Kelly's daughter works with her teacher, Dr. Vick, in a Zoom classroom setting.
Zoom Classroom and The New Normal
Last week, I offered to serve as the behind-the-scenes person for my daughter’s first-grade class and her teacher, Dr. Vick, a 37-year teaching veteran. She was a bit anxious, but willing to try out Zoom for the first time. She admittedly is not a technology native, which was reinforced to me when I asked her if she had read the recent blog where I sang her praises and shouted from the rooftop (with proper social distancing from other rooftop teacher-supporting shouters) how much we missed her. She admitted she does not go on the internet very often and had not opened the URL. So, I pasted the copy of the blog into the email body and sent her the link. That worked.
As the director of Share My Lesson and the AFT eLearning site, I use digital communication tools every day, which is why I offered to reach out to help in any “virtual” way I could. After running our Share My Lesson Virtual Conference last week (which had a record-setting 68,000 registrations), I felt well-equipped to support her class. Then again, I was supporting 6- to 7-year-old first-graders (including my own very opinionated 7-year-old) and a teacher of the year who, up until two and half weeks ago, did not use many digital communications tools. What could possibly go wrong?
So What Happens When You Join a Zoom Classroom?
During the first class, the students were so excited to see each other and Dr. Vick; there was a cacophony created by the first-graders speaking at the same time while making faces at each other— a result of seeing themselves and their classmates on camera for the first time. It was like a work video conference call where everyone speaks and no one comprehends anything that was shared. The only difference is that adults typically can control their poker face, or know how to take themselves off camera before they roll their eyes or visibly scowl.
As Dr. Vick’s support person, I was able to mute everyone, and explain how to mute, unmute and switch views from the gallery view (where you see everyone at the same time) to the speaker view (where you see only the person speaking), which most parents assisted with initially. The student muting did not last long because these digital natives were quickly able to unmute themselves.
Once the students settled down (or I learned how to keep everyone on mute since they kept taking themselves off mute to say hello), Dr. Vick read a book. The students were attentive, though the lighting was so dark they couldn’t really see the book.
After the class, Dr. Vick and I had a chance to reflect on the first experience. I recommended doing a practice round before the next class so we could test her lighting and make sure the students could see the book. During that test round, she asked about how to control a class online. I found myself completely inadequate in answering her question—here was a teacher of the year who has the most amazing presence and classroom management skills asking me for advice. We then talked through the expectations she sets for her students. Can they speak at the same time? No. Do you call on them to respond? Yes. What are the rules for how the students engage with one another? As she talked through her class rules and expectations, I encouraged her to remind her students of these rules at the very beginning of class. The only online difference was setting the expectation that students should remain on mute until she asks them to come off mute. The real reason for this was not so much for excited first-graders (though that was definitely the case with some kids—cough cough, my daughter), but also because with other family members in each student’s home, there were sounds and distractions coming from siblings, animals and parents on work calls. Before the next class, Dr. Vick sent families an email thanking everyone for their participation and asking for support to encourage muting, asking siblings to be quiet if they are in the room and for parents to hold their conference calls in different locations.
One of my biggest lessons learned was just remembering that I was still dealing with the same community of learners I saw in my classroom on March 13, even if we were separated by a screen. - Dr. Vick
On class two, the most amazing thing happened. Even before Dr. Vick set the expectations at the beginning of class, the students (digital natives) logged in, said hello and immediately went on mute without my having to intercede. Dr. Vick would pose a question, ask students to raise their hand, then would call on a student and say “you may take yourselves off mute to respond,” and they would. She would tell them to go back on mute and they would.
After the first session, I realized I had to set clear expectations before we began. I reminded them that we needed to be listeners (since we were listening to a story) and asked them to remain muted until they raised their hand and I would call on them to speak. They liked that. And by following these simple guidelines, they were able to enjoy the story and know what to expect. - Dr. Vick
She read a book about penguins during the second class and at one point asked all of the students to stand up and walk around like penguins. They all stood up (still on mute), waddled around their homes, and then promptly sat back down when directed. I sat there in awe. Here was this non-digital native engaging her first-graders as though they were in circle time in her actual classroom. She really did not need my online classroom advice. She was a pro.
