Life in the time of Corona, or rather, it’s ok if I wear pajama bottoms with my cute blouse, right?
In mid-March 2020, as I headed into spring break, I never considered we wouldn’t be going back. And just like that, the thing I loved most about my job was no longer my reality. I cherished my one on one time with my students. I became excited when they questioned something, and we were able to skip down a new path with little or no effort. My teaching materials were simple but thorough. We had our favorite pens and individualized routines. My ability to keep the busy students occupied was never tested. Boom. Everything came to an abrupt stop, and we were forced to become computer wizards. Being online changes everything, especially the way we now have to teach. But are we as effective?
The stroll my students and I took from their classrooms to my teaching space was always a good time to check moods and see if I needed to be more than a reading and spelling instructor. Were they having a bad day? Did they need time to vent? Are they caught up on their classroom work? What’s their stress level? Maybe we walked a little more or started the lesson off by reading our book. I now go directly from one student to another; anyone listening would hear me jump from “Have a great day, bye!” to “Hi,” without missing a beat. Unless, of course, they signed on late, and I make that mad dash to the bathroom!
Distance learning has a new set of challenges. Some of us had to reinvent how we teach; for others, it was a smooth transition. Luckily for me, I had previous experience with teaching via Zoom. Although accessing my materials was not smooth, the transition time from one thing to another was too long. Every fumbling moment was time lost from my students. I knew there had to be another way.
Facebook groups are being bombarded with the latest and greatest new technology for teaching. The idea that being online needed to be more about fun and less about our lessons’ efficacy prevails. I struggled with the cutesy games and interactive materials, which were now being touted as multisensory. The premise of multisensory as Anna’s three associations or Fernald’s VAKT is now being watered down to mean games on the computer. Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of games, in small doses and as practice work. I have looked at many of the games everyone seems to be creating. Some are very good, and others are subpar, even including errors.
Publishers have been extremely generous with sharing their materials at no cost to us. These items have made lessons easier. With a mouse click, we now have a library of decodable books, reading passages, worksheets, and games. They have come through for us. We can’t forget to support the small businesses, which also have given us freebies! These folks all could use your support in thanks for their sharing! Leave them a review, post an item you love in your favorite group!
I now feel comfortable with distance learning. Through trial and error and experimenting with all the gimmicky bells and whistles, I weeded out what was a valuable use of my time. I had to ask myself if I was in-person, would I use this? What is it replacing? What is it taking time away from in my lesson? Is this taking away the opportunity for my student to write? When I looked long and hard through this lens, I dumped most of the online games, activities, and platforms. What remained was a duplicate of my regular in-person lessons with an online twist.
So what does my typical online lesson contain? Each of my students has their own sound pack; now, they have their own Google Slides containing the grapheme/ phoneme associations introduced. Next, my students write the sounds that they hear me say; they associate a grapheme with the phoneme; when they do this, I have them tilt their computer screen down to watch them write. It’s upside down, but that's okay because I've been reading (and writing) upside down since I started doing OG. The next step in our lessons is usually working on our current content, including reading some wordlists and wordbooks that I have downloaded onto my virtual classroom; again, with one click, boom, they have it in front of them. We may read flashcards, and we may do an orthographic mapping activity. Next, the students write words; again, they tip their screens down to see what they're writing and do error correction through eliciting questions. We write a few sentences. My lessons always include Phonological Awareness activities specific to each student. I use Kilpatrick's book and other things I have accumulated over the years. Contextual oral reading is an essential piece of the lesson, which always includes comprehension and vocabulary discussions. Even with the youngest students, comprehension and vocab are possible even inside a short <a> decodable book. Lastly, we play a game; I use my tic tac toe games and even play card games!
My favorite, most time reducing, addition to my Zoom session is my virtual teaching space. At first, I was put off with the cutesy, cluttered look until I realized the value of a centralized material depository! I watched a how-to video, and I was off and running. Now with one screen and a click, I have access to ALL of my materials. What a game-changer! If you don’t know about these, let me know. I would love to share how easily it all works!
I no longer dread or fear distance learning. To be sure, being online has its ups and downs, sometimes literally, like when you have the student on the iPad who is moving about—talk about motion sickness! I have embraced it, and it is now my new normal. Do I think I am delivering a robust and effective lesson? Yes, I can say with confidence, I am. How do you feel about all of this?