The buzz conversation these days seems to be centred around questions like, “What platform are you guys using?” “Are you sticking to Zoom? Trying Google Classroom? Or are you jumping on the MS Teams train?
In the last few months, teachers have been bounced around from platform to platform, trying to find the right train to start steaming ahead. Sadly, some started steaming ahead, only to have the train return to station, because…oops…they’ve left from the wrong platform. The powers that be don’t want you taking that train. They’ve found cheaper and supposedly better seats on another line. Oh and guess what? You need to figure out how to transfer your luggage (resources) and you guessed it, at your own cost.
For a teacher who just built some confidence learning how to use Zoom, it’s tough for me to have to switch to something new and in the space of a few days. Yup, you heard it. A few days. I can gripe about how unfair it is, I can complain and waste my energy……or I can point out what I think educators and leaders in education need to remember at this time:
“Technology cannot and will never replace sound teaching.”
Lee Ann reminded me of this and coming from a specialist in Instructional Technology, it speaks volumes. A lot of people are capitalising on the crisis in education, each trying to outdo the other. Everyone’s picking a side, campaigning for a particular platform and offering to train you on how to use it. I’m sorry, but frankly, it’s gotten overwhelming for me. As a ‘techie’, I would expect Lee Ann to tell me, “Suck it up, get on board and keep up.” But she doesn’t. Instead, the advice I get, is “One day at a time and remember, technology is a tool. The pedagogy still has to drive what you do online.“
Simple and makes sense.
So my fellow teachers: You don’t need to be the best user of a platform, you need to be the best deliverer of your content. Focus more on what you present and how you present it.
In other words: Put the Pedagogy before the Platform.
As countless webinars and online training sessions for Learning Management Systems (LMS) pop up in my inbox, I wonder which ones are going to start from a pedagogical perspective. Sad to say, quite a few I’ve attended, haven’t even addressed pedagogy. And even more horrifically, they’ve failed to view students as stakeholders in this whole shift to remote learning. Our children are being herded like cattle from one pasture (platform) to another and I shudder to think that we might be giving even less focus, to the ‘Affective Domain’ and ‘Social Emotional Learning’.
So, what are my recommendations for putting Pedagogy first? Honestly, these should be more of reminders to you, much like they were for me:
- Plan your lesson: Umm……yeah. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you still need to be clear about your objectives, what activities you’re going to do and how you’re going to check for understanding. A lesson isn’t complete until you evaluate, and I hear my Dip. Ed tutor in my head as I type this: Have a proper evaluation that matches your objective.
- Direct Instruction still needs to be engaging and appealing: No one, not even an adult, wants to hear someone drone on and on (even in French!). Bear in mind that with black boxes and muted mics, it’s even easier for your audience to zone you out. So, make sure you keep your students wondering what you’re going to do next, and even, who you’re going to call next.
- Keep your resources current and relevant to what’s happening: You’ve shown that video every time you’ve taught the topic………for the last five years. I’m pretty certain that there’s new stuff out there and you need to find it fast. Avoid dated YouTube videos, update those PowerPoint slides, make your own Quiz with new GIFs/ images that this generation can relate to. For example, I wanted my students to guess the phrase, “écouter de la musique”. The picture of a boom-box (stereo) with music notes coming out of it was clearly dated, so I changed it to a guy with earbuds and a phone in hand.
Also, it’s hard to talk about, but as teachers, we need to initiate the discussion about what’s happening…and what’s relevant. So relate your topic to the pandemic. For Biology, why not help students to understand why having a lifestyle disease can lead to COVID-19 complications? For P.E., encourage students to remain active during quarantine. One of my colleagues did just that. He demonstrated in a video of his own, what physical training looks like, with intervals between sets. As an evaluation, students were required to make physical training videos of their own. They got moving… and they got the point of his lesson.
- Do it with them Let them do it together Let them do it alone: Your students still need to interact with each other. Many of my colleagues use break out rooms for this purpose. They teach and practice with a shared screen, then they assign students to groups via break out rooms where they can collaborate on a task. Then, they bring everyone back in, allow them to share their screen to show what they’ve been up to. Point is, they get a chance to work together, just like they would in your traditional classroom. For alone tasks, give them a specific time period to work on the activity without interruption. Remember, some students can’t respond when put on a spot. Give them time to think, reflect and respond. If they run into difficulties, they can always message you/send you a copy/ screenshot of their work in the chat.
- Closure is key: You can do it in any of the traditional ways, but to be quite honest, online exit tickets are your little helpers right now. Creating a simple form using Google or Microsoft (your choice ), can give you real insight into what your students actually learnt and what they still need to. Don’t kill them with questions though, still keep it short, make it click-able (yes, I used it) if possible.
- Never ever neglect SEL: Start light, end light. Do a wellness check at the beginning, or just have an impromptu discussion about how your students are doing. I also use the time while I’m waiting for everyone to join the class, to engage with the early birds. Call their names, ask what they’ve been doing, how they’ve been coping…
End with encouragement, show a funny video. Let your personality still ring through. If your students know you for being goofy, having a corny sense of humour…let them still see that side of you. For example, I posted a BRAVOCADO image after class to thank my students for their good behaviour (And yes, it was a clapping avocado). Encourage them to share their own appropriate jokes if you’re comfortable enough. As a starter, one of my FL colleagues asked students to post appropriate memes/ emojis in the chat to show how they were feeling. I tried it with my own class, and while some got carried away, it did make us all laugh…and encourage the usual classroom banter. Remember, you’re not teaching boxes…they’re students with all the same human emotions you have too.
I know it’s a lot, and honestly, I need these reminders as much as any educator. Just like you, I often get caught up learning how to use a platform and sometimes neglect the pedagogy. I miss doing/ haven’t yet learnt how to do, all of these things successfully. But the point is, I’m trying. Surely the first step, is remembering/ being reminded, to focus on what’s important and essential to learning.
So essentially, there is no magic platform 9 ¾ (Harry Potter reference for the win) that can make learning happen. That has always been the function of proper and precise pedagogy. So let’s not forget to start there and let platform take second place.