New Year, New Ideas
It’s hard to imagine that anything positive will come out of this year, but I’ve been thinking about what, if any, lessons I’ve learned from teaching hybrid. We were asked to cover the essentials, to organize all of our materials and handouts online, and to keep our students engaged from behind a screen and from the front of the room.
I definitely know what I miss about in person learning. Talking to students about what they’ve missed and how they can make up work is easy. You just greet them at the door or float around the room during an activity and check in to see how they’re doing. Even if they didn’t plan on talking to you, there you are, chatting about the characters, the plot, the ideas. There’s no need for email when you see a student every day. They can ask questions about your feedback on an essay or a complicated passage from a novel.
In person, it’s easy to know if everyone is thinking, taking notes, and wants to contribute to the conversation. You can see the work happening in real time. But, at some point this year, Zoom life started to feel normal. I could see work in real time on a Google slide or Jamboard. I could chat with students after class like I normally would or find a time to conference. Somehow, we all made it work, and it wasn’t a complete disaster.
Surely, there will be some gaps. Some students became consumed by the stresses and distractions of life at home. But some thrived. They stayed focused. Because we gave less work, they were able to keep up and devote more time to less assignments. Less work also meant less grades, which helped students make better sense of their progress. Maybe we didn’t teach as many novels, but even if we didn’t get to all of them, our students had more time to read slowly, and deliberately, like they should if they really want to feel the emotion of the characters and visualize the places in the story.
Some of my students told me that they started to read outside more often. Lately, I’ve been taking my classes outside, which has been so refreshing and peaceful. It might sound crazy, but when a quiet, shy student speaks on Zoom, I love how I get to hear them clearly through the speakers in the classroom. I realized that those same students loved creating podcasts, video essays, and conducting interviews away from the eyes of their peers.
During our poetry unit, I didn’t get the time to read a few of my favorite poems out loud, because they were so long and we didn’t have time. So, I created an audio recording, something I wouldn’t have done in a normal year. I created screencasts of lectures on the essay, prosody, and literary devices, which allowed students to review the lectures later in the year before they took the AP Literature and Composition exam.
At the beginning of the year, I never thought it would work. I thought about my own daughter in kindergarten, and how behind she would be at the end of the year. But she learned the sounds of letters, then her sight words, and then slowly and surely, she learned to read. Her relentless teacher stayed positive and caring and kept plugging away and my daughter learned to love school more and more. One Friday night, as I tucked her into bed, she cried because I told her there was no school the next day. I’ll never forget that. How can I make my students sad on a Friday night because there’s no school the next day?
One of the most important things I’ve done to grow as a teacher is to simply ask my students what worked and what didn’t. Because it’s the end of the year, they are honest about what texts they liked and didn’t like, and what activities they got the most out of. I read their suggestions and take the summer to rethink everything.
I created a self-paced online course to help teachers get fresh, new ideas over the summer and to start the school year with energy and enthusiasm. Let’s get excited about next year and let’s never forget how lucky we are to have a job where we can have amazing conversations about literature and the scheme of things.
English language arts teacher
Teacher's Workshop, self=paced professional development for secondary ELA teachers