To quote a host from one of my favorite podcasts, “Taylor Swift, when will you let us live?!” While the question was uttered in jest, I imagine that some of us are feeling a twinge of envy or maybe regret at seeing T-Swift release two style-reinventing albums in just a few months while we’re clinging to our sanity by a mask-loop. She is writing murder ballads with Haim and following golden threads through enchanted forests…and I am living a very sedentary life and following a daily plan that feels like it will last from here until…evermore!
But, as Noah pointed out in his recent post, a good routine creates opportunities for clear communication and deep learning, and while I wish I could have changed things up more than I did this semester, I’m grateful for the learning that has happened and the relationships that are developing (and will I try some of Mike’s video game-rated strategies for relationship building next semester, you bet!). Maybe my productivity hasn’t measured up to Taylor Swift’s, but I have learned some things in the last few months.
I had hoped, in the spirit of the season, to offer you twelve lessons learned, but our time is precious, so I’ll stick to eight:
- Keep resources in as few places as possible: whether you are teaching in person, in a hybrid model, or fully virtual, I’ve learned that the fewer places students have to look, the more likely they are to actually look at the resources! One slide deck per unit (with hyperlinks!), one assignment on Classroom with all necessary resources attached, one hyperdoc with all materials linked: these all-in-one resources were helpful to me, too!
- Praise, praise, praise: two nights ago, I found myself weeping at this video from my alma mater’s glee club. Listening to the beautiful harmonies from such young, sincere faces in their individual boxes made me think of the sincere, determined, beautiful work I’ve seen from students all year. As Starian shared on Twitter recently, we have to find ways to help students feel seen. I know that so many of us don’t feel seen or understood right now, but we don’t have to perpetuate that cycle: tell your students how proud you are. It will make your day better, too.
- A quick conference is better than none: I’ve been using individual breakout rooms to connect with students learning virtually before I send them to do asynchronous work. Often, I’m connecting for just a few minutes to see if students have last questions, but the few minutes we have together show that I’m plugged into their progress, and we’re all learning that we need to draft a list of possible questions for a conference for next semester.
- The podcasts that fill my cup can fill my classroom, too: Search for your favorite living writer’s name in your podcast app. There’s a good chance that the writer has recorded podcast interviews and has some fantastic ideas to share about craft. This Tin House podcast from Rebecca Makkai changed my understanding of narrative perspective in fiction, and it opened up some great class discussion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s points of view in her short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck.
- Set rolling deadlines: It’s been tough to turn assignments over as quickly as I do in a normal year, so I’ve started setting some minimum and maximum deadlines for assignments. I encourage early turn-ins but also let students know the last possible date of submission (and extensions can always be requested). These rolling deadlines leave me with more manageable sets of work to review and help students to manage their schedules, too.
- Use Google surveys for project planning and easy consultation. My IB seniors are currently preparing their internal assessment, an oral exam that cannot cover any material on which they have been previously assessed. To manage all of their data and keep us all honest, I made a Google survey that you are welcome to copy and adjust for yourself if you’re in the same boat! I posted the survey link as an assignment and left comments for students to consider as they continued to plan. I use the spreadsheet of results to make sure students across my two classes don’t duplicate selections and topics.
- March Madness has nothing on the cast of The Crown’s “Game of Games”: while falling down a YouTube rabbit hole after the new season of The Crown premiered, I landed on this fun game from Emma Corrin and Josh O’Connor, the actors who play Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Students and I have played it with Thanksgiving foods and holiday songs in lieu of small talk topics, and it’s a blast. I use a class set of name cards and every student either proposes a competitor or decides the results of a knockout round to hilarious or shocking results! It’s a good way to get everyone talking at the start of class.
- Ask yourself and your students: how do we come through the other side of this and learn? The question here was posed by a wise colleague as we were planning a workshop that we’re moving online for the first time this summer. She reminded our planning group that, as challenging as this moment is, it’s also teaching us a lot (though it might be hard to take the time to reflect and notice that now). With nine months of virtual or hybrid teaching in hand and the hope of vaccination on the way, I want to use the spring to reflect more on what my students and I have learned and how my teaching needs to change when things get a little closer to normal. Students’ responses to surveys throughout the fall have been invaluable, and I know that if I ask them, “How do you want to learn in the future?” their ideas will benefit students for many years to come.
Earlier, I mentioned the power of praise in transforming a day or an attitude. In this last paragraph of my last post of 2020, I want to praise YOU, brave and bold and dedicated readers. You have made it to the end of the year. You’ve taught in circumstances we were never trained for, you’ve raised your voices on behalf of students underserved and hurt by so many national systems, you’ve fought to stay connected to your students, and you’ve kept going in the face of fear, loss, criticism, and uncertainty. Knowing that you are out there and that none of us are alone in this strange and challenging journey has buoyed my spirits throughout the year. We know more hard work is ahead, it always is, but I hope that you can take some time in the next few weeks to relax and do the things that feed your soul and care for your good and hardworking hearts. You are the stuff of legend…or folklore, if you will.
What are your teaching takeaways from 2020? How will your teaching change this spring or next fall? What topics would you like this column to cover in 2021? Please share your ideas, questions, and suggestions in the comments below or on Twitter @Ms. Jochman.