We educators keep hoping for certainty and stability. Many of us have assumed that we could create a predictable and linear path to learning for our students. However, since the pandemic, we are humbled by the realization that our best laid plans may not address the needs of the moment. As the anxiety for living with the uncertainty of not knowing what or how to respond to the issues that continue to arise increases, so does our frenetic ambition to make up for what we feel we have lost. As a result, we may be entering this school year with a sense of loss of agency.
The pandemic suspended our traditional classrooms and methods of teaching, forcing many of us teachers to revise our long-established approaches in order to better meet the needs of our students. As we return to normalcy, we should remember that many of these changes can and should be carried forward into the traditional classroom. As a seventh-grade history teacher, I found that while teaching virtually I made crucial adjustments to four main areas of my practice: establishing connections with students, designing student schedules, introducing content, and assessing student learning. These changes, necessary for a successful online learning environment, will also improve my students’ in-person learning experience.
Since remote learning began, we’ve all had moments when we’ve asked a question of our class, only to be met with a grid of faces—or black boxes—that is utterly silent. Whether you’re trying to generate a discussion or assess learning, the hardest part can often be simply drawing the students out of their shells.
Of course, this dilemma predates remote learning, and teachers have developed many tools for shaking a class out of that stupor and making sure that all students, and not just the avid hand-raisers, get involved in an activity. One of my favorites is the Carousel: it gets every student engaged and cooperatively thinking about an idea. The pace is quick enough to keep them active, and both you and your students can assess knowledge or assemble understanding quickly and thoroughly. Fortunately, all parts of this activity can translate easily to an online environment.
Bringing creativity into the classroom isn’t only for art teachers! Creativity hinges on discovery, and as educators we can intentionally set the stage for those moments of discovery to happen. Creativity is also intrinsically tied to collaboration–whether individually, by engaging different aspects of the self in conversation, or collectively, by communicating with others to build something together. Creativity is about being ingenious, resourceful, and taking risks. Whether your focus is math or reading, science or history, coding or painting, creativity is an essential ingredient to learning, engagement, and sparking curiosity and joy. Every teacher, no matter their subject area, can borrow from the Zoom-friendly exercises below to jumpstart their students’ creativity and prepare them for the lesson ahead.
Imagine my student’s surprise when Elizabeth Acevedo complimented her analysis of her poem , or when Nate Marshall tweeted that a student’s blog on his poem was “dope” and “fresh.” Students feel recognized and validated, and these interactions are one of the most rewarding benefits to teaching living poets.
The #TeachLivingPoets movement started as a simple hashtag—a way for me to share my favorite poems and ways to teach them on social media. In 2017, after Skyping with poet R. A. Villanueva, whose poems we had read in class, my students begged me to set up another call; they wanted more. We ended up Skyping with him three times and the reaction I saw in my students was pure teaching gold. They were enthralled. They wrote guitar songs set to his poems. They wrote poems responding to his poems. They were excited—about poetry! The following year, social media interaction and Skype video calls quickly morphed into poetry readings and classroom visits.
I have just completed my fourth week of teaching college-level courses online. With each class session I have had to make new pedagogical shifts, which are as applicable in a K-12 online setting as they are in a higher-ed environment. I mostly teach preservice teachers at Whittier College, a small liberal arts college in Southern California, known (for better or worse) for being Richard Nixon’s alma mater. My specialization is second language acquisition and designing equitable environments for English language learners (ELLs) within school systems. Historically, ELLs in classrooms have been relegated to little or no classroom participation. ELLs have not been required, or oftentimes, expected to speak in the classroom setting. As I oftentimes remind my preservice teachers, the person talking the most is learning the most, so we must require all students to speak and be engaged in the classroom setting. I am taking this lesson to heart as I transition my own classrooms to an online setting, where students can easily become passive and disengaged, whether they are K-12 students or preservice teachers themselves.
The beginning of the school year can be stressful for students and teachers alike. What better time to introduce a calming break within the school day? By structuring a quiet minute at the start of class, after lunch, or when transitioning between activities, we offer students and faculty a chance to catch their breath, literally. By offering our students the gift of quiet, even for a moment or two, we can transform our classrooms into a zone of peace. I hope this post, composed of excerpts from my book, Classroom Yoga Breaks (2016), will inspire you to create some moments of stillness in your days at school.
Here’s a mystery: why, when I talk
to teachers about what literature they teach, does crime fiction rarely if ever
make the list? I can make some guesses: lurid subject matter, graphic
descriptions of gore or sex, a kind of literary snobbery, anticipated parent and/or
administration disapproval. However, having spent the last several years reading
crime fiction—primarily from countries outside the U.S.—I could easily put
together a collection of titles whose content is in no way lurid, does not
truck in gore, and handles sex scenes, if any, in mature and discreet ways. That
leaves the presumption that crime fiction is not serious literature and should
therefore not be taught in school. Let me use the rest of my allotted word
count to help us get beyond the loner, gumshoe, Sam Spade stereotypes and
create an argument for those outside your classroom who would raise eyebrows or
hackles or worse.