Article

December 28th, 2020

Educator Voice: 20 teachers on learning during COVID — “The wins we experience deserve a voice.”

CoronavirusEducationOnline Learning
Chanea Bond, literacy educator.

 

Editor’s note: A couple of weeks ago, literacy educator Chanea Bond (pictured above) along with IEP teacher Courtney Johnson were discussing over Twitter the need for sharing good stories about teaching this year. We have Mrs. Bond and Ms. Johnson to thank for inspiring and supporting us in this callout. So, as we end a very difficult year, we look at the things that have actually gone right in the classroom, which starts with creative and adaptable teachers and students, showing amazing resilience.

 

by Dave Nemetz, math teacher, Herndon Middle School, Reston, Virginia

Not so much my lessons as it is making connections and building relationships with my students. It’s much more difficult in an online atmosphere, but many of the kids have adapted, connected and worked hard.

Not so much my lessons as it is making connections and building relationships with my students.

 

Frank Cirillo, fourth and fifth grade ELA, Coral Sunset Elementary, Boca Raton, FL

It isn’t a lesson, and it may not sound like a big deal, but a handheld, wireless, trackball mouse has been a huge help. I have 20 students, half brick and mortar and half at home, virtual. The virtual students are in a Google Meet, shown on my class Smartboard. I am able to stand in front of my class, address all students at once, and able to manipulate my Meet and presentations seamlessly. A small handheld keyboard has been nice, too.

 

by Josh Rosen, special education ICT, IS 059, Springfield Gardens, NY

The premise of my lesson is the spirit of giving and kindness through teacher modeling. The creative teaching in this lesson includes combining a drive by to check in on students, as well as bearing gifts for the holidays. (A book to encourage reading & cards to let them know I appreciate them).

The creative teaching in this lesson includes combining a drive-by to check in on students, as well as bearing gifts for the holidays.

I’m sure students and their families will be surprised and taken away by the gesture. Students may forget what we say, but they will never forget how we made them feel. Leaving students with lessons of kindness and giving is priceless and will be beyond rewarding when reflecting upon my first year as an educator.

 

by Shari Conditt, AP government and history, Woodland High School, Woodland, Wash.

“What to a Slave is the Fourth of July” is a powerful and dynamic speech written by Frederick Douglass. I teach the students how to do a close read, using annotation techniques, so that they can engage meaningfully with the text. In our remote learning environment, each student was given a copy of the speech. After spending two days with the speech, examining definitions, considering word usage and analyzing text, the students were placed into breakout rooms in Google Meet. Each group was given the prompt, “Is Frederick Douglass a patriot?”

I was able to go from breakout room to breakout room listening to my students share out loud their own analysis of this complex text.

The students solely relied on the text as they carefully analyzed the words of the author and considered his perspective. I was able to go from breakout room to breakout room listening to my students share out loud their own analysis of this complex text. They were insightful and brilliant in their commentary.

This lesson, one I’ve taught in a “normal” year, worked in our remote setting. I was afraid it wouldn’t, but I’m so glad I tried. I learned to keep taking risks, knowing that my students will do their best to make this new remote learning format work under the toughest of conditions.

 

by Joy Barnes-Johnson, chemistry, Princeton High School, Princeton, New Jersey

Weaponized Matter(s) examines matter/energy contextualized using film representations and histories that cover the discoveries of nuclear power and the imagination of weapons of mass destruction.

We’re discussing why Einstein chose NOT to participate in the Manhattan Project and the cost Haber paid to bring mustard gas/chlorine into the landscape of war in the 1910s.

We’re teaching atomic theory, energy crisis and social justice challenges; exploring why tear gas and microwave weapons are being used in 2020 in the same ways that we’re discussing why Einstein chose NOT to participate in the Manhattan Project and the cost Haber paid to bring mustard gas/chlorine into the landscape of war in the 1910s. We’re looking at nuclear waste, landfills (Westlake) and superfund sites combining housing, labor and class issues.

