Following the new rules for teaching and learning during a global pandemic has challenged our teachers in ways we had never anticipated before last spring. But Berean Christian High School teachers have risen to the challenge. During these last few months, they have proven themselves to be dedicated and versatile professionals committed to tackling the question: How do we continuously improve teaching and learning at Berean Christian?
We asked some of our teachers to walk us through some of the ideas and methods they've employed to solve the problems inherent in the distance learning.
With the loss of our block schedule, we also lost the time we need to read our literature together in class. I did not want to reduce the number of literary works we cover, nor did I want them to be limited to excerpts. It was important to me that my freshmen get all the literature I can give them in the best way possible.
I needed a way to reserve our class time for the class discussions that help students learn how to analyze literature and really get at the details that make the stories come alive. With that need in mind, I assign the reading as homework the night before our discussion day, and I provide them with professional audio-book-style files that I instruct them to use while they are reading along in the book. This method gets the stories in their minds both through their eyes and through their ears, giving their brains more than one way of acquiring and retaining the information.
Students have responded very favorably to this method of using the audio to make sure they hear the stories in a way that enhances their comprehension, pronunciation, and vocabulary. The files play easily on their iPads, so the process is clean and simple, and they don't get slowed down by technological snags. More importantly, when they come to class, they are ready to contribute to our class discussion, and we can concentrate on the literary analysis and biblical analysis that we apply to every piece of literature.
Our class discussion days are the only days that can almost . . . almost, but not quite . . . make me forget that my beloved students are not here in the room with me. When I see the spark of understanding light up their eyes with realization, and when I hear them sharing insights that bring fresh insights to the whole class, I am reassured that distance learning can provide a strong educational experience for my students until we can all be back together.
One of the biggest areas of concern I have come across with distance learning is being able to engage the students. There is such a stark disconnect with the screen barrier. Tt is difficult to bring the students into the text we are reading. Plus, it is sometimes off putting to simply stare at a talking head all day.
I have done a lot of work with live, onscreen annotation applications, so as to not only give direct reference to what I am talking about, but show them the process, to engage them in a way that is more innovative and entertaining than simply my face talking at them.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The students love it, and it allows them to learn more than just through lecture. This is something I normally am able to do on a whiteboard in class, or have a group huddled around, but now they have it right in front of them on the screen.
I love to have some fun with this, and will often draw little doodles, or use varying color schemes to keep the engaged and entertained, as much of the learning process is enjoyment. If you are enjoying the time spent learning you will want to come back, you will want to know more, and thus, the students find themselves eager to learn.
Two problems typically plague students doing math problems. First, math is considered a boring subject. Second, students usually try to just memorize math and not understand what they are doing and why it works.
First off in order to create interest in math, I have to demonstrate enthusiasm when introducing topics. I can't appear bored and just drone on and on about a bunch of formulas. So, I tend to be a bit crazy for an old lady and I do goofy things from screaming (to scare them) to relating stories that apply to the situation I am talking about. I call on students constantly and don't wait for raised hands so as to keep them focused and on track. And I explain why things work – the concepts behind the math. I emphasize that rote memorization is not going to work and I try to make quizzes and tests to test whether they understand the concepts.
Most students enjoy the class even when math has been difficult for them. They feel comfortable asking questions and typically students work hard to understand the material. I hold my standards high and do not lower them to make things easier. Students rise to the challenge because they know that I am available for help and I want them to succeed. I have taught this way for the last 20 years and it seems to have had good results.
Ways to support and improve art skills without the ability to immediately critique/edit student projects.
I have students upload daily progress photos so that I may give feedback about their progress at the start of class the next day.
I also use the Procreate app to give immediate visual edits to a photo of their work when students do not understand the verbal suggestions I give.
The students haven't given too much feedback (positive or negative), but they see the purpose of the solution.
I am able to critique, though there are limitations – it isn't as immediate as I would like. I do see students making those suggested edits within the progress photo for that day, so I see that it is helpful.