How you Zooming?

When we were told to keep in contact with our students, it didn’t have to all be via Zoom.

I was reading through the comments on a Facebook post just now about fighting with children to do their homework and to get on their Zoom meetings. When I saw this comment (I hid the commenter’s picture and name):

 I just don’t understand how we are supposed to work full time and do this!!! The school work is a full time job! Tomorrow my daughter has 3 zoom calls in one day. YES 3 calls. And she has minimum 1 or 2 per day and 3 on Thursdays now ??

I blame this on M. Roberge’s blatant distrust of teachers when he wrote in a letter on May 20:

Continuation of distance learning The school year is not yet over, and must continue at a distance for all preschool, elementary and secondary school students in the CMM. To that end, I would like to remind school staff that full-time work is expected until the end of the school year. While the terms and conditions under which this work is performed may vary according to the needs of each school, the following guidelines must be observed: - The aim is for students to maintain their acquired learning and to continue their essential learning. - A weekly work plan provided by the teachers allows students to create a work schedule and structure their learning. - Increased availability enables the teaching staff to answer questions from both students and parents. - At the elementary level, a member of the school team will contact the student directly at least three times per week (by telephone or video conference). Contact should be more frequent with more vulnerable students. - At the secondary level, a teacher aid will be assigned to each student, while a resource person will be assigned to students with an individualized education plan. These staff members should contact the student at least once per week (by telephone or video conference), in addition to the group meetings held remotely. - Increased availability enables non-teaching education professionals to support vulnerable students and hold individual virtual meetings with students. It bears repeating that these guidelines must be followed. Now that the school staff in the CMM are able to devote all their energy to the continuation of distance learning, all students must be able to receive high-quality pedagogical support from this week forward until the end of the school year. I also want to remind you that the same conditions apply to students outside the CMM who continue their learning from home.

Nowhere in that letter did it say that we must teach via video conference all day all the time but we were reminded. And it bore repeating. That the school year wasn’t over. (Because, I guess, without that reminder we’d all be playing hooky and leaving our students and our professionalism to blow in the wind…)

So, the easiest way to prove you are doing something is to go live with it. And so we can thank our minister for the growing practice of the multiple daily Zooms for our students (which goes against research about focus and learning). Because, also, we weren’t given time to learn about teaching & learning from a distance. To figure out that a 6 hour school day does not translate into 6 hours of zoom / homework. To figure out how to transition ourselves and our students into this new way of teaching & learning.

Here are some what ifs that I have been thinking about that may help to ease this transition.

What if…

… we used video conference for connection instead of prioritizing delivery of content?

(because what our kids really need right now is a sense of connection with their peers and teachers)

What could connection look like?

  • Thinking about different ways to help students structure their learning than through video conference. Focusing on what will be helpful for our students and their families during a difficult, sometimes lonely time.
  • Providing easy access to content outside of the video conference. Organizing all of a child’s content on a website or in a Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams with explicit instructions is helpful. And when I say all, I mean for all subject matters. Parents are receiving many (many) emails from different teachers – English, French, Music, Art, Phys Ed, Science, Math…. and things get lost in inboxes. It adds to the scattered nature of our minds during this pandemic and can help make us feel inadequate as we try to juggle them all along with our own work emails and meetings – not to mention the online grocery orders…. If we can provide one link to everything they will need, that can be huge. A Google Site or Microsoft Teams is ideal since all teachers could easily collaborate through these platforms.
  • Reserving video conference time for asking and answering of questions, for talking together about learning.
  • Allowing multiple ways of connecting – allow students to use the chat feature. Before banning it (some teachers have disabled it), teach students how to use it as a learning tool. For some, they are more comfortable writing in than speaking. That is ok, that is more than ok. That is allowing for multiple means of expression within a conversation.
  • Keeping the meetings short. Connection has to do with showing that we care and support our learners. If we start to work beyond their attention spans, if we start piling on to their already fragile cognitive loads (We’re in a pandemic. All of our thoughts are scattered and fragile) then we are no longer caring and supportive but actually adding to their stress.

… we video conferenced in small groups?

(because not all of our students need the same things at the same times. And our students who we think require more assistance may actually only need different assistance.)

What could small group video conferences look like?

  • Dividing our classes into smaller groups and connecting with them at different times.  Instead of one video conference for the whole group that lasts an hour each day, do multiple small groups within those same time slots. As a result, we could tailor each intervention to the children in front of us. For some students, they may need us to do content delivery. For others, they don’t but they do need to interact with us about the content.
  • Sharing in small groups. When we want students to share, each child doesn’t have to stare at a screen and wait for 20-30+ other children to share before their turn. And the smaller the group, the more likely it is that more people will actually speak. The larger the group, the more likely it is that we will end up asking Anyone? Anyone?
  • Addressing student needs during their learning instead of asking them to log on again for remediation. The students who need different kinds of support often have to endure a lesson that they don’t understand only to have to log on for more video conference once it is done. I always feel sorry for that.
  • Relieving our students and their families from the utter exhaustion that daily and multiple large group video conferences bring on.

Those are a couple of the what ifs I have been thinking about as we get going with distance learning in our classrooms in Quebec. We have an opportunity for greater connection, greater learning while being forced to think differently about it. These are things I will be bringing with me into the coming school year, though no one really knows what it will look like yet!