 

by Richard Byrne, computer science, Oxford Hills Technical School, South Paris, Maine

Google Jamboard has been my go-to tool this fall. I use it in place of a physical whiteboard and in place of Zoom’s whiteboard to illustrate points for my computer networking students. I’ve also assigned Jamboards for students to create diagrams to share with their classmates and me.

One of the ways I’ve used it this fall is by assigning individual Jamboards to students via Google Classroom. On their assigned Jamboards they created multiple page network diagrams. I was able to view and comment on their diagrams remotely. In our hybrid environment only half of my students come to class on any given day. By creating the diagrams in advance and having me approve them in advance, students were able to work much more efficiently when they did come to class to complete their hands-on network configuration assignments.

 

by Vanessa Morales, IEP, New Heights Academy Charter School, Harlem, New York

Virtual learning has proved to be so challenging for both teachers and students. I am a 6th-grade special education teacher, and I did a lesson at the beginning of the year teaching my students about their IEPs (Individualized Educational Plans). I taught them about the different services that they would receive and the supports they should get in the classroom. Many of them didn’t know they had IEPs, so they were shocked and confused at first.

But once I told them that this is a way for teachers to know how they learn best and what supports they should have in the classroom, they were so into it!

They asked if this meant that they were dumb, which broke my heart! But once I told them that this is a way for teachers to know how they learn best and what supports they should have in the classroom, they were so into it! They said things like, “I can’t believe someone can read my test to me all the time!” and this really pushes them to advocate for themselves in their learning environment and hopefully in life!

 

by D. King, middle school health, New Heights Academy, New York, New York

I noticed students excelled in class when it came time to do independent work and shied away from being vulnerable. I wanted to push my students to move from good to great. I did so by creating assignments where students felt comfortable using their own voices throughout. My most recent assignment was a photo-voice journal where students were encouraged to not only share their lives with myself throughout the beginning of virtual learning but also with the rest of their classmates through onscreen presentations and illustrations.

 

by Liat Olenick, pre-K, PS 414, Brooklyn, New York

I invited my kiddos to dress up as pirates and bring pennies and foil and a bin of water to our session. Then I shared a challenge with them: could they make a boat to carry all their treasure—the pennies—and keep it from sinking??!! Then we spent time trying out boat shapes and counting how many pennies we could fit in our foil boats. I think they enjoyed it, and it was absurdly cute seeing them share their boats in pirate gear!

 

by Samantha Stearns, social studies, Roosevelt Middle School, River Forest, Illinois

My students really enjoyed our election unit. We focused on building background knowledge on voter suppression and how limited access to the ballot has been a challenge in the U.S. historically. To then see how people like Stacey Abrams worked to increase voter turnout in Georgia was the perfect culmination of our study and really let students connect the past to the present. I think it let students see that past historical injustices still impact Americans today but also how we can work to correct our course.

We focused on building background knowledge on voter suppression and how limited access to the ballot has been a challenge in the U.S. historically.

 

by Alicia Oglesby, social emotional learning (SEL), Bishop McNamara High School, District Heights, Maryland

A SEL lesson for 12th graders who are applying to college and learning virtually included the stress-management technique of a body scan. The body scan is designed to bring focus and quiet, non-judgmental attention to every area of the body, from toes to head. It includes deep breathing and goes a step further by offering forgiveness, energy or whatever that student’s body needs to make it through the pandemic. We focused on the tension in your shoulders that can store stress of police violence against Black and brown people. We offered relief to the eyes that stare at a screen all school day. The students loved it! I added a pre and post test of stress level on a 1 to 10 scale.

 

by Stu Stein, broadcasting, Mepham High School, Bellmore, New York

Our broadcasting students across four grades collaborated to keep our two weekly shows on air all semester long and ended the semester with this collaborative news magazine documenting life in a COVID-restricted school. Our program will require a major rebuild when all this is over, but in the meantime the kids continue to create quality work under the most difficult of circumstances.

