Reach Out and Touch Students1
July 28, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber
This post is week 7 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. The prompt is: “Describe your mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities you will provide this fall.”
Our school district is starting remotely. The problem, as always, is engaging students. As a teacher-librarian, it is harder for me because the district’s LMS system does not give me access to students or them access to me. Sure, they can send an email, but that is not enough interaction for either of us. And it is not very effective. How do I teach students about copyright, plagiarism, digital citizenship, research, accessing public databases, finding information about books, and accessing books? I think I can talk a couple of teachers into letting me into their class except if they use the district’s LMS, I can’t come in. Do I just hand materials over to teachers and hope they can give it to students, since I can’t? Nope. Time for Plan B.
Plan B involves Google Classroom. The district allows teachers the option of Google Classroom, though it does not heavily support it. Google Classroom does have a limit of 1,000 students and I have closer to 1,700 high schoolers. The solution was to create four Google Classrooms – one for each year of high school. At a suggestion from another teacher-librarian, I renamed them from “Senior Class” to “Class of 2021”. This way, students do not have be dumped from each class each year and added to the new one. Instead, as they grow as a student, more information becomes available. For example, the senior class does more in depth research. I can add more material to that class while not overwhelming my freshmen.
While this might work, I still need students to engage with my Google Classroom that carries no grades. They will do better in their other classes with my support, but they have to want the support. And, I know that as a teenager, I was not greatly motivated to seek out advice and help. On to Plan C.
Plan C is the brainchild of the senior advisor, Ms. Poole. When I spoke to her about setting up the Media Center Class of 20xx classrooms, she suggested that we combine. Renaming the Google Classrooms to just be [School] Class of 2021, etc., I added her as a teacher. Then we added the counselor in charge of post-secondary work to the class as a teacher. Now, we have a Google Classroom that allows me to address students academic needs, allows the senior advisor to inform about upcoming deadlines and events, and allows the post-secondary counselor to help them apply to colleges and jobs. Instead of standalone Media Center, we hope we have created an online space that students want to be a part of.
One lesson I’ve learned from the emergency remote learning is that even when we see students in person, we need to be engaging online too. The online engagement will make it much easier for us to transition back-and-forth as necessary. More, it gives students a specific location to get the materials when they need it; right on their phones.
Will this work? We hope so. But we are also cheating. School does not start for three more weeks and we are using that time to add some seniors to their Class of 2021 classroom to start telling us what to change, what they need, what they want, and where it goes. If this succeeds, it will be because all of us worked together to make a space we can all use. Wish us luck!
Ah, Robbie, I do wish you luck. It sounds like you have some great ideas. Plan C definitely has potential. The fact that some seniors are test-driving it for you now is great too. You have done your homework this summer! All the best.