The New Classroom: Pros and Cons From the Students’ Perspective

By Saundra Shillingstad and Sheryl L. McGlamery
SPRING 2021

On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 was officially a pandemic. The outbreak of the coronavirus prompted universities to make radical changes in scheduling and delivery of classes. An announcement was made on March 13 that the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) would allow students to take a 2-week break from campus and online classes. UNO started spring break early, March 14, and the semester resumed March 30. Course delivery shifted at UNO to become online for the remainder of the spring and summer semesters.

The disruption of going from face-to-face class meetings to online course delivery affected both students and teachers across the nation. For those of us who had never taught a course online, and for students who hadn’t participated in an online course, the learning curve seemed very steep. My colleague and I got busy getting ready to work and teach online. We had 2 weeks. The preparation evoked a bit of fear and anxiety in both of us. However, as we soon realized, we had nothing to fear.

The UNO College of Education, the Teacher Education Department, the Office of Digital Learning, and the Center for Faculty Excellence provided faculty and staff with numerous workshops for remote and online learning in an effort to prepare faculty and staff with guides for moving courses online as well as workshops for advanced support features and resources. We participated in the workshops, acquired the skills to navigate the online tools available to us, and were ready when classes resumed March 30.

During the 6 weeks of online course delivery, my colleague and I touched base with each other frequently. Our conversations often turned to how the students were adjusting and feeling about the move to online course delivery. Before the semester’s end, we asked students the open-ended question: What are the pros and cons of online course delivery via Zoom? We collected and reviewed their responses regarding the abrupt change from on-campus course delivery to online course delivery via Zoom. Here is what the students had to say:

Pros:

Convenient

  • “I love not having to travel to campus or worry about getting from building to building safely.”
  • “Taking the course from home was the only way I could have done it with my kids out of school.”
  • “No commute!”

Access

  • “Having the course delivered in Canvas (which we already use) made the transition to online pretty easy.”
  • “I loved having access to the recorded lectures. Instead of having to send an email if I had a question, I could quickly access the video and review what I had forgotten or needed clarified.”
  • “I love ‘anywhere’ learning. I had to move back home (my family lives in California). I am grateful we were able to finish the class online.”

Cons:

Attention

  • “The struggle is real. It is sometimes hard to understand the content and stay focused.”
  • “Large-group discussions are difficult. I am still trying to figure out how to insert oneself into the conversation.”
  • “Recorded class sessions were available for review when I did not pay attention.”

Distractions

  • “Classmates not muting their microphones was a major distraction”.
  • “People! Put your kid down, turn off your TV and music, stop looking at your phone, get out of bed, stop slurping and eating—you are driving me crazy!”
  • “Classmates need to figure out how to be professional when ‘live’ on Zoom (does everyone realize I can ‘see’ what you are doing?). PAY ATTENTION!”

Technology

  • “It stressed me out when my Internet service was unreliable or weak.”
  • “I disliked it when I would lose connection and have to figure out how to rejoin the class session.”

Socialization

  • “I missed conversing with my classmates, something that is SORELY lacking in this online environment.”
  • “We miss out on networking with classmates and finding friendly faces that we can connect with in upcoming semesters.”
  • “Missing the socialization period before and after class, as well as the small talk with professors. I hate it. I miss in-person.”
  • “Missing out. Don’t get the same ‘face-to-face’ contact that I would if we were in person.”

The students’ feedback leaned heavily on areas that could be improved, or what they viewed as challenges. We asked the questions to gauge and monitor not just how we as faculty were feeling, but how the students felt. To us, the student’s perceptions matter as we move forward during uncertain times. Our desire is to provide the students with high quality learning experiences, in and outside of the classroom.

Dr. Shillingstad is a Professor in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Research interests include teacher induction, assessment, and program assessment. Saundra is a member of the Eta Omega Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Dr. McGlamery is a Professor of Science Education in the Department of Teacher Education at University of Nebraska at Omaha. Research interests include teacher induction, assessment, multicultural education, and teacher development.

Reframing Rigor and Reinforcing Relationships in the Time of COVID-19

By Joshua C. Tipton
SPRING 2021

In the time of COVID-19, educational organizations have, once again, proven to be irreplaceable institutions of public good and service. School leaders from the elementary to university level led the way in making difficult decisions to care for their students, staff, and community while state and federal leaders at times hesitated. All 50 states experienced school closures, impacting more than 55 million students nationwide (Education Week, 2020). Though schools are the most important communal setting for children aged five to 17, closing the school doors has been a meaningful mitigation strategy to address widespread transmission of illnesses since the flu pandemic of 1918 (Carlo & Chung, 2009). Social distancing, rather than shared experiences and celebrations, marked the conclusion of the 2019–2020 academic year. The loss of both instructional and social opportunities for students and teachers was prevalent and palpable.

As a new teacher, reference to the importance of rigor, relevance, and relationships was frequently interjected into professional development and faculty training. The associated framework was viewed as crucial to student engagement and achievement (McNulty & Quaglia, 2007). Though the catchphrase has perhaps gone out of style, these concepts remain vital to effective teaching. But as district leaders, school administrators, and classroom teachers prepare for the possibility of the continued vacancy of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a reframing of rigor and relationships is especially needed. Both require a different approach in the virtual classrooms that many of our students logged into when the 2020–2021 academic year began.

