Pandemic Reflections

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Christine Paterson is a social studies teacher and Campus Innovation Connector at Navarro High School. She loves reading and learning, when she can inspire her students to do the same. Outside of school, Christine enjoys podcasts, Dateline, and decorating sugar cookies.

Human nature demands that we attempt survival at all costs. While for many, this year felt like survival  mode, I want to argue that we thrived. Teaching virtually during a global pandemic was a bit like those Choose Your Own Adventure books from the 80s and 90s. If I use Jamboard instead of Google Slides, will that change the trajectory of the learning?  If I let them log off, will they be productive with their asynchronous time? How will I know what the students know when I can’t see their faces? 

It took me a little time but I figured out how to answer those questions: student reflection. For years I have half committed to students reflecting when they finish a test or a project but I have never fully committed to a system of reflection. I never felt like there was enough time, or I had an organized system, or that it wouldn’t just be “one more thing”. The only real way for me to know the happenings behind those black screens was to ask them. So I did. And consistently. 

I asked them what they learned and for feedback on the process. I asked them how they used their time. I asked them what questions they had and how they were feeling. I asked them to set goals and to celebrate their progress even when they didn’t meet the goal they set. An example of a student response: “My goal for today was to unmute at least once, and I chose this because I thought unmuting would be helpful to the group. I met my goal by talking to the teacher and also by talking in my small group, the impact of this was that my small group was more communicative and it lead to all 3 of us unmuting and talking and reading.” In addition to their goals and successes, other things I learned include: 

  • An overwhelming desire for asynchronous time in the middle of class or not at all because it kept them accountable as we worked towards something.
  • They liked submitting checklists to help with organization.
  • I use too many tabs (I am still working on this one!)
  • Personal things – like when they got a job or what their favorite song was. 

It was amazing. 

On a day I proctored STAAR, they held their own Zoom meetings to keep working on a project without me. At the end of the “class” students reflected. One student wrote: “I didn’t want the zoom meeting but C tell me to do it but It was good I got out of my comfort zone and do my best by telling people what to do so they did good so they don’t get in trouble.” Another student said he felt “accomplished” because “we were able to do work without Ms. Paterson’s help, we finished our work some what.” Their reflections helped us to co-construct a learning environment where they felt empowered to learn without me. 

Many days this year their insight and feedback served as the highlight of my day and inspired me to continue the daunting and exhausting task of student engagement in a remote learning environment. I found their reflections gave me a clearer picture of their learning experience, and not just the one that I would normally see through classroom observation. Although exhausting, this year provided an opportunity for growth and development. I can’t wait to reflect on how to incorporate my takeaways into next year. 

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