As the school year ends, school districts are reeling from the repercussions of COVID-19 and weighing options for welcoming students back for the 2020-21 school year. At the same time, administrators and teachers are grappling with how to plan instruction that will build on the successes and learnings of the sudden transition to remote education and address the challenges that arose due to the pandemic..
In a recent article in Forbes published in late April 2020, education writer Natalie Wexler noted that remote teaching often “…intensifies challenges inherent in face-to-face settings.” She offered several tips worth sharing including the use of digitally delivered instruction to focus on content. The emphasis, according to Wexler is to build on the background students have already learned rather than strictly concentrating comprehension skills and strategies. Skills practice can occur outside digital lessons and synchronous class time. A part of this approach is connecting new content to students’ prior knowledge and when introducing a new concept of skill, showing students examples.
An example she offered rang an important bell.
Wexler recommended that teachers provide students with examples of new concepts, for instance by showing students the process of solving a math problem, demonstrating through live or video clips on how to solve it and how to show and explain their work. But in digital environment, un-natural mouse movement and keystrokes impose constraints that can be limiting for teachers and inhibit comprehension for students.
There is a solution and it works across grade bands and subject areas. Digital pens and tablets give teachers the ability to intuitively show and simultaneously tell students about concepts and content…writing and drawing as freely as they would if they were using a chalkboard or sharing a paper-based document with students one-to-one.
Shorter is Better. Interactivity is Imperative.
Time on task is always a teaching challenge. Students’ attention spans are short and when they’re learning from home, the distraction factor is multiplied. Traditional class-length lessons of 50+ minutes, presented via teleconference apps like Zoom, are according to many teachers, inviting students to disengage. A better solution is to deliver short, live video or recorded presentations of 20 minutes or less, paired with interactive individual and small group online meetings to answer student questions, review student work or conduct informal assessments of students’ needs and understanding.
For Social Studies and English Teachers
A technique worth trying in literature or social studies might be to review or read content and then interject discussion questions or fast writing prompts. Even this kind of simple, straight forward interactivity works to keep students engaged. If students can then share their screens with answers and teachers react and respond, the level of engagement can be sustained. With digital pen and tablet technology, teachers can talk about and write comments in real time on student work, guiding students’ further inquiry and understanding. Simple strategies like this work effectively in the new remote teaching ecosystem.
For Math Educators
In math, we ask students to show their work and make their thinking visible to check for comprehension and understanding of complex operations. With a digital pen and tablet technology, teachers can create short videos that introduce new concepts or untangle math misconceptions, by sharing a screen and writing the equations and explanations on the screen, highlighting and then changing misconceptions, and providing ‘exemplars’ for students about how to show your work. The ability to draw freely, highlight and write works in both a “whole class” lesson and in one-to-one or small group virtual sessions with students.
For Science Teachers
Science educators have been particularly challenged in the remote environment because “doing science” with hands-on experiments is how students experience and engage in phenomena, data collection and data analysis. Whether you’re using video simulations in physics or conducting chemistry experiments on video, you can use probeware and data analysis tools, and then share your screen, to show students graphical analysis of the results. Highlighting, annotating, and even sketching the phenomena for students can unlock deeper understanding.
Adopting a New Tool Now to Prepare for New Teaching Environments
Before your eyes glaze over at the thought of bringing yet another new technology tool into the mix, it might be worth thinking again…particularly if that tool can support your teaching in both the remote and in-school environment. Digital pen and tablet technology is typically “plug and play” and compatible with the instructional software and platforms you’re currently using, including Google Classroom, Microsoft Office programs like Word, PowerPoint and One, along with Adobe’s creative software. Teachers can use the pens in nearly any content area and at any grade level. They’ll help elementary teachers clarify and emphasize early reading and math concepts. They’ll support math and science teachers as they illustrate complex graphs, equations and operations.
There are other advantages to consider as well. You’ve no doubt seen the images as some schools reopened for the rest of the school year. Classrooms have been reconfigured to satisfy safety guidelines in order for students and teachers to keep safe social distances from one another. Those protocols will no doubt continue and expand when the new school year begins in the fall. It will be more difficult to work side-by-side with an individual student or a small group of students. But with digital pen and tablet technology, you can work directly with students, commenting on their work, sharing conversations, and providing individual learning support via screen, while you’re in the classroom together. So, this is one instance, when adding a new tool can translate directly into improved instructional delivery and a way to meet individualized learning goals.
Another consideration? In the event of a “second wave” and if additional stay-at-home orders become necessary again, teachers will have a head start and will be more prepared for remote learning work if needed.
Take Advantage of Summer Break to Give Digital Pen Technology a Try
As you plan for the school year ahead, summer break just might give you the opportunity to test drive digital pen and tablet technology, so you can become familiar with using this tool as you plan and build instruction for the year ahead. You might even want to revisit the videos you created for this school and see how additional sequences that annotate, highlight or sketch key ideas can enhance those presentations. You might even consider teaming up with colleagues and learning together over the summer, helping each other enhance and expand lessons for the early months of the new school year.
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