I sighed, rolled over and picked up the ancient laptop that was charging beside the bed. I opened it, came to the FI/RE blog and started typing. It was good, I suppose, that for the first time in over 3 weeks I felt like writing on the blog. But why did it have to be at 1:17 AM?
Teaching from home has been going on for 2 weeks. It’s hectic, but also rewarding when you see how the kids have risen to the challenge and are producing some excellent work. It makes me laugh when I hear the media or many parents on Facebook or Twitter whinge about having to “homeschool” their children. They’re NOT homeschooling! Homeschooling is when the parent selects the curriculum, organises each lesson, supervises the work, marks the work and is basically responsible for everything. Here? ‘All’ they have to do is get their child/ren to sit down, open their laptop and do the work that their teachers have assigned them. Too easy!
Or is it? Readers attuned to punctuation would have noticed that I wrote ‘all’ they have to do. Some parents are discovering that their child isn’t the perfect, angelic student they thought they were. Some kids are difficult to keep on task. I call them my “bright, shiny object” kids or my “wriggly puppies.” These are the kids who, when I see they’ve submitted work onto the Google Classroom, I smile, knowing that their parents must have been standing over them every step of the way, battling with them to finish the assignment and turn it in.
So what does teaching from home actually look like?
First off, let me set the scene. Here in Victoria during our stage 3 lockdown, schools are technically still open, but only for the children of essential workers and for those kids who are considered ‘at risk’, (where school is their safe place away from home – the welfare team know who they are and are keeping tabs on them). Every other child is expected to learn from home. My friend who is a primary teacher heard one parent turn up on the first day of school attempting to drop her son off because “I’m an essential worker.” She’s a florist! She left, taking her son with her.
I teach 2 year 7 English classes and a year 9 Drama class at a very large secondary school in a leafy, comfortably middle-class suburb in Melbourne. We are a public school, but one that is highly sought after by parents who want excellent academic results but would rather put their money into buying a house in the school zone instead of paying exorbitant private school fees. (Can’t complain about that – it’s what I did myself, after all!) We’re one of the state government’s flagships for public education.
So around a decade ago, we began to accidentally position ourselves really well for this lockdown. We are heavily technology-based, with every student issued with their own chromebook, every classroom has an interactive whiteboard, and even the most technologically-challenged teachers (that’d be me) are used to using on-line platforms and methods of teaching.
So the actual nuts and bolts of online teaching isn’t really a huge problem. For example, anything I don’t know how to do, I can jump online and send an email to the other 12 teachers in the year 7 English team. Someone always comes back with a solution. If I, or a student, have a problem with anything computer-based, we have the school’s IT team available at the end of a phone call or email.
I love those guys! Technology and I have an uneasy, wary relationship.
The real learning curve has been adapting the curriculum to online learning. A huge amount of work has been put in by every teacher at the end of last term and over the holidays. We’ve been adapting all of our lessons and assessments so that they can be delivered easily and clearly to the kids, as well as working out the best ways that they can submit each task for us to look at.
Some subjects are easier than others. English, for example, is easier than Drama or Music. But even English has it’s challenges. The first task in the year 7 curriculum for term 2 was a wide reading oral presentation. In normal times, the kids design a slideshow or powerpoint, then stand up in front of the class and deliver a speech, telling us all about a book they’ve read.
Easy enough to organise when they’re all in class. But how do they deliver this when they’re in iso?
Turns out that there’s a program called Screencastify where they can deliver their speech on screen while having their slideshow scroll by behind them, just as they would in class. The kids were given the first week of term to get their speeches written, their slideshows put together and to film themselves delivering their speech with their slideshow. Tuesday this week was the big day when they had to submit their work.
This all sounds good, right? Ha! Tuesday’s supposed to be my day off. I was working flat-out from 8 – 6. I didn’t have time to take a shower and get out of my pjs until lunchtime.
The emails! I’ve never had so many!
The work not filmed properly!
