Ms. Gray values humor in the classroom and looks forward to resuming her infamous Greek Mythology plays in person.
Q: During this very challenging year of Distance Learning, what are some ways you have tried to keep your students engaged? What worked? What did not?
A: One of my gifts is humor, and throughout distance learning, I have tried my best to use it to engage students. One of the ways I know it works is that my students tell me that I should make my own YouTube channel because I am so funny -- yes, I get compliments from teens, and I know how crazy that is. While I am no Mr. Gibson, nor am I Mr. Tierney, I think I bring that similar type of comedic banter but at a 9th-grade level (fart jokes for some and beauty guru drama for others).
I have also implemented a "QOTD" (Question of the Day) at the beginning of every class. Most recently, a battle broke out in the Zoom chat over whether a hot dog was a sandwich; the class was divided, and I loved every moment of it. Why? Because I am in the midst of teaching the research paper where I am trying my best to hone their argumentation skills. It was great to see them try to make their points by pulling definitions from various sources online unprovoked. They were so passionate about it, you would think we were arguing about politics or religion (granted, a really good hot dog can be a religious experience if made right).
Q: What has worked?
A: Teaching literature that is both engaging and showcases the human condition has definitely worked.
Q: What has been trying?
A: Teaching about a real-life issue where it requires the student to do research and come up with their own educated opinion has been quite trying. While this is difficult every year, I wonder whether it is more so this year as students are bombarded daily with the very serious concerns we have in our society right now (the attack on the Capitol, Covid, etc.). However, this skill is incredibly important and especially so this school year. While teaching research has been difficult, I think this is one of the reasons I am so happy that we were able to figure out how to continue ABU (independent reading) so that students were still able to enjoy a bit of escapism.
Q: Is there something that was introduced during online learning that you hope remains when students return to class?
A: I think the ability to connect with students on a video chat is great, and I am so happy we all learned how to do that this year. When a student is absent or if a teacher is willing to meet on a weekend to offer additional support on an assignment, both teachers and students will be able to now because we all know how to. I also think this is great for when parents need to meet with teachers but are unable to make it into school. Moving forward, this is something I plan to continue using when necessary.
Another thing that has been absolutely amazing is pre-recording myself teaching a concept. For example, I have been teaching the "dreaded" annotated bibliography for years, and every year I try to figure out how to teach it better as it can be frustrating for both the teacher and student. Last summer school, I decided to prerecord myself modeling how to type one (the format of it is the Olympics of formatting for most high school students). I have never seen a better set of annotated bibliographies and my co-teachers who used my video said the same thing. If it is in a video format, students can replay the video, speed up/slow down the rate of speech, and even add closed captions to it, which means that this is an absolutely excellent scaffold for English Language Learners and students in SPED.
Q: What are you most excited about when you and students return to school?
A: I am excited to see their faces! Many students keep their cameras off and/or pointed to the ceiling. While many keep it off due to wifi issues/poor-performing devices, many do so for a myriad of personal reasons. This can make it difficult to foster a connection (mind you, not impossible). It is also difficult because much of teaching is seeing their reactions to something. Nothing screams louder that you do not understand something than a look of confusion and a pencil down; when the camera is off, one of our most important tools is gone. Thank goodness for incredible tools like GoGuardian where we can see what is happening (or what is not happening) on a student's computer screen.
Finally, if we come back soon enough, I cannot wait to, maybe, put on some of my infamous Greek Mythology plays - costumes and all. Former students generally talk to me about how that is one of their absolute favorite memories of my class, and I long to give my current students the same Mrs. Gray experience. While I would definitely have to alter it to meet Covid restrictions, I am confident, time permitting, that I can make this hope come to fruition.