Teaching in the Time of Covid-19 Part 1– Online Learning in English Literature

Hi all. We’ve been hit with a set of circumstances for which we are not prepared. We’re not trained in online pedagogy, and 2 weeks (or less for some of you) is not enough time to become accustomed. As such– and this should be noted– we can only do our best. It is unlikely that the online classroom will be as good as our in-person simply because there’s less we can do and less time to figure it out. Having said that, I spent the past week thinking of and reading how to not make the next two months a complete bust. By identifying key methods that support students in special education and those learning English as an additional language, I’m hoping that this post will give some pointers on simplifying and enhancing the online instruction for all students. 

Checking for Understanding

The key difference between a lecture and explicit instruction is checking for understanding. Even in an in-person class, talking nonstop at your students is simply not a good idea. Add to that having to listen to a recorded lecture all the while in the comfort of your home, that bad idea is amplified 10 times. As such, it’s imperative stay away from simply lecturing without pausing to give student time to process what we’re teaching.  Normally, I would do a lot of reading aloud and questioning of material, so in order to try to create some semblance of that, I’ll be pre-recording my lectures and during the video periodically telling students “Okay pause the video and respond to this question”. 

Further, the content of my lesson will be scaled back. I’ll introduce less material and ask them to read fewer pages at a single time. With my school having 80 minute periods, 40 minutes of instruction with 40 minutes of “check-in” time is what we’ve been advised to do. During those 80 minutes,  I’ll be available as students move through the lesson at their own pace. 

ESL, Special Education, and Developing Readers

In my mixed ability classroom, I attend to a number of issues every day. In addition to trying to teach the complexities of literature, I also work to ensure I’m meeting accommodations, teaching some of the fundamentals of reading for students who are missing them, and supporting the students who, as  independent readers, read below grade level. 

Developing readers need to hear an expert reader read everyday. So, to continue building fluency, I’ll record myself reading our class text (The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers), which can then be used for audio-assisted reading.  This is in lieu of and similar to paired-reading, which I wrote about at the beginning of the school year and have had success with. 

In terms of the delivering material, normally, I can speak at my own pace and check in with my EAL students as I go, but as I don’t have that luxury, I’ll be taking advantage of Google slides’ captions feature  where it records the words that I’m saying as I present. In this way, students who are still developing their mastery of the English language can listen to the pre-recorded lesson at own pace, return back to sections to hear explanations again, and the captions will help make sure that they at least know the words I’m speaking, even if they can’t completely grasp the language independently. 

One-Lesson, One sheet

In order to minimize the split attention effect and develop a routine, the entirety of the work they’ll complete for me is on one google document that they will turn in at the end of the lesson. Similar to our traditional face to face classroom, the lesson will follow the format

  • Activating Background Knowledge (opening thoughts or retrieval)
  • Introduction of key terms
  • Read aloud + modeling my thinking
  • Stop & Jots after analysis of quotes or an excerpt
  • Independent reading of class text
  • Culminating writing assessment

Below, you’ll see an example-in-progress of how I’m imagining the one-sheet.

It’s important to make this process simple so that students won’t have to click around a bunch of different links or pages to get the information. The less chances for them to give up or get confused, the better.

In Sum

I’ve been thinking how to replicate the literacy dense classroom I’ve worked all year to build so I can “hit the ground running” when whatever percent of students show up to our zoom lecture on March 30th.  To be very honest, I don’t know that I will be able to replicate that. All I can do is make the information accessible to all, and all we can ask of each other in this time is to do our best and hope that we aren’t preserving the status quo in the education of the vulnerable and underserved. On March 30th, I’ll start my lesson with a short synchronous “hello”, and let my students be on their way. 

I’m on twitter.

A few things to note about my school: we are 1:1 chromebooks, and have called each student to ensure that they either a) already had wifi or b) got them set up with one of the providers that are offering free wifi. 

***updated 4/1– 40 minutes of lecture is too long! Mine are closer to 20 now.

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