Teaching in the Times of COVID19

In this article Barbara presents her thoughts on what it is like to teach during a pandemic and she shares valuable tools such as Universal Design for Learning which can be incorporated into any classroom.  

Teaching in the Times of COVID19 and tools such as Universal Design for Learning

In this short text, I would like to reflect on the lessons I have learnt and changes I have made to make my teaching better and more effective in the times of COVID19. I have always been extremely interested in new digital technologies and have been following the edtech industry for many years. This has helped me choose solutions that work during remote teaching. Universal Design for Learning, project-based learning, Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), Microsoft Teams, top 5 edtech apps, and PLNs are some of the topics I am going to discuss below.

Let’s start with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) which is an educational framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for everyone and is based on scientific insights into how humans learn. Every time I design a lesson, I start with UDL. Not only is it useful in a traditional classroom, but it is also extremely important in online environments. Mike Marotta says: “It is a way to connect every student to the learning experience, and a way at looking at learning that is fully inclusive and promotes success for all learners, regardless of ability.“

Here you can see a poster that I created to remind myself of UDI principles that I use while teaching remotely.

Universal Design for Learning in Online Environments

Giving students a voice and a choice has always been my priority. It is my strong belief that student engagement increases once they can decide how they want to learn, what kind of edtech they want to use and how they want to demonstrate what they have learnt. The number of edtech solutions is growing and by sharing, for example, links to tools students could use helps them select the best tool for their needs. If you are new to this way of thinking, check passion projects, 20% Time and Genius Hour projects or project-based learning which give students a lot of opportunities for empowerment.

Another thing that COVID19 has shown us is the importance of the balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. 100% of our classes do not need to be online. Live-lessons are not always best. Using for example Screencastify – a free Chrome browser extension, you can record your screen, face and voice. This tool is very useful when you want to create a flipped classroom, explain difficult concepts, recap the day’s main objectives, demonstrate an idea or give students audio or video feedback on their work.  Very often we, as teachers, want to make sure that every second counts and we plan our lessons in a very detailed way making sure there are lots of tasks to keep our students occupied. COVID19 shows that in remote teaching, less is more. What I mean by this is we need to avoid high cognitive load by:

  • Allowing learners space for absorbing new facts and concepts.
  • Organizing information into small units.
  • Providing opportunities for learners to make the content meaningful to them.
  • Slowing down the pace of instruction.
  • Introducing students to retrieval practice.

This leads me to another issue which is social-emotional learning (SEL). COVID19 has forced us to see that being focused on developing students’ IQ is not enough and in order to help students reach their full potential, we must also help them to develop their emotional intelligence. By addressing SEL in our teaching and making it an integrative part of learning, instead of just an addition, we help students overcome trauma and thrive in the years to come. It can be tough for students of any age to understand what they are feeling and to channel those feelings in ways that help them be better people and better learners. There are many apps and games that will help students with everything from anger management to emotional identification to meditation. My students’ favourite ones are: Calm, SuperBetter and MyLife Meditation.

Professional learning networks and international projects have always played a very important role in my teaching career. In May 2020, I created a global project with Lesley Fearn and Lynn Thomas. The project is called Single Voices, GlobalChoices and I am mentioning it here because it enables me to share my ideas, lesson plans and resources with teachers from more than 60 countries all over the world. We grow and learn together by supporting each other in these difficult times. If you are the type of a teacher who is always seeking new ideas and who needs colleagues beyond four walls, go to Twitter and connect with millions of teachers who share their content and ideas with others.

When it comes to digital tools, it is hard to choose only one tool, but if I was forced to do it, I would go for Microsoft Teams – an online communication and collaboration platform which enables users to host virtual meetings, post in groups and send instant messages. I use it with my students every single day and I also share educational content with educators from all over the world using Teams.  A feature that I love is “Breakout rooms” because it has enabled me to continue boosting collaboration among my students.

Other interesting tools that have helped me boost the engagement level of my students and have helped me work smarter have been:

Flipgrid-a simple, free, and accessible video discussion experience

IDoRecall-a unique spaced-repetition flashcard app that takes a holistic approach to helping students and lifelong learners become efficient and effective learners

Wakelet-a curation tool that allows you to save, organize, tell stories, and share content from around the web

Sway-a digital storytelling tool allowing your students to create digital portfolios

Workona– a great tool that helps me manage tabs, organize projects, and brings together all of my work in the cloud

Whether you teach in virtual or hybrid classes, I hope this special time has provided you the opportunity to innovate, to learn about new edtech tools, to accommodate a diverse group of students, to reimagine your approaches to teaching and learning and allow your students to learn in different ways; at different places; in a more autonomous manner.

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