by Isabel C F Auler, Middle School Principal, Our Lady of Mercy School, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I have read many articles on how to adapt our classes to the virtual world, and I often come across very pertinent statements about the need to be flexible with our students. In fact, if social isolation can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety for an adult, imagine for a child or adolescent, whose hormones often speak louder than reason. It is up to the teacher, therefore, to have the sensitivity to deal with demotivation, possible delays for virtual classes and assignments, without necessarily taking drastic measures at once. Those measures would only further remove the student from the educational environment that we are trying to promote.
According to Abraham Maslow, there is a hierarchy for human needs, and if we are unable to meet the most basic needs such as family and health safety, then we are also unable to reach the next stages related to self esteem and self confidence, such as trust, ability to solve problems and creativity.
For this reason, many articles use the expression “we have to Maslow before we Bloom,” which means that, more than ever, we must ensure that our students’ socioemotional needs are fully met so that we can later help them develop autonomy, responsibility and critical thinking, as listed in Bloom’s taxonomy. That being so, teachers, must accommodate and adapt their classes to a virtual world, without jeopardizing the relationships established in the classroom, thus preventing students from being penalized for difficulties in dealing with the amount of responsibility suddenly given to them during this atypical moment, and for which they were not prepared beforehand.
After clarifying the relevance of current articles on the importance of teacher’s flexibility during these sensitive times we are living, we can go to the topic that, so far, had only been indicated by the title: being careful so we do not go back to square one during this period of virtual classes. Which square one am I referring to? Allow me to be clearer: I am referring to the methodological aspect of our educational system.
After many years remaining as a captive by the theoretical discussions of great thinkers, methodological innovation has finally been introduced to classrooms, and, unfortunately, it now runs the great risk of disappearing from the educational environment due to the pandemic that has spread throughout our world. The skills teachers lack for this new virtual environment makes the return to lectures an imminent risk in our schools. We have obviously received countless emails containing websites and apps with games and examples of activities to use during our videoconferences. However, when the teacher is faced with new content to deliver, they end up returning to the same model as our ancestors, that is, they return to long expository classes and, as a consequence, we come across bored students on the other side of the screen.
So, what can we do to prevent this setback from occurring in our e-learning period? The role of Principals and Coaches becomes essential in this moment of transition. Supervising classes and assisting in their preparation is of the utmost importance to help the group of teachers at your school to return to the path of active methodologies. Just as we mentioned Maslow to talk about children, we must once again use him when referring to our educators. When we are insecure and do not have the necessary support in the face of new situations, we logically return to the model with which we have the most control. There is nothing more natural than teachers who were beginners in the process of active methodology returning to the model of expository classes due to the uncertainties they are experiencing at this moment. It is up to their Pedagogical Leaders to assist them in this delicate period and to model, if necessary, the first activities in order to support their team and show that even at a distance, their supervision and guidance remain present.
We will not always be able to present amazing and creative projects to stimulate the learning of our students. As we must follow an annual curriculum, some classes will be just classes, but that does not mean that they should not be guided by an innovative methodology, which will help students’ learning process by giving them more autonomy and challenging their capacities thus stimulating their skills. Based on a learning model that is very popular today, basic rules can be established so as to guide the preparation of virtual classes. Using John Hatties’ Visible Learning approach, we can establish tips on how to create an online class, like the example below:
Tips for Online Classes:Lesson Plan StructureObservationHookIt can be a warm up, it can be a question that stimulates the student’s curiosityObjective and learning activityClear and objective explanation of what you expect them to learn and how.Success CriteriaHaving at least 2 criteria will mean having at least 2 levels of activities (learning differentiation): a basic one and a more complex one. It is expected that everyone reaches the 1st level. Make it clear that you believe that everyone is capable of reaching both levels, but that it is normal to struggle at this point. It will be a challenge. This will stimulate students, and, at the same time, reassure them if they don’t get it right so easily at first. When correcting, be sure to ask the simple ones to struggling or special needs students. Modeling the learning:You may ask them to answer the first question collectively so they understand what they have to do; it can be a video with an explanation of the content; it can be a short quotation from a text, and etc.Application by the studentIn a normal class, you usually apply and at the end you assess. In an online class, divide the task into small parts. Give an activity, ask specific students instead of letting them decide who wants to participate and who does not. Write down who got the answer right and who got it wrong. Make sure you are assessing everyone. That’s your responsibility as an educator. Anyone who didn’t answer today, should participate in the next class. Acces and ConcludeReturn to the objective and success criteria, and ask them to write down what they have learned, who reached the expectations and who exceeded them . Write down students who have not reached them, and ask them to wait while the rest hang up. Schedule individual conferences to help them.
The criteria cannot consist of an inflexible format for your teacher´s classes. As school leaders, we must learn to extract the best that each individual has, instead of forcing them to conform into a static model. Guidelines should be seen as a prototype to remind them of the important points that should be present in their lesson plans.
By creating expectations about what we hope to observe as pedagogical supervisors, even during this exceptional moment of uncertainty, we help our teachers maintain the innovative path that education had finally traced before this social isolation period.
If pedagogical leaders remain present to assist teachers during this transition to e-learning, we will prevent our educational system from returning to square one, which would mean allowing methodological innovation to, once again, live as a captive of educational theorists.