Reframing Rigor

Academic rigor in the classroom is intended to provide students with the opportunity to engage in work that requires not only awareness and comprehension but also application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Unfortunately, rigor is often confused for workload, and students are inundated with simply more assignments rather than rigorous assignments that inspire intellectual growth or build 21st-century skills.

This misconception of rigor poses more potential pitfalls for teachers and students in the virtual classroom. Some helpful tips from digital learning experts include:

  • Avoid panic-gogy. Focus on practicality rather than attempting to fully convert an on-ground course to an online format (Kamentz, 2020).
  • Emphasize the quality of class objectives and assignments over the quantity of completed work (Davidson, 2020).
  • Engage students through assignments and assessments that promote 21st-century skills, such as problem-solving, collaboration, adaptability, analysis, curiosity, imagination, and creativity.
  • Utilize backward design. Clearly define what learning objectives and skills students must master, and scaffold assignments and assessments to support them (Dimeo, 2017).

Reinforcing Relationships

All teachers should understand that relationships are critical to supporting student success and establishing effective classrooms. Positive relationships and interactions between teachers and students can impact student engagement, achievement, and overall educational experience; however, establishing strong teacher–student relationships can be more challenging in virtual classrooms. Darby (2019) offers the following advice:

  • Utilize technology to infuse the class with opportunities for collaboration and feedback to prevent feelings of isolation and disconnection.
  • Offer both synchronous and asynchronous options for class meetings.
  • Offer virtual office hours to increase your accessibility for students and parents/guardians.
  • Allow students to see your face and hear your voice on the screen to create a warmer and more welcoming online environment.

View the virtual classroom as an opportunity rather than an obstacle to positive classroom relationships. As Darby (2019) stated, “When you teach in person, you do a lot of things to help students feel welcome and comfortable in the classroom. You greet students. Smile. Make eye contact. Apply that same principle to your online classes” (para. 54).

Concluding Thoughts

Summer break was different last year. The time that school leaders and teachers typically take to rechargewas instead needed to revise traditional back-to-school plans. Though any presumption of what is to come would be projection at best, the coming spring and summer will certainly still present challenges for schools and students. We must prepare to continue engaging students in virtual classrooms. Online learning doesn’t have to be dumbed-down and distant. Reframing rigor and reinforcing relationships will engage students, energize teachers, and produce success.

Dr. Tipton is an Assistant Professor of Education at Lincoln Memorial University. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in instructional leadership, classroom management, and social studies education and has served as a middle and high school teacher, administrator, and district supervisor.

References

Carlo, J., & Chung, W. (2009). Review of school closure as a pandemic mitigation strategy. Texas Medicine, 105(7), 21–26.

Education Week. (2020, September 16). Map: Coronavirus and school closures in 2019–20. https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

Darby, F. (2019, April 17). How to be a better online teacher. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-online-teaching

Davidson, C. (2020, May 13). Quantity is not rigor. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/05/13/academics-should-rethink-way-they-assign-homework-opinion

Dimeo, J. (2017, November 15). Peer advice for instructors teaching online for the first time. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2017/11/15/peer-advice-instructors-teaching-online-first-time

A Day After

By Jody Googins
SPRING 2021

In the wake of the Capitol Building riot on January 6, 2021, I was “doom-scrolling,” the term for how we get sucked into social media in the wake of tragedy or stress, pulled down into the abyss of endless, mind-consuming information-gathering (Fitzgerald, 2020). I had been at it for over 24 hours at that point, stopping only to eat, sleep, and (kind of) work. I was spending far too much time at it, especially following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Like many others, I was having difficulty turning my brain off. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about all that was happening in our world and in our country, and the endless scrolling was an unwanted but addictive side effect.

Then I came across the following tweet from @JustinAion (2021): “A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching career, how many times have you had a ‘day after?’”

I felt my heart skip and my breath catch. A day after. My thoughts immediately went to February 15, 2018, the day after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. I was teaching high school in Southwest Ohio and had watched the events unfold on the 14th. To put it mildly, I was wrecked. And angry. When I walked into school on the 15th, I felt like I was in a fog—but my students jolted me awake. They were angry, too. And motivated. In class that day, we talked and cried and hugged. We plotted and planned in the safety of our classroom community, grounded and secured by our common humanity. It was cathartic, and it was powerful.

February 15, 2018, was not my first day after; by then I had experienced many of them. Events like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Newtown school shooting, the tragic deaths of students and parents and community members—each was followed by a day after, when emotions and opinions ran high. As a young teacher, contending with these days was difficult. I was not prepared to tangle with the emotions of my students; I was not fully able to create a safe environment where we could dialogue and process their emotions and feelings. I wasn’t warned about a day after in my teacher preparation program, and I was often overwhelmed. All these years later, I feel more prepared, more ready, but it is still daunting and draining and scary and hard.

The day after the Capitol riot, which followed several years of increasingly polarizing rhetoric culminating in the election of Joe Biden in November, would prove to be especially hard for teachers across the country. This particular day after was so politically charged, so messy, and its timing in the midst of the pandemic, on top of incredible fatigue on the part of teachers, was harrowing.

