Distance Learning: Consider Your Audience
As teachers, we know how important it is to think about our audience as we plan our lessons. We have worked all year getting to know our audience and adjusting our teaching to meet the needs of the students who sit in front of us each day. My-oh-my, how our audience has changed.
Your audience today is much different than it was just a month ago. Getting a handle on how your audience has evolved might feel nearly impossible. A good place to start is just to recognize that everyone’s COVID-19 story is different.
Here are 4 things you should consider as you teach this new and unfamiliar audience.
1. Consider Your Audience When Planning What You Will Teach
I am going to go out on a limb and guess that your audience isn’t used to putting in all of their learning time at home. Your audience isn't used to their little brother hitting buttons on their device every time they are near. Your audience didn't have a Barbie Dreamhouse, video game console, television or Easter candy in their previous learning space.
In order to be successful in their new learning environments, your audience might need explicit instruction around making good choices about where they will do their work. Not sure where to start with your virtual teaching? Model how YOU chose your home teaching location. Want an example of how a lesson like this would go? Check out Christy's lesson on starting a reading life at home. You can also check out the entire mini-unit here.
You cannot possibly translate everything you teach in your classroom into virtual lessons. First-graders aren't going to sit at a computer all day. Fifth-graders aren’t going to sit at the computer all day. As we make plans for what we are going to teach from a distance, it is important that we prioritize our teaching.
Prioritize your lessons based on what is most important for your students’ success in their new classroom. Is it important that we teach historical fiction right now when our students have limited access to historical fiction books, or should we focus on building independent reading lives at home where choice and engagement come first? We need to give ourselves the flexibility to abandon what we would have taught in the classroom for what is most important to teach right now.
2. Consider Your Audience When Planning How You Will Teach
Not all teachers teach in districts where students have the necessary devices for virtual learning. Not all students have access to the internet. If you are planning to teach virtually, make a plan for students who may be facing technology deficits.
Some students will have trouble making it to scheduled synchronous lessons. Plan ahead. If you are teaching using a synchronous platform, try to record your session so your students who couldn't make it to the live lesson will still be able to access the information.
Don't forget the teaching methods that work best for your students. Keep your teaching concise. Provide teacher modeling so students have an example of what is being asked of them. Don't just tell them to write a review about their dinner last night. Write one of your own, share a real-world example of a review, provide a checklist for support. We can't just assign the work, we must teach.
3. Consider Your Audience’s Emotional State
For some kids, school is their safe place...their happy place. Find ways to connect with your students emotionally. Offer suggestions for ways students can interact with you. My daughter is able to communicate with her teacher through SeeSaw. From the second she posts her videos, she is pulling on my sleeve and asking, "Did she respond yet?" My daughter desperately misses her school family. I promise you, your students miss you, too.
And while we are on this subject, let me just leave you with this. When cute little Molly sends you eleven selfies, with attached "I miss you" recordings, you have my permission to send one "I miss you, too" message back.
Here is just one of the cute pictures Molly sent to her kindergarten teacher.
Many teachers are taking steps to make students feel more comfortable in their digital space. Some children aren't comfortable with other kids seeing their home, their room, their out-of-school life. I bet some teachers are feeling this same angst, too. Some teachers have offered students solutions like blacking out screens in synchronous lessons. Keep in mind that those students with blacked-out screens might be the kids playing Fortnite during your writing lesson. Hopefully, they aren't. If you can, contact those children with black screens. Chat about the lesson. Check on them.
Did I mention this was really challenging work?
4. Consider Your Audience While Acknowledging Your Emotions
At some point along this journey, you might begin to feel frustrated with your audience. Maybe they are not participating the way you hoped they would. Remember the challenges they are facing might be more than your own.
Please avoid shaming your students. Instead, think about how to support them.
Is it possible there is a language barrier at home? Are parents’ work schedules conflicting with student support? Is someone sick in their home? That would be pretty unnerving during a pandemic. A personal call or email might be just what they need to get back on track.
That child who missed your Zoom call didn’t actually want to. Their internet was down all day.
And that parent that just asked for their child’s login and password information (the information you sent in a very detailed email last week), is also an overwhelmed essential working dad of three school-aged children. I promise you he is trying hard to keep it together.
Listen, I know it is annoying to send the same information over and over again. I get it. However, let's save those frustrated heavy sighs for a normal school year. Just kindly send it again. Don’t let these unsettling times be a source of irritation, but a signal that life is a little out of hand right now. Understandably so.
It is important now more than ever that our school families extend teachers grace as we brave this new way of teaching.
It is just as important that teachers extend that same amount of grace to our students and their families, our new audience, as they dance through this new way of learning with us.