Clarifying and Probing the Covid-Classroom

This post is about making the most of the one day a week with students. Given we’re not teaching ‘normally’ I see this as an opportunity to ask questions in what is going to be a very short window of opportunity. I know some teachers have moaned this is “baby-sitting’ etc., but I think that might be because of the ‘return to normal’ nonsense the media is pushing. So here’s what I’ve been doing this week and why.

Politicians make daily comments about the return to normal and the easing of restrictions. School is often used to signify safety and order, despite some schools working under the direction that recess and lunch doesn’t require distancing under ‘the advice’ along with classrooms. Most schools, I would assume are working this week and next on a 25% population, one year group at a time. It’s important to note that these guidelines are demanding any distancing, despite politicians insisting that there is an increase level of risk which requires citizens to be more aware of distancing than ever.

There’s little point is resisting this reality if you work in schools. What is obvious is that many students are not travelling to and from school on public transport. Many are being picked up and dropped off as parents attempt to reduce risk. Some students seem completely at ease with spending time with their friends, debating the usual important teen topics. Other groups are anxious and critically aware of the risks to themselves and their family – but this is not a topic classroom teachers are advised to address in classrooms.

The week has been interesting. Students appear to have spent most of it engaging in social groups; working on online activities, supervised by a roster of teachers. Aside from senior subjects, student have largely been left to choose what they want to do – but not where they are going to do it. I would think for many schools and teachers, this arrangement is quite a novel experience.

For me, this has been a opportunity to get some feedback on the ‘online’ I’ve been doing and to respectfully attempt to visualise the spectrum of methods and expectations they have experienced over the 2-3 weeks that ‘online’ has disrupted over a century of ‘how school is done’.

I didn’t see it as time to chase down the odd student who didn’t hand things in, but to try and find some patterns in what students were doing each day. Just observing what is happening in the room when the normal rules are disengaged. From that I’ve been trying to find a new balance for the forced return of everyone. I have absolutely no intention to discontinue the drum beat and patterns of what I’ve been doing for the last month or so, because it is WORKING. Right now, most students are not acting in their previous ‘student-mode’ or wearing their usual ‘masks’ around me. I’m not sure if that’s true in other classes or for other teachers … but I’ve found it quite refreshing to see them hang-out, set their own pace etc.,

There has been NO decline in learning or the quality of work. Many students have reported less ‘distractions’ and that social engagement (digital based) which is normally ‘banned’ at school – has flowed into their day via FaceTime etc., and they have stayed connected with friends. I’m also aware, some students with school-connections have been disconnected by ‘digital’ – often as parents believe that they need to put the phone away and keep away from friend-networks when ‘doing school work’.

I don’t think we’ve furthered the idea of students being a ‘community of practice’ just yet – and I don’t see politicians or educational leaders interested  in the idea. Students, as usual, have not been asked what they think. It’s mostly been about counting heads and checking up on students who have not ‘done the work’.

For me, the two weeks has been about finding out what works and didn’t – clarifying and probing … it’s easy when talking to students and online, I’ve been using FlipGrid because its so easy and slides into Classrooms and Teams. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions in order to see new patterns – which might be good or bad.

  • Is this what you said…?
  • What resources were used for the project?
  • Did I hear you say…?
  • Did I understand you when you said…?
  • What criteria did you use to…?
  • What’s another way you might…?
  • Did I hear you correctly when you said…?
  • Did I paraphrase what you said correctly?

and …

  1. Why do you think this is the case?
  2. What do you think would happen if…?
  3. What sort of impact do you think…?
  4. How did you decide…?
  5. How did you determine…?
  6. How did you conclude…?
  7. What is the connection between… and…?
  8. What if the opposite were true? Then what?

All of this is provocative and I’ve not seen all students because of the rooming and roster in place – however, I have talked to enough to get a good idea of what works – and what I will keep doing … not that I’ve ever been one for teacher-up-front type teaching anyway … but to me it’s been a good opportunity to understand more about how they learn, what they like and hate etc., that otherwise would be hidden behind the ‘student-mask’ and the un-changing modality of the school day.

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