itís not how it used to be.

A weekend to move everything online

March 2020 was when everything started. We were preparing for our annual championships when two weeks before the event we got the news that it was cancelled, due to the Indonesian government’s warning about this new rising pandemic. Thatís when we knew this was serious. And then a week after that, on the weekend, we were told that by Monday the school would go online. We were given that weekend to move everything to an online platform.

Getting teachers and parents on board

I was lucky that I already had Edmodo and Zoom accounts because we were told that we were going to use those. I knew a thing or two about the platforms (big thanks to iTDi and Shelly Terrell for helping me learn about those platforms). But none of the other teachers or parents in my school knew anything about them. So, we had to teach everyone about them, and we had to do the training online, too, since we couldnít meet. The first two weeks were a bit chaotic since not everyone was on board yet. Some parents were afraid to use Zoom because they were afraid of being hacked, and not all were willing to use Edmodo, because they were reluctant to upload to specific folders. They preferred sending things to teachers by WhatsApp, because it was easier for them.

We had to convince the parents that Zoom could be safe enough because we use a passcode and waiting room for each room, and that Edmodo would place all assignments in an order that would be easy for both parents and teachers to see and manage. We were super lucky that all parents were very supportive and willing to participate, despite being worried at first.

Working around limited Internet data and no WIFI

The next hurdle was the teaching tools. Our school obliged us to use PowerPoint during our lessonís presentation, as well as making and sharing e-worksheets and activities during class so our kids would not get bored. The thing is, those require a lot of Internet data and not all of our teachers have WIFI at home, or a computer to use. I donít have WIFI at home either so teaching using my Mac would be hard on me. I came up with the idea to do all of my teaching using my smartphone. I use an Android phone so it comes with Microsoft apps already installed on it. I tried making PowerPoint using my phone, and it came out quite cool! I could have a bit of animation with the slide, I could even make the letters fly in one by one to build words.

Itís not as fancy as using a computer but it works for our situation. For the e-worksheets and activities I use an app called Canva, which is a photo editor application, but again, it does the job well!

I shared these with the teachers and before long, all of us were able to teach on Zoom completely using our phones!

What my kindergarten classes look like now

I have 18 students in my class. Every Monday we have a one-hour class on Zoom where everyone will join, and we sing and dance. We have our topic of the week plus drawing time and story time. From Tuesday to Friday, the class is divided into three groups of six students. Group A will have a morning session, then Group B will have a session, and after that Group C will have the last session of the day. So basically, I teach the same material three times a day. We have Phonics (reading+writing) on Tuesday, Math on Wednesday, Bahasa Indonesia on Thursday and early grammar + logic exercises on Friday.

Along with the Zoom lesson, we also provide video lessons with the same material in Edmodo so our kids can watch and review our lesson of the day. For lessons like science experiments, arts and crafts, and Montessori practical life activities, we upload the video lessons directly to Edmodo for students to watch. For some assignments, like Montessori activities and early grammar lessons,† I ask my students to send me their work in video format because I need to see them applying what they learned. But for others, like math or language, I ask them to upload a photo of their work to Edmodo.

child doing online lesson

Making sure children get the physical classroom experience online

Teaching online is far more than being in front of the camera, especially for us. We still have to make sure the children get the experience of the classroom: singing and dancing, Zumba exercises, arts and crafts, plus story time. Most of the time during teaching online I look like a crazy girl dancing on my own, singing my lungs out, and jumping around in front of my phone. I know I have to keep my energy up so students can feel it even though we are not in the same room. This is especially important for my students this year. I have never met and taught them before, apart from saying Ďhií in the hall before the pandemic.

Maintaining student connections

I need to make sure that they know that I care and love each of them. Every morning before we start our session, I ask them about their toys or breakfast. Me and my assistant say something to them when we notice somethingís different, like a new haircut or new hair pin. Before long, students started showing and telling us about things that they have or do in their house, and that builds our connection too.

Every Friday I send each student a personal message about how they have been wonderful this week along with simple messages like how I like their writing on the board or how proud I am that they have been able to build a Lego ship and show it to the class. When a student has a birthday, we have a Zoom party celebration and I make a video to post on the school’s Instagram page. Weíve tried to do everything we can to make sure both children and parents are satisfied with our online learning program.

Learning doesn’t stop when the school is closed

It is now term four of our school calendar and Iím so happy that everyone has adjusted well with the situation. Every day I see my students smiling and laughing during the lesson and that’s a huge accomplishment for me. I have never asked my students to mute themselves during my teaching because I like to have them engage in the learning. Iím okay with them shouting their answers and telling stories in the middle of my presentation because that would happen in real class, too, and for me itís part of what makes learning memorable for them. It must be lonely for them, too, to sit at home and look at the screen.

What I have learnt from teaching Kindergarten in this difficult time is that learning doesnít stop just because the school is closed. I think we are super lucky to be living in the time that we are now, because we have the technology that can help us teach despite challenging conditions. So yeah, I may be dancing on my own in my house, but I know somewhere in other houses, there are 18 kids dancing with me. Alone, but together still. And that is my story for the class of 2020-2021.