Trainers from EWC Schools for Democracy in Ukraine shared their experience on how to teach, evaluate and combine formats in distance learning.
By Nadia Shvadchak, NUS
• Andriy Zaluzhnyi, history teacher at the classical gymnasium at Ivan Franko Lviv National University;
• Mykola Popadiuk, teacher of history and social sciences at Chernivtsi gymnasium №3
In addition to organizing distance learning in their schools, Andriy and Mykola have experience in a distance learning of school teams from all over Ukraine that participated in the Schools for Democracy programme.
Read the answers from the trainers on the following questions:
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Sending tasks via Viber/WhatsApp is not distance learning. The teacher needs to decide on a platform and practice. The success of distance learning depends on how well the teacher is acquainted with the program. Therefore, it is not recommended to change platforms too often. We work in Google Classroom and Zoom.
Teachers have access to Google Calendar, which has a schedule for distance learning classes. Tasks can be given in Google Classroom and explained during the lesson in Zoom. A combination of two formats – distance-learning (Zoom) and practical work (Google Classroom) gives the best results. It is important to explain to students that they should find a quiet place with good internet for the lesson and turn on the microphones when they speak.
It is necessary to choose one platform and to understand it well, and only then address other tools. If my students work in Google Classroom, I can use both YouTube and ClassTime.
You can choose a statistical method – to compare students’ assessments during face-to-face and online learning. But this is not a very informative way because there are students who had rating 9 at school, and at distance learning advanced to 12 due to self-organization. And vice versa. Another way is to observe whether students are interested if they keep the cameras on or take an active part in the lessons.
The main idea is to involve students. If we can make them interested with the help of various online communication tools, they will not be distracted. At the beginning of the lesson you can make exercises and energizers to check the activity and technical side. I can ask the class to count from 1 to 30 (if 30 students). If you get stuck/lost – we all start again. So, the students become attentive, listen to each other, and I see that everything is in place – cameras and microphones are working. You can also, for example, pass each other an imaginary ball. At the end of the lesson, you can give a common whiteboard, where everyone will put a smile or choose the color of their mood. This way the teacher will be able to see how the topic “worked” or whether the children are tired. You can also give access to a Google document, where each student will write what his / her mood is. Or do a survey. For example, we study an important historical figure and students vote – is he/she a positive or negative character. Images and videos also help avoid distractions. But videos should be no longer than 3-4 minutes.
A standard lecture is not suitable for online learning. You need to maintain the dynamics and use different formats: finish the sentence, vote. At the beginning and end of the lesson, I make a roll call asking to turn on the cameras to see if everyone is present. I use the Mentimeter platform for surveys, because it has a mobile version (and children join the class mostly from smartphones). Surveys are also a good way to check if everyone is present when the cameras are off.
I have no right to demand that students have their cameras on, since the government has not provided students with gadgets and devices. Sometimes they do not turn on the camera because they brush their teeth or have breakfast. But it doesn’t matter to me as long as they listen. Even if the child is lying on the bed during the lesson but notes down, listens, and is interested, what difference does it make to me? It is important that the child does not hate the lesson and the whole world including me.
If the child is passive – a personal appeal will help: “What do you, Natalya, think?” Yet , it is important (and we have such a rule) that students come to class under their real names and surnames, and not use nicknames.
It is worth choosing interesting tools, to show that it is cool to participate in the classroom work. You can motivate by assessment or reducing the number of tasks. For example, you work in class – you get less homework. You can also assign individual tasks or group such students together. Then the passive student is given the task to present the work of the group, so there will be no opportunity not to work. Regarding individual tasks, I had one rather introvert student. Once, in a civil education class, a student asked if she could talk about anime. Although it was off topic, I gave her the opportunity – and she was busy preparing a presentation for the next class.
Google Classroom provides clear assessment criteria and students know it. I try to give more individual and less group tasks, because there is a risk that one person will do everything for the whole group. For the tests, I first used the NaUrok platform, and now – a system from a company that provides us with an electronic journal. Although Google Classroom also has this option.
At the beginning of the quarantine, teachers could not conduct quality online lessons, so it was necessary to evaluate students leniently. We focused more on positive [encouraging] evaluation. But as soon as the teacher begins to work at a high level – then you can require such work from students.
However, the problem remains – it is difficult to check students for integrity. They perform many tasks with their parents. Tests with a certain time for answers, mixing of questions, possibility to give only one answer can prevent cheating and copying. In general, the focus should be on formative assessment and student progress. Individual meetings will help in this.
I usually conduct this in the individual Zoom rooms. I plan an hour and a half for such communication. The conversation can either last for thirty seconds or half an hour. We talk about students’ progress, how they worked, and what mark they should get. It takes time, but it is my contribution to the further effectiveness of the lessons.
“Everything is great, I liked your thoughts” or “I have noticed that you do not complete the task every time. Explain, please”. We often look to the future: what the students would like to achieve. If the child wants more – we determine what to do: write more essays, read, show more respect to meeting the deadlines and more. I keep all these individual trajectories in mind, but I would advise to take notes.
- Examine in detail the online platform on which you will conduct distance learning (for example, a free conference in Zoom can last 40 minutes, so you need to warn students if you need to reconnect)
- Make the same invitation for different classes (recurring conference) (example: 10A class – 01234, 10B class – 56789). For the next online lesson in Zoom the students will use the same link
- Ask students to join online lessons from places with good internet access and using headphones, if needed
- Together with students, develop rules for working online (high-quality Internet connection, students show up in class using their own names, turn on the camera, activity, no sound barriers for other participants in the lesson)
- Inform students in advance (according to the schedule and no later than 24 hours before the lesson) about the online lesson and how to join it (for example, a link and password to the Zoom conference)
- Try to plan the lesson so that students are constantly involved in the learning process (tests, online voting, chat answers, other interactive activities)
- Develop an algorithm for actions in case of uninvited guests (for example, transfer them to the waiting room)
- Ask students to turn on the cameras, make a roll call in the chat at the beginning and end of the lesson
- Thanks to online format, you can invite an interesting person/expert to the lesson. Take advantage of this.
I can’t say that some study better than others. But adults are more motivated to sit in front of a computer than children. The level of digital skills was to my surprise rather equal, although I expected it to be higher with children.
Adults learn on their own, so they have more motivation, they are more involved in the process. Children, as always, have their own attitude to the lesson, which is mandatory for them.
In a pandemic, teachers found themselves in a situation where they had no choice with only one option – online education. There is a stereotype that teachers still live by the norms of old times (the Soviet Union), but in reality they are open to change, and I could see this before the lockdown. That is why the Digital Skills for Teachers course on the Action platform was highly popular among the teachers who wanted to learn something new. Teachers are enthusiastic and eager to grow professionally, while stereotypes demotivate them.
I have seen teachers of retirement age who can outbid university graduates. Yes, they don’t have the basic computer skills, but when it comes to specific applications, they master them quickly. Young people, on the other hand, develop digital skills on an intuitive level.
Teachers who want to stay the in profession understand the challenge and master the technology. Those who find it difficult are looking for colleagues to help them understand all the issues to keep updated. There is no alternative: if the school switches to distance learning and the teacher wants to work, he/she must learn new methods of work. After all, parents demand quality teaching.