 

by Sam Westerdale, African American studies, Rangeview High School, Aurora, Colorado

In order to increase discourse and create a virtual classroom community, I began making Google Slides in my Warm-Ups with whatever I could Google regarding “One Gotta Go”—types of holiday food, television series, soda brands, Pixar films, you name it. I once had a 10-minute debate on which chicken nuggets reigned supreme in my U.S. History class and just gleefully let it happen. The class was in giggles and that was so needed amidst the pain of 2020. It also encouraged students to be on time, so that they wouldn’t miss that part of class.

The class was in giggles and that was so needed amidst the pain of 2020.”

 

by Ann Stiltner, ninth grade special ed English, Hamden High School, Hamden, Conn.

I teach Romeo & Juliet to my freshmen. It is key that students know the characters. I usually have them work on sorting activities in class with index cards. I had the idea to use Jamboard. I created Post-it notes with each characters name on the screen and with their descriptions. Students moved the Post-it notes around to match the description with the character. They shared their screens with me so I could check their matches. I am excited to find a way to incorporate hands-on activities into my virtual classroom.

 

Sari Beth Rosenberg, U.S. History, High School for Environmental Studies, New York, New York

I have been teaching U.S. History at a NYC public high school for the past 19 years. Whenever we get to the Election of 1860, I have deemed it “Lincoln Day” in class. Students are encouraged to honor our 16th President by wearing a t-shirt, dressing up like Lincoln, or any other creative ways they can dream up for the day. I always wear a Lincoln t-shirt and we pose in pictures. Then we spend the day in class studying the 1860 election map, reading an excerpt from his First Inaugural Address and discuss his evolving views about slavery, abolition, and race.

We had Lincoln in sunglasses, Lincoln with a cat perched on his soldier, zombie Lincoln, Lincoln in color, and of course many classic Lincoln images as well. …It bonded all of us, even though we have not met in person–yet.

This year, I could not let the Lincoln Day tradition go. So, I told students they would get extra credit if they changed their Google Meet avatar to they favorite image of Lincoln. Most of them did it! We had Lincoln in sunglasses, Lincoln with a cat perched on his soldier, zombie Lincoln, Lincoln in color, and of course many classic Lincoln images as well. I wore my Lincoln “That’s So Four Score and Seven Years Ago” t-shirt for the occasion. It bonded all of us, even though we have not met in person–yet.

 

by Ashley Smith, Spanish, Northern High School, Durham, North Carolina

I filmed a virtual field trip for my Spanish I and II classes this fall. I went (with my three kids) to La Superior Supermarket and Bakery, purchased fresh pan de muerto for Día de los Muertos, and bought some treats and snacks, too. I shared live in Zoom class what the bread looked like and how delicious it tasted. Students were so excited to learn about the bakery and the celebration of Dias de los Muertos and said they were “drooling over the computer” because the bread looked so good. It was a true hook to keep them interested in learning the language and learning more about the culture.

Students were so excited to learn about the bakery and the celebration of Dias de los Muertos and said they were “drooling over the computer” because the bread looked so good.

 

by Doug Scott, dept. chair, engineeering, Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton, Mass.

My focus has been on maintaining student experiences in engineering. There’s no magic wand. It takes hard work. I’ve done okay but certainly lost focus a few times. It takes three times as much work to maintain a fraction of what we would normally accomplish.

During the pandemic, I worked with students to build an outdoor robotics field to save a learning experience for kids that would have been lost to Covid.

A couple of positives? Since I was hired, we have climbed the robotics/engineering program from 7% girls to 35% five years later. During the pandemic, I worked with students to build an outdoor robotics field to save a learning experience for kids that would have been lost to Covid. Take a look here:

 

by Chanea Bond, English II, Southwest High School, Ft. Worth, Texas

Finish the sentence: I wish my teachers knew…

This small writing prompt changed the dynamic of my classroom and has served as an entry point into the learning experiences of even my most reluctant students. Many wrote about the failures of the U.S. education system. Some complained about specific teachers and specific ways of teaching. They all spoke candidly about their fears and anxieties and some even graciously thanked their teachers for their patience during this difficult time.