The work being submitted to me via email (where I can’t open it) rather than the Classroom! Seemed like hundreds of them…
I have 56 year 7 kids. Twelve and thirteen year olds aren’t renowned for attentive listening at the best of times, but I was astounded at how many of them clearly failed to read the instructions given to them in emails, on the Google Classroom and in their daily lesson plans. So much time wasted in redirecting kids back to the videos I’d posted, showing them how to download Screencastify and showing them step by step how to submit their work properly.
Some kids did it perfectly first time, (the angels!), others needed a nudge in the right direction, (those adorable doofuses!) while others needed So Many Emails directing them to actually read what I’d sent them…(I probably shouldn’t say what I was calling this group of kids by the end of the day after the 600th email!) This is all stuff that when, if you’re in a classroom side by side with them, can be fixed with a 30-second talk. Communicating via email is a different beast.
We got there in the end. I only have 2 kids that I’m chasing up – everyone else has done it. Because I was online the entire day on Tuesday, I ended up marking the orals as they came in, so the kids got their marks on the same day. I even received an appreciative email from one of the parents. That made my day! Usually, when we hear from parents it’s not a good thing…
Meanwhile, in the first week of term, I was dealing with how to teach Drama online. Obviously we are going to have to use videos to assess any performance tasks, so I decided that for the first two weeks I’d set them a little video task and get them used to the process of filming, then submitting it to the Google Classroom for me to look at. They’d learn how to do it before the work they were handing in was work that would go on their reports.
The work I set for the first week of term was to get them to film themselves telling a 1-minute story – using only their hands. They were given this on the Wednesday and they had until Friday to get it done and uploaded onto the Classroom.
After a flurry of emails asking various questions, the videos started to arrive. A few of them were very basic, but most were superb! It was clear that the kids were itching to sink their teeth into something after 2 weeks of school holidays in lockdown.
The stories that the kids chose to explore ranged from:
*a pair of hands representing someone drowning. (She had a glass of water off-camera and was gurgling into it as her hands slowly subsided.)
*two ‘people’ making a trade for a bike. This vid had subtitles to help tell the story.
*a hand packing a little car with a picnic basket, driving it into the country (parking the car under what looked suspiciously like a bonsai) and enjoying an al fresco lunch. This had a musical soundtrack, tiny little props and excellent editing.
* a boy who handed his video in late after I sent an email to his Mum had 2 hands talking. One was a student and the other was an irate parent telling him off for not doing a Drama asignment. This one made me laugh a lot!
*Hands dancing, teaching aerobics classes, being stuck at home in lockdown, being bullied, going on a hike and ‘hunting’ cats. I found out Darby has the most adorable kitten I’ve ever seen. At the end, when the ferocious kitten was joyfully ‘attacking’ the hand hunting it, its purring was so LOUD!
This week I’m getting the Drama kids to look around the house and put together a 30 second soundscape made up of ordinary household items. They can do things like drag something across carpet, bang pots and pans together, slam doors, record the beeps from a microwave etc. Then they have to put together a movement performance to this soundscape, film it and send it in to me.
This isn’t an easy task, but surprisingly, the kids have been much less angsty about it than they were the week before. I’m hopeful that as the weeks go on and we all get used to how the whole remote teaching thing works, things will calm down and people will be a lot less anxious. Anyway, I gave them this task yesterday and it’s due tomorrow. I’m interested to see what they come up with.
Next week – I’ll hit them with a script that will be assessed. In normal times they’d have 2 weeks to get a performance ready. Now, I’m giving them 3 weeks.
During this time, we’ve been directed to make the kids feel supported and cared for, while not overwhelming them with too much work. We have to keep in mind that while some kids will have a calm, quiet home to do their schoolwork in, most will have other siblings hanging around, often loud, younger ones. They’ll probably have parents also working from home, maybe all of them trying to work from the same dining table.
