A collaborative reflection by Serena Morales & Devshikha Bose
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice wondered what the world was like on the other side of the mirror. Brave, wasn’t she? When she stepped through the looking glass to an alternative world, she noticed a different version of her environment–colorful, chaotic, surprising, enigmatic.
The only way Alice could read her new circumstance was by holding it up to a mirror.
At the end of a remarkable year, we propose a pause in front of the looking glass of our teaching. Not one of those yeah-I-guess-this-looks-ok mirror drive bys, but a shoulders-squared, full-twirl-in-the-outfit kind of reflection that lasts so long we both critique and admire.
Teaching during a pandemic certainly qualifies as an alternative world, and we may have spent so much time adjusting to the new environment that it was hard to see, really see, what was going on. We became inventors because our survival as teachers depended on our ability to adapt: we didn’t have a choice.
Circumstances shoved us through a mirror: we overhauled courses, learned technologies, shifted our teaching to unfamiliar settings, rewrote assessments, changed feedback processes, and shifted learning expectations. There are things we did because we had to and which we would not have considered otherwise.
Some processes were stop-gap measures that will not follow us into the future, but what if there are kernels of fabulous in all of the chaos? What if, in the middle of the strain and stress, opportunity danced by, dangling little pretties that helped students learn better or make teaching more effective?
Here is an opportunity to notice which teaching practices served us well, and which we are content to leave behind.
We offer 10 reflection questions to ponder in the final weeks of the semester. You might want to think through these items on your own, with teaching friends and colleagues, or with your school leadership.
We have shared our own reflection here, in italics, as a transparent guide for your own musings.
1. What practices, processes, or protocols emerged in your teaching because you had no other choice in the teaching situation?
The pandemic made us realise that teachers and students need to be prepared for learning continuity in future health and natural disaster emergencies–training wheels off!. We learned to flex between various learning modalities — online synchronous and asynchronous, in-person, and hybrid. For example, the Interactive Reading Notebook and FlipGrid helped replace deep discussion that would have happened during class. We hope to continue using these tools that facilitate learning in case social distancing is required in future.
2. Which of those practices invited students to engage with content in a new way?
Before the pandemic, many students were reluctant to complete pre-class reading and watch resource videos, but learning remotely during the pandemic made such preparatory activities the norm! Online synchronous time with the teacher was used more valuably for active learning, engagement with content, and problem solving with the teacher’s help. Going forward, we hope students know how they can be active agents in their learning.
3. Which of those practices encouraged collaboration between students?
The social distancing requirements of the pandemic led to increased use of various technology tools that facilitated long distance collaboration. Google Workspace based apps like Google Docs, Slides, Lucid Charts, Meet as well as other video conferencing tools like the omnipresent Zoom (gah!) continue to be popular means of virtually bringing people together, asynchronously and synchronously. Padlet is also a great tool for facilitating both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. We want to remember these.
4. In what ways did those practices provide support for reluctant or struggling learners?
The pandemic may have made the struggles more difficult for some, but it also opened space for teachers to provide one-on-one support to students who may not have been seen in a face-to-face class. It is now “normal” for a teacher to virtually reach out to a struggling student via Zoom or chat, as long as the student has access to the internet and a device.
5. What surprised you?
While technologies like Zoom, Padlet, Flipgrid, and Google Apps were popular choices, the pandemic encouraged and sometimes forced teachers to experiment with lesser used technologies like those that enable simulation and virtual environments. Early last spring, we discovered a walkie talkie app (Voxer) that kept collaborative groups talking.
6. Which of those technologies, when blended with pre-COVID strategies, will improve student learning?
Interactive Digital Reading Notebooks checked understanding of course readings and helped students make connections between remote synchronous learning and the asynchronous practice they engaged in during the online section of the class. The learning gains compel us to keep the process when we return to face-to-face learning in the fall.
7. Which one teaching practice you adopted during the pandemic do you think will best serve and support your students in the future?
We experimented with ways to facilitate active engagement in Zoom breakout sessions. We learned that breakout rooms need to be highly scaffolded. Directions for the breakout room, how to report back (i.e. who takes notes and who reports to the whole group), what goals to reach through the peer engagement, all need to be clearly delineated. We used premade (with instructions) Google Doc based templates to structure this process and shared it with participants after the learning session. Students appreciated a resource that helped them recap and keep track of their learning.
8. What will you be happy to leave behind, and why?
Maybe it’s two sides of the same coin. While we loved how Zoom brought learning into the student’s home, we also miss real life, in-person, physical classroom based learning. We would be happy to leave our home office desks and see students in a real classroom. Full confession!
9. What did you learn about what students most need—and about meeting those needs?
We may realize that our priorities have shifted, and that what used to compel our teaching doesn’t even make it on the list. The pandemic showed us that we need to be flexible teachers and students. Deadlines matter, but so does understanding the human needs of students as individuals. Going forward, we plan to be more conscientious about our students as people who may have genuine life problems that run parallel to learning. We want to be more kind and build more human connections.
10. How has the experience of teaching during a pandemic permanently transformed your teaching, or the way that you feel about teaching?
There are so many things which the pandemic took away from us, but we also gained a lot.
We learned that online learning is here to stay, though this might not be good news for those who are not fans. The pandemic also reaffirmed the value and necessity of teaching and learning with technology. Prior to the pandemic, some of us moaned, “Oh, I hate technology” or “I’m too old to learn new technology.” Anyone else spend most of last year in shock?!
How can we survive and thrive in this new world where the impacts of the pandemic are still unknown?
Like the flight attendant in an airplane emergency response routine, let us remind you – put on your own oxygen mask first! Take care of yourself so that you can pass on the goodness to others.
It might seem impossible at first, but try to take control of your response to this seemingly never ending pandemic. Take time to breath, exercise daily, and eat healthy immune boosting food (lots of fruits and veggies). Call a friend if you need emotional support. Intentionally plan your day (Bullet journaling daily activities and habit tracking has been helpful) even when it seems like not much is going on. Journal or reflect on how you are feeling. Count your blessings. Reach out to share professional and personal survival tips.
So much happened in her story, but when Alice returned from her adventures through the looking glass, nothing had changed around her as much as it had inside her. Can we be like Alice? Grow at the face of adversity and, in the end, become a better version of ourselves?