My two best friends—both incredible high school teachers—began preparing for the day after on the night of the Capitol riot, before the events were even clear or understood, if that was even possible. Our group text came alive as we exchanged ideas and writing prompts, warnings about what we could and should say, and what we definitely could not and should not say. We feverishly exchanged texts, giving advice and input on plans for the next day. They both planned on creating a space for their students to ask questions and engage in dialogue, mostly through image analysis, writing, and reflecting. They were readying themselves for what the day might be like, preparing for yet another day after.

One of my friends received an email from her superintendent in the late evening, reminding teachers that, although facilitating conversations is important, they must always follow Board of Education policy, which states that teachers are forbidden from promoting a “partisan point of view.” A partisan point of view? Our immediate thought was that, in these times, it seemed like the truth had become partisan. Regardless, a veteran teacher could easily ascertain the meaning: Don’t talk about what happened. Adding more confusion, the next day my friend received several emails from various building administrators who were incredibly supportive and encouraging, providing resources for dialogue and also for teacher self-care and care for students.

My other friend received a similar email from her superintendent, perhaps slightly less censoring, but no less consequential. She was encouraged to provide a safe environment for her students to dialogue, but to remain completely unbiased and calm. She said the email was accompanied with resources about remaining unbiased. It was laughable, really. The notion of remaining completely unbiased and calm was a big ask, an ask that we weren’t sure was even possible. After all, this wasn’t our first day after, and experience had taught us well. Young people are not stupid, nor are they walking blindly through the world. They are not self-absorbed, and they are not incapable of critically assessing the events unfolding around them. They are also incredibly attuned to the hypocrisy that adults around them practice, and they are quick to call us out.

When we touched base that next evening and debriefed on our days, I learned that their lessons had gone as well as they could have. Some of their students were so angry at the injustice that it was palpable; some of their students were clueless. Some students turned on their cameras for the first time in awhile; some kept them off, breaking from their norm.

These teachers were practiced in the day after. I was relieved that they had navigated their own emotions, the expectations of their schools and districts, and their students’ varying degrees of angst. I knew they would. But I could not stop thinking about how many teachers had struggled that day, and how many teachers were not prepared for a day after.

What are we doing to prepare our new and veteran teachers for the complexities of their classrooms, schools, and communities? How are we preparing them to contend with everything that students are bringing into the classroom? How are we preparing them to connect their classroom lives to all that is happening outside of their walls? How are we teaching them to look deep inside themselves for biases that might upend their ability to love and embrace their students and their experiences, experiences that might differ immensely from their own? I do not have quick, succinct, “a-ha” answers to these questions. But I do intend to keep asking them, to keep pushing my own pre-service teachers to consider what a day after might be like, what challenges might await them in their classrooms. Many people believe there should not be space in schools to talk about divisive events like the Capitol riots of 2021; that children and young people should be kept in the dark about the realities and complexities of the push and pull of democracy. I disagree. The kids are not in the dark. There will be another day after soon, and another after that. And those days will be hard. To pretend not to see the world around us and the ways our students are contending with their emotions, some of them suffering so deeply, would be turning a blind eye to what it is that calls us back into the classroom every day. I, for one, will continue to work with my friends and colleagues to meet the next day after with resilience, respect, and resolve.

Dr. Googins is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at Xavier University, where she teaches education methods and foundation courses at the undergraduate and graduate level. Her research interests include culturally responsive pedagogy, curriculum, and critical discourse analysis.

References

Fitzgerald, S. (2020, July 30). The internet wants to keep you ‘doom-scrolling.’ Here’s how to break free. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/coronavirus-doom-scrolling-stop/2020/07/29/2c87e9b2-d034-11ea-8d32-1ebf4e9d8e0d_story.html Justin [@JustinAion]. (2021, January 7).

A first year teacher asked me a question today. It shook me deeply. I will ask you. In your teaching [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/JustinAion/status/1347309286888779778

Successfully Teaching K-5 Online

By Queen Ogbomo and Stephanie Wendt
SPRING 2021

On March 13, 2020, most schools in Tennessee, like others around the world, were shut down because of COVID-19. Educators were left in limbo, unsure of what was going to happen next. For some, it was weeks before they were informed of what to do. Like one teacher said, “For me it was very frustrating not having clear directions on what we should be doing with our classes at first. Not just for teaching them, but even communicating with their families. I was worried about how my students were doing and the conditions they were going through” (Teacher 1, personal communication, 2020).

Teachers were left to fend for themselves during an unprecedented pandemic—without direction from administrators—and with many eyes looking to them for answers. No clear guidelines or expectations were given for teachers and families for several weeks. 

Two to three weeks following school closings, teachers were informed that instruction would be moving to online distance learning. Many teachers were in shock. This was unchartered territory. Both teachers and families were facing the reality that students would be learning at home together. While families are central to the education of their children (Burgess & Sievertsen, 2020), the question now was, how many of these parents or families have the skills and time to teach their children? How many of them have the technology at home, or even know how to use the technology, to successfully support their children? There were clear frustrations on the part of teachers with the rapid decision to transition to online learning. Were school administrators assuming that everyone involved had adequate Internet service and/or technology to support online initiatives, or that parents knew how to use the Google tools?

Like one teacher from Michigan said, “I feel like we were thrown into online teaching. We did get some quick basic training sessions on Google Classroom and Google Meets; basically, we had to learn by trial and error, just spending time on each” (Teacher 2, personal communication, 2020).

