After a nice, peaceful, familiar time during Easter break, we are back in the trenches of distance learning and well, all is in the air. I mean we have no clear instructions from Spanish government, we have no idea of how long this is going to be, we know almost nothing about the next couple of months.
The worst case scenario, which is more and more resembling the only scenario, is we are not to come back to school. The last term will be carried out from home. Oh my God.
We can read that some countries, like Italy, are preparing an education amnesty. Others, like Spain, seem to be closer to the idea of no change at all. Let’s go on as before; that is, you teach, they learn, you mark, they pass (or not). As if nothing happened…
I am not here in this post to talk about the best option. Both points of view have pros and cons and, well, they are not going to ask anyway, so… I just want to talk about how I feel right now:
And, as a teacher and, specially, as an innovation coordinator I am worried and optimistic and also scared and a bit frustrated and I have expectations which I am not sure are realistic… My head these days is scrambled: some moments of sheer optimism mixed up with low feelings. I will try to explain it all, right?
The point is: we are doing fine at CPA, my school. Each one of our students has internet connection at home, via wifi or mobile phone (that is a blessing!). Equity was our first concern so we did a survey to make sure we could reach everyone. In the same survey, we found that a few of our students did not have a laptop, pc or tablet so we sent them chromebooks to be able to work on the assignments and such.
Good starting point!
Then, we devised a plan. It took us seven hours. Friday morning we learnt that Monday is no more a regular Monday but the first day of confinement. Fifteen days at home. By 18:00 we were presenting via Google Meet our plan to both teachers and students. The main ideas of this plan were (and are):
. One or two classes per subject per week. Teachers with bigger syllabuses and more weekly hours would connect twice while those of us with shorter subjects would connect just once.
. This classes are held to work on tasks. The idea is to create and offer creative tasks for the students to complete (in teams if possible)
. We are to use well known tools: Sites for content, Classroom for tasks, Calendar and Meets for management and virtual sessions. We want everyone to feel comfortable so this is not the moment for experiments or complex things.
. Students first. We establish weekly surveys for the students to express their opinions about their learning process. We want to be very alert to any sign of tiredness, boredom or exhaustion.
So, very good, yes?
Well, yes. The truth is we started with energy, delivering eight PD sessions to teachers to review G Suite for Education tools (with special attention to Classroom, Meet, Forms and Sites) and established a support system for teachers who might find any particular problem with tech. And it worked! In a week or so, phone calls started to be more scarce, whatsapp messages less annoying and emails less urgent. Some positive messages started to appear too, Teachers who were quite happy with their achievements, with the reaction of their students, with the powerful connection with them…
But. You cannot say you didn’t expect this “but”, can you? But: second week came and then third week. And some signs were not that good.
First sign: a few teachers start to complain about working too much and about too many meetings. They had to redo some of their tasks or create new ones. For some of them, not being able to be in class with a blackboard and a piece of chalk is hard; now they are not able to do what they call teaching: explain their syllabuses for ever. So, not many, but a few teachers say: ey, man, this is too much. And the confinement is going to be long. This rhythm is too high for me. What can we do about this?
Second sign: some students are overwhelmed. We have not put any pressure on the teachers to advance in their syllabuses or to assign difficult tasks. On the contrary: our motto was lower expectations. In spite of this, more than 50% of our students are saying this is too much work to do,man. Again, what can we do?
Third sign: some students are depressed. Or starting to show hints of being depressed. Confinement is not easy for anyone, less for young active people, used to be home for sleeping, lunch and, well, that is basically it. And we need to take care of these students, that is for sure. But how?
And again, we are pretty sure we are not getting back to school until September. This means we will have to keep this system (with improvements and variations, of course) for two more months. Thats is 47 school days more until the end of the school year. Way too many, if you ask me.
And then. we will have tired teachers, tired students and tired families but, at the same time, we need to keep the business going. My school is a private one, mind you, so we can not go and say OK relax, we are done until next year, right?
Is there a solution? Yes. At least I believe there is. The solution is to offer nice, creative, team based tasks to our students to cover just the basic aspects of each subject. If possible, a task would cover more than one subject.
Is this solution realistic, given the circumstances? Well, I am afraid it is not. I will keep you updated.