Keep it Simple, Sweetie (Online Learning)

Today’s post comes from an email I received this week from a high school English teacher. I’m sharing our conversation with her permission, though I changed her name for privacy.

Hi Laura,
Next Monday, my school district is set to return with a hybrid learning model – “A” Cohort in person on Mondays and Wednesdays, “B” Cohort in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and everyone online with Virtual Learning on Fridays with Canvas.

I was wondering if you have any advice or material regarding Canvas, Virtual Learning, safety protocols, COVID – basically anything that might help me help my students as we face these new challenges.

Thank you in advance,

Hi Kathleen,
Thanks so much for thinking of me! I’m afraid I’m facing the Great Unknown just like everyone else, and I have so many more questions than answers. On the blog, I try to present solutions that I’ve used and enjoyed in my own classroom, but all of this COVID/distance learning stuff is foreign ground. You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t published much e-learning advice this summer. Why so quiet? First, I’m drained. Second, I haven’t taught online (never used the Canvas interface – sorry) and don’t feel comfortable advising my peers on something I haven’t done myself.

The greatest source of answers and comfort that I’ve found has come from talking with teacher friends (everyone = same boat) and kicking around ideas in Facebook Groups – my favorite one is called 2ndaryELA.

My advice? Keep things as simple as possible for both you and your kids. To me, fewer layers of tech to navigate is better, at least until we figure out best practices and form a set plan. I worry about folks throwing too many apps, add-ons, and online software programs at kids. I mean, they have six or seven teachers a day and I can only imagine the labyrinth of links we’re all about to launch. Oof! Instead, make it easy on everyone and just post PDFs and online slide decks. If you want to get a little fancy, you can follow this advice about turning a PDF into an interactive worksheet, but I don’t suggest folks take on much beyond this right now:

BitmojiMeYesterday, I was talking with a close friend who teaches Eng. 9-11. Like most of us, she’s hoping for the best but planning for the worst. She’s lost count of the hours she’s spent transforming in-class lessons to fit her new Google Classroom, learning a slew of new programs, and building what really is the cutest Bitmoji Classroom of them all. Still, I asked her if less might be more. Her answer? She’s worried that her new students won’t respect her if she doesn’t “wow” them at the beginning of the year. Oh, sweetie, I wish I’d said at that moment, the kids will connect with you because of the wonderful person you are, not the code you know.

I’m sorry I don’t have more tangible advice to offer, Kathleen, but I’m just taking everything day by day for now. It’s a scary, frustrating time and I don’t know what this new year will look like, but I gotta believe the chaos will burn away and workable solutions will reveal themselves. When I find them, you know I’ll spread the word.

Hang in there,

Okay, teacher friends, what’s your plan for the new year? Is there an e-learning “must have,” “must do,” or “must avoid” that Kathleen/every teacher should know about? Leave your ideas, comments, and/or commiserations in the reply box below. And, as always, teach on.

8 thoughts on “Keep it Simple, Sweetie (Online Learning)

  1. As per usual, Laura Randazzo is one of the first people I turned to when I was SO lost last spring and trying to wrap my head around this uncertain educational landscape over the summer. Increasingly, I’m taking comfort in the teacher-leaders whom I trust, when they say they don’t know, and/or they’re really not sure how to advise right now. And, I’m becoming ever more wary of those that are professing to have this situation figured out. For many of us, this will be our first time doing virtual teaching, or working in a hybrid model. This is my first time embarking on teaching in a virtual platform (Google Classroom) and while I will surely innovate, and do my best, I cannot hold myself to the same expectations I have for myself in the classroom, or I won’t even make it through the first week. Virtual teaching and in person teaching are two different beasts!

    That said, the ‘must haves’ I’m *planning to rely on are (in no particular order) innately engaging content (short stories, articles, a few fan-fave activities from the past that I can easily convert to the virtual world etc.), EdPuzzle, Padlet, and FlipGrid. I’m learning more about these platforms and, at this current place and time, I believe they will be the ones that have the most bang-for-your-buck. In this case, the bang is engagement and the buck is my time. *I reserve the full right to change plans at any time!

    My “must dos” include setting boundaries (this is not going to be the year to work late, and deeply obsess over every.thing.), employ one of the above mentioned “must have” platforms during the week (too much at once is overwhelming for 8th graders…and me, but I like to try to keep activities fresh, too), prioritize connection with my incoming students, and focus on “quick wins”…to name a few.

    I must avoid “the noise” i.e. jumping on every trend/activity, feelings of shame/guilt/hopelessness, working around the clock, comparing my classroom to what others may be doing, etc.

    This is going to be a challenging, and unique, year. There are sure to be some good things that come from this. With that, there are sure to be some bad things – even ugly things! – that come from this experience. Regardless, I’m confident that teachers all over will adjust, adapt, and overcome just as we have always done.

  2. Thanks, Judy, for this wonderful comment! We’re facing a very different beast, indeed, this fall. I’m also looking for the good things that’ll come out of all of this. I have to say, the quarantine did help me clarify my priorities and embrace simplicity. I’m realizing I don’t need to be “extra” all of the time and that family and health are more important to me than my pre-COVID schedule reflected. It’s time for that to change. If we do fewer things but do them really, really well, then we’ll be able to happily and successfully move forward. Here’s to turning off all that “noise” and making the best out of what’s to come!

  3. Joanne Mihalick says:

    Your response to Kathleen is so down to earth honest. I am not ignorant when it comes to using tech. But that’s in my real classroom where tech is a support – not the entire lesson! My colleagues who are also well-trained in technology have all agreed that simple is better. Mostly because we’re tired and because at the end of the virtual class day, there is still virtual grading to do. Joanne
    PS: I am an English teacher and yes I have made terrible errors in grammar here! MUGS me!

  4. For sure, Joanne! This is hard enough as it is. Why overcomplicate things for ourselves and our students? Glad this message rings true for you and your colleagues. Hang in there. This is going to be a one-day-at-a-time year for everyone. 🙂

  5. Jennifer Cooper says:

    I am a long term sub for the first 6 months. I feel like I am setting up virtual learning and learning Canvas takes up more of my time than looking at lesson plans and making sure my students are engaged in the lessons I plan. 🙁 I cannot even get my old bitmoji account to work! It feels like the entire month has been a struggle. My goal is to have Canvas fully operational and have my students and my staff comfortable using Canvas. I do not even know if the teacher will use this stuff once she comes back. I have been told by most everyone here she does not use anything but paper and pencil. We are both in our 50’s, but what is she thinking? I am struggling to decide if it is worth the amount of time I am putting into it.

  6. I feel this in my bones, Jennifer. I’m afraid I have no answers, only commiseration. I’m also thinking it’s highly likely that the permanent teacher opts not to return (maybe I’m projecting?) and that your long-term spot may become permanent. What to do? Just make the best choices you can each day for you and your kids, knowing that you are far from alone in this year of struggle. Wish I had more to offer.

  7. I love how honest and raw your response to Kathleen was! I am an undergraduate student at a large public university, and the sudden shift to the online platform put so much stress on both the students and professors! I think it’s so great that there are forums like this where we can all, teachers and students alike, come together to be supportive of one another.

  8. Ab-so-lute-ly, Victoria! Education is a team sport – no doubt – and we need each other for ideas and support. Some of the best things in my classroom have come from students’ suggestions. You are welcome here. 🙂

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