Recommendations for Teachers

1. Be flexible with instruction times.
Providing clearly written directions and video instructions within an online classroom is imperative for students’ and parents’ understanding of materials. Having these accessible will aid in student comprehension. 

2. A popular platform for many teachers and students is Google Classroom.
If this is what you’re using, list everything by week using topics, and include a “Resource Tools” topic at the top. The resource tools should include, but not be limited to, how to use Kami (online document annotation and markup tool), how to take a screenshot, and how to print assignments. 

3. Stay in regular communication with your students and their parents via email.
Email communication should be brief and include regular times for Zoom meetings by topic and days of the week. By establishing regular Zoom meeting times, students will become accustomed to a “class schedule” at home. When you schedule meetings, designate specific times for teaching concepts and having other meetings be strictly for question-and-answer sessions. Don’t require all students to attend the Q&As—just the students who have questions and need assistance or further clarification. Of course, all students should be required to attend Zoom meetings when you’re teaching new content. A suggested schedule might be meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In the morning on these days, hold required 1-hour Zoom meetings with students, during which you will teach content. Offer a 1-hour open Zoom meeting in the afternoons of the same days for students to attend on an as-needed basis. When you prepare for your meetings, write down a list of things you want to accomplish in your time with the students and always have a backup plan in case technology does not work. 

4. Keep your Zoom meetings as interactive as possible.
Show students how to use the microphone and video functions as well as the hand-raise and chat functions. During your first class meeting, set expectations for using these tools, as well as for behavior and dress code. Continue to reinforce these expectations as needed and communicate them to students and parents via email as well. 

5. Lastly, make the most of your Zoom sessions by incorporating different types of media.
Show videos—these can be teaching videos found online or ones you’ve prerecorded for classroom use such as read-alouds, science experiments, or direction videos. Students also enjoy playing games online to build community. These could be team-building activities that you would typically use as icebreakers. The goal is to make the online classroom as personal and engaging as possible.

Dr. Ogbomo is an Associate Professor at Tennessee Technological University. She teaches social studies, mathematics, and science methods courses. She maintains an active research agenda in minority and multicultural education, mathematics and literature connection, science and literacy, STEM education best practices, and online learning.

Dr. Wendt is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Tennessee Technological University. She teaches courses on science methods, field experiences, learning theory, educational technology, and grant writing. Dr. Wendt assisted educators and preservice teachers with transitioning to online instruction during COVID-19.

Reference

Burgess, S., & Sievertsen, H. H. (2020, April 1). Schools, skills, and learning: The impact of COVID-19 on education. VoxEu. https://voxeu.org/article/impact-covid-19-education

4 Steps to Student-Friendly Learning Targets

By Britany Kuslis
SUMMER 2021

All teachers should strive to develop daily measurable learning targets that include action verbs, are aligned with assessments and course expectations, and are measurable with the end-goal in mind. After writing the learning target, teachers rarely include success criteria indicating how students will know they have achieved the goal. Teachers should include this performance objective along with the learning target and tell students directly what work they will produce as evidence of their learning. (Moss & Brookhart, 2012).

For us to integrate learning targets into daily lesson planning and classroom procedures, we need to understand that a learning target is not an instructional objective. An instructional objective is written from the teacher’s point of view. Learning targets are written from a student’s perspective and shared throughout the lesson so that students can use them as a guide for their own learning. A new teacher may find the following approaches helpful when writing student-friendly learning targets for the first time.

1. Write a learning target using student-friendly language.
A learning target states what the students will be able to do or will come to know as a result of the lesson. This learning target is specific to one class; it is not a target that should cover more than one lesson. It is a specific, daily, instructional objective written to be student-friendly. The teacher must share the learning target with the students verbally, by using a visual, by sharing student exemplars (strong and weak work), and/or sharing what came before the lesson and what will be coming after.

2. Share the learning target with students.
Sharing the learning target with students is paramount to this process. We shouldn’t be teaching like they did when I was in school, in a game of smoke and mirrors where students couldn’t ask teachers what they were doing during that class. All students in the classroom should know the learning target and how they can show evidence of achievement. Doing this makes the end goal clear to everyone.

3. Develop success criteria for the lesson (a performance objective).
If the learning target tells students what they’re learning in the lesson, the performance of understanding tells students how they’ll know they’ve learned it. The success criteria translates the learning target into action (Moss & Brookhart, 2012). If students are engaged in a strong performance of understanding, they should be able to conclude, “If I can do this, I’ll know I’ve reached my learning target.” Just as important, teachers should be able to conclude, “If my students can do this, I’ll have strong evidence that they’ve reached the learning target” (Moss & Brookhart, 2012, p. 44).

Aside from the physical “I can” or “we will” statement that will be shared with students, students should engage in an activity that deepens their understanding of the content and skills of the learning target. Students need to be able to apply the success criteria to their own work and produce evidence of where they are in relation to the learning target (Moss & Brookhart, 2012). Sharing and providing students with “look-fors” (criteria for success) in the form of a checklist or exemplar/model helps them determine how close they are to accomplishing the performance objective.

4. Feed students learning forward.
By providing timely feedback that is descriptive and related to the learning target, teachers can help to move students’ learning forward. The feedback also must fill the gap between what they’ve understood and what they’re supposed to understand (Svanes & Skagen, 2017). In this way, students can see where they are in relation to the criteria for success, and teachers can suggest strategies or ways students can be more successful to promote growth. Simply providing students with the opportunity to immediately use the feedback or work one-on-one or with a group of students are all ways to feed students’ learning forward.

