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Posts tagged ‘Courtney Knowlton’

Emphasizing Multimodalities for Multilingual Learners during Distance Learning

by Courtney Knowlton

It is almost unbelievable that I entitled my Google Classroom assignments for this week, “Week 8. . . .” I have been teaching from my computer for eight weeks now? How is that possible? Although I must say that in those eight weeks as a virtual English language development (ELD) teacher, it seems I have learned a full year’s worth of strategies to support and enrich my students using technology.

Recently, I asked my multilingual learners to reflect on their distance learning journey so far and create an infographic of tips for students and teachers. This project helped me reflect on my own journey as well. First of all, it was eye opening to watch the students create their projects. It helped me understand the range of computer literacy skills present in our group. For some students, the task of searching for images and formatting them on the Google Doc took them a substantial amount of time. Asynchronous teaching takes away our ability to adapt in the moment, which is why it is so important for us to continuously reach out to our students, especially those in the ELD program, and ask them, “How long did it take you to complete this work?” Chunking the tasks appropriately is crucial for student success.

Our infographic project also supported my belief in the value of visual literacies. Did the students get a little frustrated when their image pushed their text around in weird ways? They certainly did, but haven’t we all been there at some point? More importantly, the use of visuals led to students identifying the main idea of their tips, thinking metaphorically, and comparing the usefulness of different images for getting their point across. Creating a project with visuals is a task that is accessible to students of all language levels and it is a skill that can be used in many different contexts. When I first started teaching from home, most of my assignments involved students interacting with texts. For the last few weeks of school, I want to intentionally plan more opportunities for students to create with visuals.

When the students completed their infographics, I noticed that a common thread within their projects was praise for the use of videos and synchronous meetings. These students are missing all of the aural literacy development and person to person connection that they get when they are at school. In order to attempt to fill this void for them, I have been using a few free tools available through the Chrome Web Store. I use Screencastify to create videos to explain assignments. At the moment, they are offering a code for educators affected by the pandemic to access their premium services, which is CAST_COVID. Two more Chrome add-ons that have improved our distance learning experience are the Grid View Extension, which allows you to see all participants in a Google Meet, and the Nod Extension, which gives students the ability to click on an icon to raise their hand as well as to use emojis to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Lastly, I use an extension called Mote to leave voice comments on the students work in Google Docs and Google Slides.

When planning learning experiences for multilingual learners, it is crucial to keep different literacies in mind for both receptive and expressive communication. In my case, I have been using visuals and auditory information effectively to deliver lessons. However, I need to make more of an effort to invite students to express themselves using different modes as well.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? How has distance learning questioned or improved your best practices? How might distance learning improve and/or challenge your teaching in September 2020?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Distance Learning: Reflecting on Pandemic Priorities

By Courtney Knowlton

Back in mid-March my principal sent an email  entitled, “Emergency Staff Meeting at 3:15 pm.” It was a jarring phrase to read in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. The purpose was to let us know that students would be off the following Friday and Monday, so we could prepare ten days worth of plans for distance learning. Little did we know that Thursday would be the last time this school year that the students gathered at the front doors of our school and we would need distance learning plans for much, much longer than ten days.

That Friday I sat in a classroom with my colleagues to develop a preliminary plan, and for the last four weeks we have taught our students from a screen. One of the most challenging parts of designing this online learning experience was sifting through the bombardment of resources. I received over 40 emails touting “virtual offerings” and “free access due to school closures.” The distance learning paradox is that I seem to have an unlimited supply of free resources, but I have a much more limited amount of time to interact with my students on a weekly basis. It felt overwhelming at first, but I discovered a process that helped to make the best of these challenging times.

When visualizing how to reach students virtually, it helped me to brainstorm a list of priorities. Here is my list so far:

  1. I want to show students that I care using whatever means necessary, whether we connect by video chat, phone, or mail.
  2. I want to develop something that my students can depend on, since they are dealing with so much change.
  3. I want to incorporate elements that my students are familiar with to give them a sense of comfort.
  4. I want to give students choice during a time that they may feel that so much is out of their control.
  5. I want to use technology to my benefit to give students more one-on-one time and specific feedback.
  6. I want to find ways for students to interact with each other. 
  7. I want to assess students with high expectations, but also with flexibility and understanding knowing they have different levels of accessibility and different home situations.
  8. I want to remember to think about my own health and wellness and try to maintain a work life balance.

Throughout March and the beginning of April I have tried to keep these priorities in mind when creating my Google Classroom. So far, I would say I have been most successful with 1, 2, and 5, and honestly 4, 6, and 8 have been quite a struggle. For me, it was an act of inquiry. I would try something, see how my students responded, and adapt accordingly.

Regarding connecting to students, I learned most of them could be reached using the announcement page on my Google Classroom or via messaging their parents on Class Dojo.  Thankfully my school was able to give out Chromebooks and once all the students had access to the technology, the best way to explain how to use it was by inviting them to a video chat and sharing my screen with them. Then, I could model how to navigate the site. I learned to be patient. At first hardly any students attended the chat, but over the weeks more and more logged in. Video chats were also a great way to bring a little fun into our situation. For example, we did one to sing happy birthday to a student, and I found an old party hat and bright pink noise maker in my basement that made the students laugh. 

To create something the students could depend on, I consistently provided information for them and their parents on our Google Classroom. At the beginning of the week I posted a grid organized by day number with a numbered list of work. Then, within the assignments tab, I titled each assignment using the format: Week #, Day #, Description. When the students clicked on the assignment they found two resources. The first was a video that I made using Screencastify. Each video showed my computer screen, while I explained the directions for the assignment. The other resource was their own copy of a Google Doc that I created for them to submit their thinking. Sometimes after checking the students’ work, I realized my weekly plan needed to be tweaked.  If this happened, I would add CHANGE IN PLANS to the assignment title. Even though the work was different week to week, I found that keeping these elements consistent helped to minimize the amount of questions I was receiving for how to complete it.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to look for guidance with my priorities. Attending Zoom meetings with my professional communities has made me feel more grounded and better equipped to handle teaching from home. In some ways this shift to distance learning has made me feel more alone, but in other ways it has given me new ways to connect with others on a global level.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing? How are you finding a balance?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.