When I started my remote teaching journey six weeks ago, I felt somewhat daunted: how would I navigate my way around this beast called google classroom, create engaging interactive worksheets and conduct a virtual lesson? I was concerned for good reason; born on the heels of the baby-boomers, I am a cyber-immigrant not a native like my students or even many of my colleagues.
Fortunately, I had the support of my millennial colleagues who quickly showed me the full google suite of applications. In no time, I had created classes and sent invitations to my students. I waited patiently as each student jumped on board by accepting my invite. Suddenly, I had to produce something and quickly created my first google doc assignment. My topic for Year 7 German was die Schule (school) so I quickly created an interactive task comprising all the features of a regular worksheet but with extra stimulus material: a short video of the German school system. This would create the hook to pull my students in, ignite their curiosity and get them thinking. I quickly scheduled the lesson, hit send and hoped for the best.
Surprisingly, most students not only submitted the worksheet but had also taken the additional step of photographing the numbers they had written in their exercise book. The images were sitting in my inbox. I suddenly realized that the remote teaching environment had not only allowed for more student initiative but also a deeper level of cooperation than classroom teaching. In the classroom, it is predominantly the teacher’s role to keep students on task, ensure notes are taken and that new knowledge is applied. Here, in this more distant environment, students were taking the lead, showing autonomy and doing the reminding themselves.
The assignment had also included a listening and pronunciation task. This same google doc had allowed me to embed an audio file, which students could access easily. The worksheet also allowed me to mark the lesson and give my students timely feedback with areas for improvement. This lesson had achieved most aspects of a face-to-face lesson but without the busyness and sometimes disruption of a regular classroom lesson. This had conveniently fallen away to reveal a more targeted approach to teaching.
A few days later, I sent the invitation to our first virtual lesson and before long; I was in regular communication with Tim the red Ferrari, Gemma the French bulldog and Lana the furry feline. I grew accustomed to the icons that represented my students during these virtual lessons. Some icons spoke, these were the more social students while others preferred to type their questions and answers into the chat-box. They were my more reserved students, some on the spectrum, who during classroom teaching were also reserved. Often for these students, the typical busyness and at times loudness of the classroom is a negative influence on their learning. Through the chat function, these students had found their voice. As the weeks progressed, these students not only survived but also thrived in this space.
Sadly, my remote teaching and learning journey came to an end last week and on Tuesday, many students and teachers headed back into the classroom to recommence face-to-face teaching. Undoubtedly, the majority of teachers and students were looking forward to the return to face-to-face teaching; explicit instruction is easier, student attendance and progress easier to monitor and students are connected socially.
However, before we contract back around our old pedagogy, I do feel there is much to learn from this expansion of ideas. I am sure I am not the only teacher who will approach classroom teaching with fresh eyes and am equally sure there are more students in more schools who will look to a more autonomous and inclusive learning environment.