Through implementing learning targets in my classroom, I have been able to make my daily lessons more meaningful. By writing learning targets from a student’s point of view, I have learned that students are more successful when information is chunked. I also have found that providing students with timely feedback and giving them the opportunity to use the feedback to improve their performance is a skill that has improved my day-to-day teaching practice.

Mrs. Kuslis is an English teacher W.F. Kaynor Technical High School, teaching courses in Creative and Nonfiction Writing, Journalism and Media Awareness, and English III. She has been teaching for 11 years and is a doctoral candidate in Western Connecticut State University’s Doctor of Education in Instructional Leadership program.

References

Moss, C. M., & Brookhart, S. M. (2012). Learning targets: Helping students aim for understanding in today’s lesson. ASCD.

Svanes, I. K., & Skagen, K. (2017). Connecting feedback, classroom research and Didaktik perspectives. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49(3), 334–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220272.2016.1140810

5 Formative Assessment Strategies: Promises and Pitfalls

By Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides and Juan Manuel Gerardo
SUMMER 2021

As a new teacher, you need ways to formatively assess students’ understanding effectively and efficiently so you can modify instruction to meet all students’ needs, while providing them with evidence about their learning.

Here we’ll describe five formative assessment strategies that are frequently implemented in K–8 classrooms. We discuss their promises and pitfalls, and provide suggestions for how to address the pitfalls.

1. Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

While exploring a concept, the teacher may gauge student understanding by asking students to show thumbs up or thumbs down.

Promises: You can quickly identify which students self-report that they did or didn’t understand the concept.

Pitfalls: Students may be embarrassed about not understanding a concept, and therefore give a thumbs-up, so you may have a false sense of how many students understood the concept. This also doesn’t give you a sense of what students did or did not understand. If you do use this strategy, follow up by asking students to turn to their shoulder partner and describe what they did or didn’t understand. Next, bring students together, ask them to share what they discussed, record their responses on the board, and plan your instruction accordingly.

2. Exit Ticket

Typically given at the end of class, an exit ticket consists of several questions that students independently answer to help you gauge their understanding.

Promises: A well-designed exit ticket, with a variety of questions aligned with the lesson’s objective(s), can help you determine what students understand.

Pitfalls: The end of class can often feel rushed, and students may hurry through their exit ticket. As a result, it may not truly reflect what they understand. Additionally, an exit ticket that is too long or doesn’t focus on how students made sense of the lesson’s objective(s) will not yield helpful data. Keep the exit ticket short and focused on the lesson’s big ideas.

3. Quick Write

At the beginning, middle, or end of class, students respond in writing to open-ended questions that prompt them to reflect about the lesson’s big ideas.

Promises: As the quick write is open-ended, it does not constrain students and promotes creative thinking. If you use it at the beginning of class, the quick write can also help launch a rich discussion.

Pitfalls: Students who dislike or struggle with writing may not like the quick write. To provide all students with an entry point, allow them to explain their ideas to a shoulder partner before writing, or provide students with sentence starters and/or frames. For younger children, allow them to draw first.  

4. Individual White Boards

Teachers may present students with several questions and ask them to respond on individual white boards. Students hold up their white boards, and the teacher looks at their responses and uses that information to guide instruction.

Promises: As students tend to enjoy using individual white boards, this can help increase their motivation and engagement.

Pitfalls: Pacing may be an issue as the teacher cannot wait for all students to respond before asking students to hold up their white boards. Hence, some students may feel rushed, and others may get bored. Furthermore, due to this strategy’s fast-paced nature, it may be difficult for the teacher to take note of each student’s responses and adequately respond. Create no more than three to five thoughtful questions in advance and anticipate possible alternate conceptions. Stop briefly after each question to discuss.

5. Polling

Polling platforms allow the teacher to construct multiple choice, true/false, or short-answer questions for students to answer using a cell phone, laptop, iPad, or another device.

Promises: Polling provides immediate feedback to the teacher and students. Additionally, middle school students tend to be interested in technology and may even have their own devices, so enabling them to bring their own device may be quite motivating and engaging. Polling may also be well suited for shy students.

Pitfalls: You have to be prepared to provide students who do not have a cell phone with devices so they can participate. Since many polling platforms allow the teacher to create multiple choice, true/false, and matching questions, it’s important to consider what this type of data does or does not reveal about students’ understanding, and incorporate discussions so students can explain their responses. Before using such polling options, engage students in a discussion about appropriate technology use.

Concluding Thoughts

Formative assessment is an essential part of teaching and learning that enables teachers to gauge students’ understanding of content and make instructional modifications. Having a repertoire of formative assessment strategies—and being aware of their promises and pitfalls—will help new teachers make informed decisions that best support student learning.

Dr. Saclarides is an Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati. She teaches mathematics education courses to undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Education. Her research centers on how coaches can support the teaching and learning of mathematics at elementary schools.

Mr. Gerardo is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati. He teaches mathematics education courses as well as a course on diversity and equity to undergraduate students in the School of Education. His research focuses on how pre-service secondary mathematics work alongside of Black and Latinx students. 

