A New Way of Teaching and Learning

The coronavirus pandemic is changing teaching and learning for schools across the country. Tomorrow, Hawaii public school teachers will be back at work to plan instruction for their students. They’ll be working remotely from home and meeting virtually with administrators and their colleagues.

A few years ago, our school received a grant to pilot blended learning with about 25 fourth and fifth graders. Students attended class 3 days a week and accessed their curriculum at home for the other 2 days. Projects and assignments were all submitted on-line. Through this blended learning pilot program, we learned lessons which teachers can consider when they begin planning for virtual learning for their students.
  • According to studies, on-line teachers can burn out more quickly than those who teach in face-to-face environments. This is something we want to avoid. Our blended learning teachers were not available 24/7; they had “office hours” when students could contact them to ask questions. They learned not to respond when a student contacted them after-hours whether it was an email, a comment on the website, or a phone call. 
  • Designing lessons to be placed on-line is challenging, especially if a teacher has not had experience or training. Directions need to be clear and not too lengthy or students may be confused. Teachers need to determine how they will teach a new lesson or a new concept or how they will encourage discussion amongst students. It might be easy for some teachers, but for others, it will be a struggle. 
  • In order to be successful in a virtual classroom, students need to be self-directed. As teachers, we have control over our classrooms. Students are told when to listen and when to talk, when to work, when and where to turn in their assignments, etc. There may be few opportunities for students to learn to organize or manage their time or to have choices in their assignments or even how to share their learning. Our successful blended learning students learned to prioritize, to be organized so they could check what they completed and what they needed to do next. They learned to ask for help, not just from their teacher, but also from their classmates or from tutorials which the teacher created as a resource. They were able to choose their own projects and to determine the best way to share what they learned. This didn’t happen overnight; like any classroom, some students were self-directed from the beginning while others took awhile to get going. Hopefully, since we are in the fourth quarter, students know what is expected of them, and teachers can check in on those students who may need more assistance. Checking-in is imperative to avoid students falling behind. 
  • This is an opportunity for teachers to begin integrating technology seamlessly into their classrooms. Some teachers will have no problem making the transition to a virtual classroom; other teachers will need more support.  In the best possible world, professional development and coaching would have been provided so that teachers are already using blended learning strategies and activities with their students. With this short timeline to prepare a curriculum for students, it might be wiser for some teachers to prepare packets of assignments while also scheduling time to check in with their students via a phone call or a videoconferencing app. Low-tech may be preferable especially for younger students or for teachers who are not yet comfortable with virtual learning.
  • Our kids are much more comfortable with technology than we are as adults. I was amazed that students in the blended learning classroom were able to creatively share their learning using apps that they found on their own.  I remember a second grade teacher sharing PSAs that her students created; a few students figured out how to use an app and taught the rest of their classmates how to use it. Give students some flexibility to share what they’ve learned, and they may surprise you!
This coronavirus pandemic has changed how we live our lives. This is an unprecedented time in history, and students are undoubtedly feeling a range of emotions just as we adults are. They need to write, to document what they’re thinking, what questions they have, what their fears are. They can share those journal entries with you, or they may choose to keep it personal. Dave Wee, my Twitter friend, writes “So . . . I’ve been trying to convince teachers that the one assignment I think every kid doing remote learning in America should be doing is to journal or blog THEIR HISTORIES of this important moment in history and their lives.” I agree with Dave, and I would add that I hope teachers make the time to document about their experiences and their feelings, too.