I also told them before I began my story that I would give guidelines on what they needed to do with their response and I would give them all a time to talk. What a difference in how our second session went compared to the first! - Dr. Vick
Zoom Classroom: Advice for Success
Setting up your Zoom classroom and student data privacy:
There is a lot of conversation in the news and on social media about the right setup for a Zoom classroom to ensure safety and security for your students and yourself. If you are not careful and you do not set up the Zoom classroom correctly, you could have unwanted visitors joining your class, and even sharing inappropriate comments or material. To avoid this, we added some best practices and recommendations from the FBI on Zoom classroom setup.
Additionally, we provided some guidance on student data privacy as it relates to distance learning.
Zoom Classroom: Tips for The First Time
- Practice with the technology, and be sure to practice with one or two other people who can log in as participants to see how things work. Consider even testing things out with one or two students.
- Check your lighting. Do you have a good background and enough light on your face for you students to see you and any material you want to show them?
- What are your Zoom classroom rules and expectations? Be sure to review those again at the beginning of class. For Dr. Vick, it was reminding first graders to be a good listener, be kind, and to raise your hand and wait to be called on before going off mute.
- Determine how you will call on students. Should they raise their hands, give a thumbs up, use the “virtual” hand (if your technology allows it) or, for older students, use the chat box?
- Communicate with parents about ideas on how to support their children at home so they are ready to learn and connect. Suggest that everyone joins class 10-15 minutes early to work out any technology issues. Ask that students hold their class with you in a quiet place (if possible).
- Consider asking a colleague or a parent to be your backup support for the Zoom classroom. Here’s a little secret for teachers: We parents really want to support you! Use us. We much prefer you teaching our kids. Let us help where we can and support some of the virtual side of the class so you can focus on teaching and connecting with your kids.
For your first class:
- Know that the first class will be chaotic. Frankly, that’s OK. The kids are just so excited to see you and the other students. Remember, they aren’t having play dates right now, so social interaction, even online, is a big deal. Let that first class be a time to reconnect; don’t be concerned if you do not accomplish a lot of academics this day. Right now, that social and emotional connection they have with you and other students is so valuable.
- Allow some time for everyone to talk at once and take a breath. Then ask them to go on mute and allow each student to say something.
- Finally, read a book to them, show them your dog or cat or something from your home to make you seem more familiar and to make a personal connection. Finally, end with an easy (non-required) assignment. For us, it was to write a response with three points learned from the book and draw something to go with it.
After the first class:
- Reflect on what went well and what you want to change. Check in with your colleagues, parent helper or students about how things could be run differently.
- Communicate with the parents about any changes and what support you will need from them before the next class.
I know online class is not a reality for every student, school or district. The inequalities in education, particularly for English language learners, students with disabilities, and children from lower-income families create an enormous digital divide in a time when our options to connect are very limited. In our district, 60 percent of the students are on free and reduced-price lunch. However, every student in grades 3-12 has a Chromebook, and the district is working fast to ensure all K-2 students who do not have a personal computer, tablet, or Chromebook or Wi-Fi, have one in the next couple weeks. Even with this access, there will still be challenges supporting students with disabilities and English language learners. On Share My Lesson, we have added a new resource page on supporting students with disabilities during COVID-19, and our partner Colorín Colorado has a host of resources for supporting English language learners.
Finally, as you dive into the new digital world, try out new online communication tools, or pick up the phone to call your students—know that any connection you make with your students means the world to them. I know it is not the same as face to face. I share your concerns about kids falling far behind. However, do not underestimate your impact even if it is a phone call, a recorded video, a packet that goes home with meals, or using your local cable TV. I am sure many parents will agree with me: The moment that online class, phone call, TV show or video is over, our kids are glowing. The day before they get to hear from you (if they know it’s coming), they are jumping up and down. Your students care and miss you deeply. And all of us parents appreciate you, too. Thank you for continuing to move mountains.