Learning and teaching during pandemic times

I have always been enthralled by the principles of an IB education which include progressive ideas of student agency, action and a mission to create global citizens of the future.

Unfortunately, before the school year began in 2020, we were thrown into the unchartered waters of a historic pandemic. As educators, the immediate challenge was to ensure the next generation didn’t lose their connection with normal schooling and as PYP teachers, we faced additional worries of whether our young ones would have access to laptops at home or be able to navigate internet safety issues. We began to dip our toes into the realms of digital citizenship and soon realised it would be an arduous swim to get the children to the safety of the shore on the other side of this pandemic.

Teachers networked to familiarise themselves with software such as MS Teams and then connected with students online. The sound of familiar laughter rang only through laptops and was a bittersweet reminder of the uncertainty of when we would be able to walk through school corridors together again. We were the ones who had to display the IB Learner Profile of ‘Courageous’ and lead our students by example.

My biggest challenge has been to find resources that actively engage my students in an online scenario. My aids from the ‘teaching toolkit’ lay gathering dust in a quiet classroom while I grappled with mastering new technologies that would stimulate the imagination and hone the thinking skills of my students. It took resolve and a sense of perseverance to find ways to tweak teaching strategies and adapt them to an online era of education. I resolved to utilise as many classroom techniques as I can and adapt them to the current scenario. I now find that teaching online no longer presents a feeling of fear but rather one of opportunity.

When we attended regular school, we began the day by warmly greeting students and asking them how they were. Now I see sunny smiles on my screen through Google Jam board which enables me to check in with them and where they enjoy selecting emoticons that best describe how they feel. This activity invariably leads to a discussion which in turn paves the way for social and emotional learning which I believe is of utmost importance in these troubling times where students often find themselves unable to cope.

I also enjoy doing an ‘emotional check-in’ with the students before or after an assessment which creates a sense of awareness of whether they are assessment ready or not. They display a tremendous amount of faith and honesty as they share their feelings with peers and facilitators which in turn serves to encourage and develop the qualities of being reflective and effective communicators.

I quickly began to realise that virtual learning can be as much fun as interacting in person. My students have become extremely independent while proficiently handling online learning and applications. They enjoy using technology and feel a sense of accomplishment when introduced to a new app or forum. Their eyes light up at the word ‘quiz’ and they delight in the time we spend together developing higher order thinking skills.

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I recalled my favourite “Hexagonal Thinking Strategy” used in class last year which worked beautifully to create opportunities for students to make connections between topics. I brainstormed on how I could use this online and came up with the following solution. For detailed information on the Hexagonal Strategy please visit this link- https://reviewmirror.in/2021/04/18/the-hexagonal-strategy-building-connections-and-collaboration-in-a-classroom/

I created a slide of colour coded hexagons and placed key words from our unit on ‘Earth’ at the edge of the slide. Each term had to be connected to the other through the side of a hexagon. Initially the students could make individual connections between concepts, but as more terms were added, the learners had to make connections between two to three concepts at once. The students had already inquired and done research into these topics and it was now time for them to become thinkers, form new connections and justify why they thought these terms were associated.

I shared my screen with the students and was pleased to notice the palpable excitement as their neurons began firing to figure out how they could make connections between these terms. As the hexagons were colour coded, they could easily inform me where they wanted the term to be placed. Each learner had a chance to speak and explain their reasons on why they wanted to make connections between the items. The students meticulously collaborated to complete the hexagonal strategy.

After a hard day’s work, we enjoy a few laughs together by playing games such as ‘The North Wind Blows.’ In this game, one person narrates a situation to the entire class, and those who are in that state must raise their virtual hands on MS Teams. I once had a student say, “The North Wind blows for those who have not brushed their teeth yet!” I was amused to note that more than half the class had raised their hands which made me extract a promise from them to brush their teeth first thing in the morning.

As I watched them work, I realized that this was just the tip of the iceberg that was the depth of International Baccalaureate. We have opportunities to adapt our students learning experiences to any scenario, even if it be in the case of an unthought of pandemic. My class have seemingly matured into young adults who take an active interest in their own learning journey as they realise the value of their lessons and the importance of education.

These past months have once again taught me the true meaning of education. It is contained within relationships and is an ongoing inquiry process that is not confined within four walls but can be transferred to the outside world.

It inspired me to think that if we could keep giving students the opportunity to become independent with the ability to overcome obstacles using their own strength of character, we could empower them to be confident and capable individuals for the rest of their lives.

Children may not remember every lesson taught by their third-grade teacher, but they will always cherish how their thoughts were given serious consideration and the sense of self-worth that was bestowed on them.  The feeling of achievement is something no one can take away from an individual and the lingering feelings of pride and accomplishment will always be an asset when facing life’s challenges.

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