As always, I am excited about the new academic year. I am in Beijing and so will have the opportunity to meet many of my students in person. I am also feeling confident that my previous experience of online learning and the recent IFSEL professional development session means that I have strategies for building a sense of classroom community via Internet platforms. Whilst there were times that online learning was tough last year, it was also an amazing learning opportunity for me as a teacher. I used platforms that I had not used before and I hope that I was intentional in how I prioritized care.
With care in mind, key to my preparations for the start of the new school year and the need for online and blended learning is a focus on ensuring that students have opportunities to plan their own learning so that it is more personalized. For example, my G10 students will begin the year considering the multiple and complex causation of historical events through a story about Alphonse the Camel – a camel that dies from a broken back and whose death cannot simply be explained by the addition of a final straw to his load. The hope is that this will help them to identify specific areas that interest them, such as economic, cultural, psychological factors. These can then be focused on in their response to the first unit’s question: Does development mean progress? Students will be supported to personalize their learning plan for this unit of study by being given a framework within which to create their own supporting questions to aid their research and to begin to select and analyze historical sources.
I hope that this approach will avoid Zoom meetings or screencasts being too didactic – something that I was worried about at times during the last academic year. I hope to be able to continue to build on opportunities for students to share their interests and understandings. I found Flipgrid useful in allowing students to both consolidate their own understanding and also to consider and comment on the ideas that others share. (This worked really nicely last academic year and showed me that consolidation is a process that should engage students and not just be led by teachers.) I also plan to use Zoom for group and individual presentations and peer reviews in breakout rooms. The aim here is not only to ensure students consolidate, confer, and clarify their ideas, but also because I received feedback that this helped students who felt isolated during lockdown and/or who were outside of Beijing to connect with their peers and with me.
In terms of care, I was and will continue to be explicit in my screencasts and posts on DX that my overwhelming concern for students during online and blended learning is their wellbeing. I will continue to set clear and reasonable time limits for how long students should work on assignments (and will ask that they stop at that point, email me, and that I will recalibrate future lessons to acknowledge when work has taken longer). I will continue to offer one-to-one Zoom meetings for students who have found work difficult to complete. And I will continue to communicate with parents to explain what is being studied and to encourage them to contact me if they have concerns.
Below is my learning plan for the first 8-day cycle of G10 Asia & the World II: