COVID-19

In Sync…or not so much?

My week began today with Office Hours – a Teams meeting in which students could ‘join’ and there they would find me, ready to chat and discuss all things Design and then some! In between scooping out a batch of oatmeal cookies and supervising a game of Chess, a student stopped in. I decided to use the opportunity to pick her brain about how things were going with continuing school online.

Here are 5 things we discussed that could help you in making the decision around balancing a synchronous -vs- asynchronous schedule:

Icons made by Icon Pond from www.flaticon.com

Don’t Dump!

teachers really overdid it in the first week with what seemed like a mega dump of homework instead of actual ‘school’.

Our first week in, we were tasked with posting assignments online. We did not meet online with our students but were asked to use our online platforms to assign work. While we had a collaborative document that all teachers populated with their tasks, this didn’t seem to help students from feeling like they were being dumped a load of ‘homework’. My student sang the praises of her teachers who are “really getting it now” and can easily see the changes that have occurred over the six weeks we have been online.

Show Up!

…it is really nice to see the teacher and hear their voiceseven if we are not going to turn our cameras on!

This is likely going to be one of the few times that the students see us inside our natural habitats! Embrace it! Let them see your kids zoom across the screen, your collections, your artwork, your book stack. Maybe move the things you don’t want them to see (!) but it is really nice for the kids to see your face and hear your voice – even if you think both look/sound weird on camera!

Pre-Record

…the kids are talking about who records their lessons as short 10 minute chunks and publishes these prior to scheduled online time, as part of the assignment

This is a big plus from her peer group who love that they can listen to and rewind this instructional stuff in their own time. We are more than makers of assignments. We help our students figure out what they haven’t considered yet. We expose them to new ideas. We help them connect rather than simply collect the dots. One way to do this is to prepare a short video that kids can watch in their own time and come to you with further questions. If you operate with Chrome, Screencastify is a great option for recording these types of videos.

Flex Time

Having flexibility is important to me. I like to be able to create my own schedule especially as I figure out when the best times are for me to get my work done.

One-size rarely fits anyone well – and the same goes for school schedules. My student’s current plan is to work really hard on Monday and Tuesday on given assignments, seek feedback and add to her work on Wednesday and Thursday by asking questions during online meetings, and cruise into the weekend on Friday. She’s figured out she needs to get more done during the day rather than stay up at night working. She knows she needs to make time while there’s daylight to get outside. She values time with her friends who are still all not in her timezone. I was really impressed with her ability to advocate for herself and to remain flexible – knowing that this may need to change based on any number of circumstances.

Fixed Time

A fixed meeting time can be a good thing. Its even better when the teacher doesn’t keep you there for the whole time. The best is when they give you time to work on whatever they assigned.

This student has asked me if she should wait for Office Hours/Design Meetings to ask her questions, or if she should email me, because “I know you’re really busy too”. Having a fixed time releases some of that anxiety for students who don’t want to bother you or don’t want to ask questions in front of their friends. I ran mixed grade office hours last week and that was really fun to be discussing graphic design, photography, and game design with a small group of kids from three different grade levels. Don’t feel the pressure to keep the meeting going for the full hour though. I find setting an agenda helps and posting this to the class before the lesson so they can come prepared. If you do want them to ask or answer questions, prep them for this. Give them cues to look for in your lesson as a way in for them to contribute.

I go back again to Seth Godin’s post about The Conversation. I was in a Teams meeting the other day when input was being sought from faculty around online learning successes and overcoming obstacles. We started with “Amy”, then “Andy”….and 34 contributors later…”Sonya”. It was really hard to stay focused. And the tech wasn’t great. And most people didn’t turn their cameras on. As we met we were also filling in a shared document. What I was solid about when I came out of that call, was that I was:

  • going to shorten my synchronous class meetings
  • give access to EVERYTHING I wanted to discuss in a syncronous meeting to the participants BEFORE the meeting
  • explore ways to get students talking in breakout groups

As it stands for us, we are following our typical 8 Day school schedule. At the end of the week, we look ahead to our allocated class times and we choose two of them: one is going to be office hours, and one a synchronous class (recorded for those who can not attend). This gives our kids a mix of face-to-face time and independent work time with the option of teacher help.

As a mom and a teacher, I am finding that pre-pandemic, I did an excellent job of using my prep blocks at school to prep for school. Now, my prep blocks are taken up with playing chase, walking to the mailboxes, baking muffins, prepping snacks, lunch, and dinner, doing laundry, building lego, and navigating all the G1 activities on SeeSaw for my daughter. Anything else is left for well after my kids are in bed.

To continue with the same pace of regular school is not sustainable in this environment. It makes me wonder if it ever really WAS sustainable sans-pandemic? My biggest hope is that we use this as an opportunity to rethink the way we “do school”. If we return “business as usual” when all restrictions are lifted, we have wasted an opportunity for ourselves and our kids. I am looking to see which schools rise up from this as true innovators and creators when all is said and done.

Will it be your school? Will you be leading the charge for change?

5 thoughts on “In Sync…or not so much?”

  1. Love this! It is great to hear from the students. No dumping. Stay connected. Let me know when we can talk. and Trust me to get it done in my time. Good advice!

  2. A real, go to, for distance learning or online teaching. Thank you. I like the 5 Icons (visuals that could be the titles of the different parts) you used to embed the ideas in your text and in our minds. Like an information text we can easily access the parts that we need to find out about.

    1. Thanks Juliette! I love thinking in visuals and using images to anchor my thinking. In writing this post, I started with the notes from my conversation, tried to think of a summary of that part of the conversation and then sought out an image to match that summary. I then went back to ‘flesh out’ the ideas in more detail.

  3. Hi Sonya – Thank you so much for a detailed reflection on how your remote learning is working for you and your students. I was wondering what your regular schedule looks like? Is it a rotating block schedule where you would usually see your students for a longer period of time every other day?

    Our schedule isn’t like that and in many cases, our students will see their teacher every day for just 45 minutes. We currently ask teachers to meet students every single lesson in a live meet/zoom but this is getting very exhausting and I’m not sure it’s helping students as much as we think it is. I am working on a suggestion that is based on this office hours approach as I think it might be easier to understand (and less scary) than a completely asynchronous lesson.

    1. Hey Ange, We regularly have five 55-60 min blocks a day and run an 8-day cycle. For the purposes of online learning, we look at our week (say Day 6 through to Day 2) and we pick 2 of our regularly scheduled class times. One is ‘compulsory” and one is Office Hours. I think it works relatively well. If I was running “lessons” as per normal schedule I might go a bit bonkers. In fact, no “might” about it. Especially with young kids at home. Like most things, a balanced approach seems to function better than all or nothing. Good luck with deciding what to do! I would definitely advocate for a change from business as usual in these unusual times!

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