For the majority of her 15 years as a teacher, Vera A. enjoyed the rewards of her profession in person.
She received simultaneous “oohs” and “aahs” during story time and group high-fives when a lesson would click for the entire classroom.
“That’s gone,” Vera said. “So, I’ve had to try to find and recreate those moments to help myself feel like it’s still happening — like all these things are still happening — regardless of our disconnect.”
Plus, during the COVID-19 pandemic, lessons are riddled with frozen video and, in the case of some students, lack of access to quality learning tools and WiFi. This has caused teachers, including Vera, to find creative solutions for creating personalized learning experiences, fostering a sense of community, and enabling equity.
Learning together, apart
One of the ways Vera has tried to build community in her virtual classroom is by creating visual and audible experiences for them to remember, such as by repurposing the colorful tutus she used to wear during in-person lessons.
“I’d drape them behind myself, so when I’m online it’s full of color, and it’s exciting and engaging,” she explained. “Or I would bring in my dog and the dog would tell a story.
“I would do a read aloud and say, ‘Let’s get close, find a comfy position, and listen to the story,” Vera added as another example. “Even though we’re not together, we have togetherness.”
Technology, she said, is “a curse and a blessing” because it has allowed her to recreate these moments when enjoying them in person with her students isn’t possible.
Speaking of technology, during COVID-19, at some schools, including Vera’s, access to digital tools has increased for teachers, with devices like iPads and Chromebooks becoming more widely available. However, among students, the pandemic has highlighted inequities that have always existed in the education system, Vera said. Access to technology aside, some children may not have tools like tweezers, LEGOs, journals, pens, and beads that are necessary for building essential fine-motor skills.
Inequities such as these require more attention, but more immediately, it’s led Vera to reconsider some aspects of her teaching approach.
“It’s made me rethink what I need to be, quote, in control of, unquote,” she said, including examples like whether a student needs to have their microphone or video on during online lessons, or whether they can turn in an assignment using a voice recording rather than digitally.
“I think in the rush of trying to get students into digital learning spaces, we didn’t have a chance to solve some of these inequity issues,” Vera explained, “and I think that’s still a thing we’re trying to work through. I don’t have a solution, but it’s easy to let go of that when we’re stressed out about everything else, and that actually needs to be the thing we focus on.”
When it comes to remote learning, Vera argues there’s additional room for improvement. Namely, she said that more challenges could be tackled if more teachers were involved in educational technology, or so-called “ed tech,” decisions from the get-go. That involvement may be critical if technology remains a key part of the educational experience in the years to come, which Vera predicts will be the case.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to education as we knew it before,” she said. “I think technology will always be integrated into our classrooms.”