In this week's One Thing You Might Try . . . post, 7th/8th grade English and Social Studies teacher, Jen Vincent, considers how pandemic teaching has affected the way we develop instructional relationships and shares a helpful idea for checking in with students authentically from six feet away.
Yeah, we’re living in a pandemic. You might feel like me, wishing someone would ask me how I’m doing. Sincerely, authentically, actually stopping to ask how I am and truly wanting to know the answer.
Yeah, we’re teaching in a way that no one has ever taught before. You might feel like me, wondering how to ask kids how they are doing, how to check in with them, how to create relationships from six feet away/via Zoom.
Whether you’re in school, in a hybrid model, or in a remote setting, we’re all figuring out how to connect in different ways. I’m teaching 100% remotely via Zoom. I’m used to being able to high-five students, move around the room, chit chat, scan their faces, see who has a new sweatshirt, new haircut, new sticker on their Chromebook. I’m used to being able to see them. Most of my students want to keep their cameras off and I respect that. Not being able to see them is a huge shift but we’re living it, so it’s time to strategize for it.
If you’re like me, you’re searching for ideas. And, even though there are a lot of ideas out there, I’m finding that not every idea matches me. Since I’m craving people who are sincere right now, I’m guessing my students are too. Spending hours scouring the internet for ideas is exhausting. Instead, I decided to focus my energy on what worked really well in my real-life classroom and think about how I can shift it to a Zoom setting. In this way, I’m taking what I know and believe about teaching and continuing to live it, just in this new experience.
Checking In with Jamboard GIFs
Thinking about how to connect with students virtually (and realizing I absolutely needed their help in taking attendance!), I came up with a way to use Jamboard that I completely love. Jamboard is essentially a digital whiteboard that can be used collaboratively or independently.
To get started:
- Create a Jamboard.
- Add a sticky note for each student with their name on it.
- Change the settings so you can share the link with students.
Once you have this set up, make a duplicate to save yourself some time when you do this again. I’ll share my favorite idea and then off you’ll go. I’m sure your mind will start spinning with ideas. (Yeah you! You can do this!)
I share the attendance Jamboard link with my students via Google Classroom so they can use the same link everyday. To change it up, I just go into the Jamboard and set it up for the day. Being efficient like this makes me feel so much better. There’s a lot to manage right now but the more we practice, the more little moves like this will make things easier.
Never did I ever dream I’d be teaching 100% remotely without being able to see my students but this Jamboard check in really brings them to life for me on the screen. I ask students to choose an image or GIF that best captures how they are feeling and paste into our Jamboard. I show them how to resize it and drag it over the sticky note with their name on it. Before I was done with my first demonstration, SpongeBob, BTS, and Winnie the Pooh appeared on the screen. Ta da! Their moods were brought to life on my screen.
Staying Connected in a Remote World
With this new system, not only do I check attendance but I gain valuable access to information about my learners that allows me to get to know them better. I usually watch the board fill up and then I’ll say something like, “Vanessa, I’m tired too. It looks like a lot of you are tired.” Or I’ll ask a question that will lead to kids explaining a part of their life to me. Some of my students are into Undertale and Fall Boys, which are games I had never heard of before but I get the gist of them now. Sometimes I’ll send a message to a student in the chat to check in privately. Recently, after doing this type of check in, a student emailed me, “Hi Profe, I’m just going to say it, I fell asleep in class.” She went on to say that she’s working on her sleep habits and asked if I would explain what she missed. I truly believe that the Jamboard check in (which seems super simple) reminded her that I care and I want to understand. I took the opportunity to give some suggestions to help her not fall asleep in class, explained the learning she missed, and we both moved on.
During a time when I cannot be face to face with my students, this process gives me a way to check in with them and brings a huge smile to my face. I’ve also checked in with a question of the day inspired by Joy Kirr’s Shift This and classic Would You Rather questions. And, I’m starting to think about expanding this idea to polling students and asking them to write their answers on their sticky notes or maybe inviting them to finish sentence stems to bring out more of their in-the-moment thinking and feeling. So many possibilities.
For now, I appreciate the GIF check in the most because it helps our learning community feel seen—including me. I can relate to every emotion my students post on that screen. From being excited to exhausted; tired and meh; happy and silly; checking in with them—as it always did when we were together in person—mends my own heart.
So, yeah, we’re living in a pandemic.
Yeah, we’re teaching in a way that no one has ever taught before.
Yeah, this is only one way to connect with students.
But it matters. Checking in with them shows them you care. Checking in with them shows you acknowledge their feelings, their lived experiences, their truths. Checking in with them shows you value them as humans. And for me, checking in like this reminds me I’m part of our community that shows up for each other. Despite everything that is so different right now, that remains the same.
About the Author
Jen Vincent (she/her/ella) is a 7th/8th grade English and Social Studies teacher for Carl Sandburg Middle School in Mundelein, Illinois. As the founder of Story Exploratory she provides opportunities for people to engage in identity work through guided exploration. She is a first-generation, Latinx, mix, #ownvoices writer.
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