Empathy and Flexibility in the COVID Era

By Dorota Silber-Furman and Andrea Arce-Trigatti
SUMMER 2021

We cancelled classes last Tuesday and Wednesday to serve and volunteer. More than 1,000 students, faculty, and staff joined the 2,500 plus volunteers over those two days and since to help in any way possible. (Office of the President, 2020, par. 4).

Navigating the spring 2020 semester was challenging. Not only was the unprecedented situation of the COVID-19 pandemic on the forefront of our professional and private lives, but our community faced tremendous devastation from a Category 4 tornado just weeks before. It was a time of heightened stress, trauma, and grief for not only our students and their families, but also for faculty and staff at our university.

As faculty in the College of Education, our primary work responsibility is to prepare preservice and in-service teachers. During the spring 2020 semester, many of our students were working with their own students at the Pre-K to 12 level and facing the same challenges of the online teaching transition that we were facing at the postsecondary level, while also processing new experiences of stress, trauma, and grief.

In our shared struggles, instructors and learners had to develop mutual empathy and flexibility to successfully navigate the new reality of our academic worlds. Below, we reflect on a few of these cases and how strategies of empathy and flexibility supported student learning as well as facilitated effective teaching during difficult times. 

Surviving the Storm

Eighteen fatalities, 88 injured, over 500 buildings damaged, over 100 families lost homes. Five families lost precious children and some children lost both parents. The numbers are staggering. The stories of survival are moving; the stories of loss are heartbreaking. The numbers are staggering. The stories of survival are moving; the stories of loss are heartbreaking (Office of the President, 2020, par. 1).

The effects of the storm were evident in the trauma, stress, and grief experienced by our students and their students in the aftermath. Many of them not only lost belongings or access to technology and electricity, but also lost a loved one or had someone close suffer an incredible loss. This feeling of emotional chaos led to decreased engagement and motivation, which increased the need to open venues of communication to continue learning.

Surviving COVID-19

On Monday, we all begin teaching and learning online together (Official University Correspondence, 2020, par. 1).

After the storm, the COVID-19 pandemic hit our community, requiring a massive transition to online learning in the Pre-K to 16 grades. It’s safe to say our students’ level of stress, trauma, and grief were exacerbated; they lost contact with one another and the on-campus support that they relied on after the tornado.

Many were also still without access to electricity and Internet, which heightened the anxiety associated with not only online learning, but also that of their children via homeschooling. Meanwhile, the virus became a reality as it began to infect our local population, students, and their loved ones.

Surviving Teaching and Learning

Students, let me reassure you that some things haven’t changed. Your faculty members are ready to help you through the challenges. They will deliver the quality education you expect. Plus, they stand ready with patience and understanding (Official University Correspondence, March 28, 2020, par. 2).

In the midst of these tragedies, it is important to remember that we are only human. Through empathy and flexibility, we can better serve students’ needs while still attending to our families and communities.

Empathy: Not everyone is an online learner, and not everyone has the bandwidth to be attentive (let alone awake) in the few hours they can dedicate to schoolwork while juggling five other jobs. Acknowledging this reality, it was OK to let the beginning of courses become pseudo group therapy sessions. It was OK to have family members come in and take notes in an online session for a relative still without electricity. It was OK to extend deadlines and work with our students’ proposed schedules.

Flexibility: For our teaching, this translated to a departure from the norm and a large overhaul and re-adjustment of several items, including homework, deadlines, project formats, course content, and collaborative expectations. Critical questions were asked: What topics rise to the surface? What lessons will resonate with our students? How can we give them tools that have immediate benefits?

Concluding Thoughts

Take care of each other and finish strong (Official University Correspondence, March 28, 2020, par. 5).

At times our students disengaged (due to lack of electricity, technology, or motivation) but we did not give up on them. Through multiple modes of contact, community “grapevines,” and rallying our College’s resources, we tried to create an avenue for success that worked for them and provided a space to cater to an ever-changing reality. With all of our actions, at the forefront was the mantra that in teaching, there is care; and where there is care, there can be learning.

Dr. Silber-Furman is a Lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Tennessee Technological University (TTU). She currently teaches courses related to multicultural education, culturally relevant practices, and ESOL. Her research interests are connected to literacy, international education, culturally relevant practice, multicultural education, ELLs, and critical theory. She was the co-advisor of the Eta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at TTU.

Dr. Arce-Trigatti is the Director of Institutional Assessment and Accreditation for the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at Tallahassee Community College. Her research interests are interdisciplinary and connected to cultural studies, social justice in education, educational policy, innovation-driven learning, and engineering education. She was the co-advisor of the Eta Nu Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi at TTU.

Back to School 2021: Grieving Students, Transitions, and COVID-19

By the Coalition to Support Grieving Students

2021 is a different kind of back-to-school year. As schools move toward full in-person learning, students and educators alike continue to adapt.

In the transition back to in-person learning, schools may need to reach out to students who have not returned to school or re-engaged in learning. They may also be making contact with families that have suffered multiple stressors and losses caused by the pandemic or exacerbated by the isolation of shutdowns.

Many students and educators are grieving what they have lost during COVID-19 closures—chances to socialize with peers, be a senior in middle school, start kindergarten, participate in sports or performing arts. Most have been affected by ongoing issues in the broader world as well—social justice, racial inequities, bitter political divides, the financial impact of the pandemic.

