Wednesday, March 9, 2022

My Distance Learning Experience During Covid 19

 I still remember the worry and concern in the leading months before our schools closed to send us into a journey no one had ever traveled before in education. We were worried, confused, and not sure what followed. Nevertheless,  I felt safe and reassured to at least being able to stay home away from the unknown and the dangerous when Covid 19 hit back in March of 2020. The months that followed were uncertain and difficult. Even though I have been a teacher for several years, I felt I did not have experience to take on distance learning. A lot of my teaching practices as a language teacher revolved around students speaking up and practicing the language. Language teachers heavily rely on strategies such as choral repetition, pair share, dialogue reading, answering questions, reading stories, walking around the classroom practicing vocabulary cards, etcetera. Being present in a language classroom is vital. In my case, having graduated from a Master's in Educational Technology Program in 2016, I had already been on a journey of integrating technology in my classes. It took some creativity to make distance learning work. 

Creating a New Normal Expecting Students to Be on Line 

For several months, students were not expected to show their face on Zoom meetings. Teaching became a daunting task because hardly anyone responded. I did not know who were my students, and there was almost zero interaction between teacher and students. I was not fully knowledgeable on Zoom tools. I got "Zoom Bombed" on a couple of occasions by "unwanted guests" drawing profanity on my screen and by another "unwanted guest" coming in with a plethora of inappropriate remarks and curse words. Those days were days in which I questioned everything I knew and did as a teacher. I have to admit they were very difficult months. I begged my students to show their faces on Zoom, to let me know who they were. Every day I needed to be extremely patient and tolerant of this new learning curve. Every day there was something to celebrate but mainly something to reflect upon in order to improve. 

Incorporate the Old into the New 

I was very fortunate to have a great school administrator that took the time to listen to my concerns and the concerns of our language department. We also had support from our administrators at the school level. We were all in the same boat navigating uncharted territory. We were given a lot of flexibility to incorporate whatever strategies we thought were helpful. One of our favorite phrases during distance learning and Zoom calls was: "Everyone is a new teacher now".  I tried something new and moved on when it did not work. Some of the tools I was already using in the classroom became very useful during distance learning. 

a) Class Dojo 

Class Dojo is a web based platform that allows you to create class rosters and keep track of positive behaviors and behaviors that need to be discouraged in the classroom. Initially, I only used this system as a very low grading category for students to feel encouraged to speak up. I would always show how many points each student had on our Zoom session. With this approach, I needed to come up with some solutions for students to earn points outside class hours. Students could make appointments outside class hours to engage in games, dialogues, and questions.

b) Quizlet 

Quizlet is a tool that allows students to practice vocabulary individually or in groups of four. Having this tool allowed students to feel they were collaborating with other students. Students were encouraged with the competition aspect of this platform. I awarded points to the winners which motivate them even more to remain engaged.

c) Quizziz 

Quizziz is another gamified platform that allows for competition when practicing vocabulary. The most useful tool from Quizziz is that it provides a percentage average as a class based on the answers. This is a great formative tool for the teacher to assess whether or not students are close to achieving proficiency on a given set of vocabulary words or terms. 

d) Blooket

I became aware of this awesome game platform to practice vocabulary during our distance learning Professional Learning Community. Collaborating with colleagues every week and sharing ideas about what each of us were doing that was working in the Zoom classroom was an amazing tool to get through teaching from home. Blooket turns any deck of vocabulary cards into very fun and interactive games. 

Covid 19 allowed me to experience growth as a teacher. This challenge made us all realize that we did not know everything there is to teaching even for seasoned educators like us. Our bond became even more solid as we listened to each other and encouraged each other. I still remember a well known phrase during these challenging times: " We are learning the art of building the plane while we fly it". I truly believe this rings true today as we learn how to teach post Covid 19.