Even though I’ve never seen some of their faces, my students know they have a safe space to write and think through the difficult things, and that’s the very best feeling I’ve had this year.

This moment allowed students an opportunity to be honest and forthright without fear of retribution. Even though I’ve never seen some of their faces, my students know they have a safe space to write and think through the difficult things, and that’s the very best feeling I’ve had this year.

 

by Tynisa Martin, English/humanities, Village Academy, Far Rockaway, New York

Pandemic PIVOT! As a seventh & eighth grade special education teacher, I saw the pandemic bring new levels of uneasiness, frustration and fear in the minds of my students. I needed to PIVOT and zone in on their social emotional learning needs.

Thus, Ms. Martin’s Netflix Movie Night was born!

Students voted on a movie selection, and Tuesday nights we gathered on Google meets with friends and family to laugh, joke and give live commentary.

Students voted on a movie selection, and Tuesday nights we gathered on Google meets with friends and family to laugh, joke and give live commentary. A student was selected weekly to have pizza delivered during our movie night! This raised student motivation and increased family engagement in our class community.

 

by Judith Jeremie, social studies, Brooklyn Technical High School, Brooklyn, NY

One of my best lessons in this remote environment was one centered around choice. Students had the ability to choose how they wanted to go about the day — stay in the main room with me for questions and troubleshooting, pick a quiet breakout room to do work individually, or pick a breakout room where they could work as a group. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and they said they appreciated that they could work comfortably in whatever environment they wanted.

 

by Courtney Johnson, Queens, New York, IEP Teacher

Heartbroken, confused, inadequate. Frustrated, alone, and this WiFi keeps acting up! The feelings of defeat plague many educators. A lack of support perpetuates a culture of misunderstanding.

But what happens when we support one another? What happens when we share our successes and glorify our wins to transform the educational space? Education is evolution. Let’s grow together!

We are not perfect, but we are resilient. The wins we experience deserve a voice. They deserve to be shared.

Virtual learning is new to many, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting up each day and continuing the journey. We turn on our laptops and take a deep breath. We schedule our meetings and post our assignments. We await feedback and maintain a digital grade book. We take care of our families while we take care of our students and their families virtually. We’ve brought work home and each day we push to make the next better than the last. We are not perfect, but we are resilient. The wins we experience deserve a voice. They deserve to be shared. Virtual learning deserves a chance and our students deserve an interactive, engaging, and exciting education rooted in high-expectations, delivered with grace.

*

Student: Ms. Johnson, I’m over remote learning! I miss you. I miss school. This is too hard. I can’t keep up with all the assignments on Google classroom. I hate remote!

Ms. J: (heartbroken) I miss all of you. We’ll schedule time on Friday to discuss strategies that work best for our classroom. But tomorrow, we’re going on a field trip!

Student: How? We have to stay home because covid is spreading and people won’t wear masks.

Ms. J: Let me worry about that. Just make sure to bring your science notebooks and pencils to your screen tomorrow. We’re going to explore the rainforest as we end our biodiversity unit.

*

It is when we are challenged that we are able to become champions. It is when we are defeated that we learn how to become defenders. A moment of loss for my students motivated me to develop experiences rooted in gain. I researched virtual field trips and began navigating varied platforms to assist with my lesson. I stumbled across the learning platform Nearpod that allowed me to take my kiddos on a virtual field trip through the rain forest.

I left my class thinking, ‘virtual learning works.’

We shared ideas on our collaborative whiteboard. We hypothesized possible solutions to problems with virtual polls. We engaged in discussions about videos related to the virtual tour and explored the rainforest with the use of a three dimensional photo. The excitement, the engagement, and the “wow, this is cool” statements in their journals motivated me to prepare another lesson, as interactive, for the next day.

I left my class thinking, “virtual learning works.”

Every day may not be as seamless as the last, but each day I look to find a win that will motivate me to make the next day even better. Our virtual learning wins will transform education into a space of success.

 


If you would like to contribute to Educator Voice, please send your idea to Vic Pasquantonio at vpasquantonio@newshour.org.

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