Students who are grieving the death of a family member or loved one are part of this mix. Even before the pandemic, student grief was surprisingly common. About 1 in 20 students will lose a parent during their school years, and virtually all students will know someone who has died by the time they complete high school. During the pandemic, students have lost loved ones to many causes, including COVID-19. Some communities have been especially hard hit by the virus. Students are also still grieving losses that occurred before the pandemic.

Students who experienced a death of someone close from a cause other than COVID-19 may feel the attention focused on tragic losses due to the pandemic means they are somehow less entitled to grieve openly and request support. This may prompt them to try to keep their feelings private. They may have had to begin to grieve the loss while separated from extended family and friends, and without the usual support of peers. This would further heighten their sense of isolation.

Times of transition and change can be particularly challenging for grieving students. Educators are positioned to offer valuable support that can make a profound difference in students’ lives academically, socially, and emotionally—often through simple gestures that help these students feel affirmed and understood. The Coalition to Support Grieving Students has a collection of free video and written materials that offer guidance designed expressly for educators, including content specific to COVID-19.

Transitions Can Be Difficult for Any Student

Transitions are times when children and youth may face a range of challenges. The following steps will support both grieving and other students.

  • Address apprehensions. Students are excited to be with peers and start a new year. They may also have lingering fears about risks of illness or death. Provide honest, realistic reassurances about measures being taken to protect students and educators.
  • Be honest. Students know things are not “normal.” It isn’t necessary to pretend that everything is okay when it clearly isn’t. Provide opportunities for students to discuss their experiences and concerns.
  • Introduce subjects sensitively. Educators cannot know every student’s experiences. When a history, literature, or other lesson addresses topics such as death, loss, trauma, severe illness, racism, or other serious matters, provide some background before the lesson. Give students the opportunity to discuss any concerns with you privately. Make accommodations for the student when indicated.
  • Offer options for activities involving family members. Many students do not have a parent to turn to for family-based classroom or homework activities. This may be due to death, illness, divorce, military deployment, incarceration, or other reasons. Be sure to offer options: “For this essay, I’d like you to write about your mother or another woman in your life who has been helpful to you.”

Reach Out to Grieving Students

All children grieve in unique ways. There are also common characteristics for most grieving students. Over the past year, these students have been especially affected by the consequences of the pandemic—isolation, academic challenges, worry about their own and others’ health, feeling overwhelmed. If you know a student is grieving the death of a family member or friend, the following steps can be especially helpful.

  • Reach out personally early in the year.Acknowledge that grief creates challenges. Let the student know you are available to talk, or listen, if any concerns arise. For specific guidance on what to say, see these Coalition materials.
  • Remember that grieving children experience secondary losses. Many things can change for a child after a death. The family may need to move in with relatives or find less expensive housing. The child may have to attend a new school. During the pandemic, with its associated financial challenges, many families have had to make exactly these kinds of changes.
  • Make adjustments in academic work. It is difficult to concentrate and learn during acute grief. Extending deadlines and offering alternative assignments can help grieving students experience academic success as they readjust to their life after a loss.
  • Support college and career aspirations. After a death, some teens hesitate to move forward with plans to go to college, join the military, or attend trade school. They may feel a need to stay close to their family or provide financial support. Concerns about COVID-19 have added further distress to these decisions. Although there may be no “correct” solution, the support of a trusted educator who can listen to a student’s concerns can be invaluable.
  • Recognize that grieving children are often more vulnerable at times of transition. This can be the start of the school year (new teachers, new classmates, new classroom). It can involve a change in schools or a change in the family—someone moving in or out. It can include the changes of puberty, the start of dating, or a breakup with a romantic partner.
  • Offer to assist in future transitions. Ask the student and parents if they would like you to notify a new school of the student’s circumstances. This can create a safer and more welcoming setting for the student.

Take Care of Yourself

Educators have also been affected by the pandemic, experiencing loss, stressors, and other hardships. Children depend on important adults to help them feel safe and secure. If an educator is anxious, sad, or angry, students are more likely to be affected by that emotional state than by the words they hear. The Coalition offers a module on steps for self-care for educators supporting grieving children.

Self-care is not an “add-on.” It is an essential step, allowing educators to offer powerful support to worried and grieving students. Educators generally experience many personal rewards when they join in this vital effort.

If Not Now, When? Making Time for Wholeheartedness and Wellbeing

By Sharon McDonough and Narelle Lemon

This post is by the authors of the article “If Not Now, Then When? Wellbeing and Wholeheartedness in Education,” in the current edition of the KDP journal The Education Forum. You can view the article here for free during the month of August.

Dr. Sharon McDonough is a researcher in teacher education with advanced disciplinary knowledge of sociocultural theories of teacher emotion, resilience and wellbeing. Sharon brings these to explore how best to prepare and support teachers for entry into the profession, how to support the professional learning of teachers and teacher educators across their careers, and how to support wellbeing in education and in community. Sharon’s research expertise lies in methods of phenomenology and self-study.

Associate Professor Narelle Lemon is an interdisciplinary researcher in her fields of education, positive psychology and arts located at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.  She is a researcher who focuses on translating theory and evidence into practice to enhance engagement and participation for teachers and students across all fields of education. Recent research has investigated mindfulness in education, self-care and wellbeing to empower educators, arts and cultural education, and her award-winning scholarship of learning and teaching in the integration of social media for learning and professional development.