Also, kids are stressed about this rupture to our normal routine. In the drama videos, but even in our written English work, it’s amazing how often the kids have referenced Covid-19. We’re expecting kids to complete the work we give them, but we know that some kids simply can’t or won’t do it. We’ll follow up, but at the end of the day, if a kid refuses to do the work, a term off isn’t going to make a huge difference in the scheme of things.
Speaking of following up work that isn’t submitted on time, here’s a tweet I sent after the year 7 Oral Presentations:
The funny thing is, the next morning most of those late students were among the first to hand in the work given out for Wednesday’s lesson. I’m betting they had irritable parents standing over them making sure that they knuckle down and do what they’re supposed to!
As far as teaching in lockdown, on the whole I’m enjoying it. We teach some lovely kids and their “Thanks, Miss!” emails when I send feedback on their work bring a smile to my face. (Which, when you think about it, is a stupid thing to say. It isn’t as if I could smile anywhere else on my body!) Teaching totally online is a challenge that I never thought I’d ever do – it’s not as if I’m teaching in the remote corners of the Northern Territory, for example, where distance ed is a normal thing.
I’m not missing my near 2 hours in the car on a workday. I’m able to wake naturally at about 7 or 8 AM and start my workday in the sunlight. That’s nice. I like teaching with my dogs beside me. And they, of course, are LOVING having Ryan25 and I home all the time. They’ll be devastated when life returns to normal.
Do I miss the classroom? No, not yet. If ever. After all, I know we’ll be back in a few weeks. Term 2 won’t last forever. This will be an interesting blip in my career, not something that will forever change how I teach my students.
The last two weeks have been hectic. I haven’t worked so hard in my life and made so few steps during a workday! My fitbit has thrown up its hands in disgust at how few steps I make on an Assessment Task day. But as I said, once both we and the kids become more familiar with how this whole thing works, I’m sure that life will calm down, the emails will be fewer and we’ll all just get on with the job.
Because that’s what’s happening. Our students are being taught. They’re still learning – not just about academic things but about surviving a crisis, getting along with people and being resilient. They’re learning not just from their teachers but by all they see around them.
This will be a time in history that they’ll look back on, hopefully with fond memories. They won’t remember those English questions about the novel that they submitted or that Maths test on Chapter 12 that they did. They’ll remember that their teachers cared. That they got to know their families better than ever before. That by all of us working together as a community, we can slow down the spread of an unthinking, uncaring virus and save lives by not overwhelming the hospitals.
They’ll have some funny memories. One of my year 7 kids – let’s call him Max – started off his oral presentation standing in a bath. His voice was all echo-ey from being in a bathroom. I was wondering why on earth he’d do this when he got to the sentence – “Then Percy Jackson discovered that he was the son of Poseidon, the God of the sea.” His father stepped into shot and threw a bucket of water all over him. It was hilarious! Max kept going, voice quivering a bit from suppressed laughter. Towards the end of his speech, he mentioned Percy Jackson having a lightning bolt as a weapon. His Dad, out of shot this time, turned the bathroom lights off and on a few times. It was fantastic. Max’s face was a joy to see. He won’t forget things like this.
So that’s what teaching from behind a computer is like. I’ve learned a huge amount about tech. I’m doing bleeding-edge teaching in delivering lessons in ways I’ve never had to before.
I’ve discovered that remote teaching means that the school day doesn’t end at 3:10. Kids (and I) are online all day. I have to close my laptop at 5PM and walk away, or else I’d be teaching till 10 PM at night.
I’ve learned to be more patient with kids than I ever thought I’d be. I’ve also learned that kids are flexible and creative and will rise to the occasion if you give them the chance.
Anyway, I began this post at 1:17 AM and it’s now 4:48 AM. Fortunately, it’s my day off tomorrow because I’ll definitely need a nap after lunch after writing this! I hope that this has been of interest to people. It’s a funny old time we’re living through.
I hope you and yours are all well. Stay strong, stay sensible and stay home.