As we enter a new age of education in the world of COVID 19, I am thinking about how to help my students not only continue with their English literature education, but also to process what they, and we as a nation and a world, are going through right now. Isn’t that why we teach literature and history? To make sense of ourselves and our world? To that end, I assigned a time capsule project. (Thanks here to Karli Hart who generously shared her project worksheet with me and many others through an English teachers Facebook page. I made some changes to her original document to suit my particular students, but it is largely hers.) My students will now write three times per week either about the virus, what’s happening in the world, what’s happening in their homes, how they feel, or what they do to escape thinking about the virus.
As I anticipate receiving my students’ assignments, I realize that I too should participate. We are all in this together, as the saying goes; we are all the primary sources of the future. As we proceed on with home-based learning, I think it is important for us educators to do at least some of the work alongside our kids. This is a new platform for most of us, and some of our tried and true methods and assignments either don’t translate very well to the virtual world or need some major revisions to make them work. The learning curve is steep, and many of us still don’t know how long we’ll be teaching this way. What we do know is we need to be there for our kids now. It’s a good idea to try out some of the assignments along with them and share your results with them. I set up a Google Classroom page for my own time capsule and invited the students and other teachers from my school to join it. There, the students see what is expected of them and see that they are not alone despite their social isolation.
This is my first piece of advice, and it is hardly revolutionary. However, as we adjust to new methods and time schedules, it is perhaps one that we might have forgotten. Write alongside them virtually. Make adjustments to time frames and expectations as needed. In fact, as I was writing this blog, one of my students showed up on Meet to ask if I would post the assignments for the time capsule project for the coming weeks all at once, rather than week by week. This is something I do for them for their independent reading journals; I hadn’t thought of it for this project. But, of course it makes sense. So I did. Now they can work ahead if they wish. And, I don’t have to remember each week to post the assignment again. It’s a win-win. Just like in the physical classroom, sometimes the lessons and assignments don’t work out too well. But, unlike the physical classroom, it can be harder to gauge the effectiveness of the lesson/assignment. We don’t see their faces and their reactions. Even when I Meet or Zoom my kids, many of them turn their cameras and microphones off and use the chat feature most of the time. Trying it out and sharing with them virtually helps both them and you to know what is expected and better equips you to answer their questions and concerns.
Catherine Rauchenberger Conley is a high school English teacher, poet, and writer. For 22 years, she has worked to instill a love of reading in her students at St. Jean Baptiste HS in NYC. She lives in Queens with her husband and cat. The former supports her writing interests; the latter steals her pens. More of her writing is available in Tuck Magazine, The New Verse News, and on her blog at crcreateaday.wordpress.com.