“But why did it take a virus to bring the people back together?”
“Well, sometimes you get sick, my boy, before you start feeling better.”
—Tomos Roberts

In his picture storybook The Great Realisation, author Tomos Roberts creates a hopeful and optimistic vision for how we might all begin to live in meaningful and thoughtful ways in the time after the pandemic. His book suggests that the pandemic becomes the catalyst for the “great realisation,” and in our article in The Educational Forum we, too, suggest that the pandemic provides the perfect time to pause. Additionally, we invite you to embrace this pause as a time to consider what are the key principles and practices that we should seek to instill in education.

The global pandemic has brought shifts to remote and flexible learning across the globe as schools have faced temporary closure of face-to-face classes. These shifts have provided both opportunities and challenges. Teachers have innovated their practices, young people have found ways to actively participate, and parents have communicated and worked with teachers to support young people through these uncertain times. But alongside these positives has been an intensification of some existing inequities, the challenges of intense workloads, issues of access, isolation, and questions of how to support wellbeing for teachers, students, and the community more broadly. In our research with Australian teachers about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their work and wellbeing, teachers expressed that the pandemic highlighted the need to provide care and support to their colleagues, students, and their families. They expressed frustration with systems, government, media, and policy that seemed to suggest that teachers were ‘cannon fodder’ on the front lines of the pandemic.

The need to privilege wellbeing as a central endeavor in education seems more timely than ever in light of the current contexts in which we live and work. But has this happened? In our article, we draw on our data and Brené Brown’s guideposts for wholehearted living to create a series of poems that highlight the need to place wellbeing and wholeheartedness as core principles of the educational endeavor. For ourselves as teachers, for our students, and for our communities, now is the time to support collective wellbeing and to critique systems and structures that do not work to support this. In the light of all that has unfolded across the globe in the last year, we ask, if not now, when? We invite others to join us in this collective call for the prioritizing of wellbeing. You can join the conversation by reading our article in the Educational Forum. Will you join us as we seek to foster and support a wholehearted approach to education?

Click here or below for a live storytime reading of The Great Realisation by the author, Tomos Roberts.

Mental Illness Among College Students: Would a Gap Year Help?

Today’s blogger is William Beaver (Robert Morris University–Pittsburgh), author of the article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?”, which appears in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of August.

I first became interested in mental illness among college students a few years ago when a dorm counselor at the college where I taught told me that the number of students on Prozac was higher than anyone would suspect. I then thought back to my years as an undergraduate. Depression, often referred to as the common cold of mental illness, obviously existed. Yet, I don’t recall anyone talking much about it, and no one ever told me they were depressed. Most likely, that was because my peer group was mostly male, where admitting any weakness rarely occurred. I do remember one time sitting around a table in the student union when someone said that a male student, whom we all knew, had tried to commit suicide. No one at the table said anything, and the subject was quickly changed.

That said, my generation certainly had things to be stressed about. A couple of days before classes started in our freshman year, the president of the school informed us that one-third of our class would not be returning for their sophomore year because they had less than the coveted 2.0, which, as I recall, turned out to be fairly accurate. For males, there was a serious penalty for getting poor grades: Vietnam. If students didn’t have a C average after two semesters, they had to sit out a semester, which also made them eligible for the draft. (I knew of two students who did end up in Vietnam.) No one talked much about that either, perhaps because the consequences could be so dire.

From my own experience, I concluded that my generation was under a lot of pressure, and depression and anxiety were probably common, but we just chose to suffer in silence. Hence, the higher rate of mental illness among today’s students was simply tied to the fact that people were more open about it. Some of the research literature agreed with my conclusion. However, other studies were finding that although people were more open about mental illness, other factors were involved, and the increase in mental illness among college students was real.

What could these factors be? Fear of school shootings, concerns about finding a good job to help pay off school loans, snowplow parents, grades, and the increased use of social media are commonly cited. In recent years, social media has garnered the most attention and has raised some intriguing questions. For instance, does the use of social media cause depression, or do students who are already depressed turn to it? One can certainly understand how cyberbullying could be harmful. On the other hand, a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that students who agreed to limit their smartphone use reported lower levels of depression, suggesting that use alone is associated with depression.

Doing something about student mental health has proved to be difficult. Schools have increased the size of their counseling departments, but we appear to need other strategies to ensure better mental health for new students. That’s where the idea of a gap year comes in—taking the year following high school graduation and engaging in some meaningful activity before starting college.

I soon discovered that, in the United States, taking a gap year is rare. Only about 3% of students do so. But in some countries, like Norway and Turkey, up to 50% of high school graduates take gap years. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the impacts of a gap year in the United States. However, the research that does exist is encouraging. For instance, in one survey, more than 90% of students taking a gap year reported they had developed as a person and were more mature and self-confident.

The question then becomes how to increase these numbers. Certainly, teachers and counselors can help get the word out and engage students who they feel would benefit from a gap year. Schools could provide information about gap year fairs held in various parts of the country. Parents also need to be informed about the potential benefits involved and that taking a gap year can help ensure an eventually successful college experience. Gap years can be international, where students experience a different culture, or can take place close to home, perhaps simply gaining experience in working and independent living. Unfortunately, no one is predicting a decline in mental illness among college students, so it’s time to try different strategies like gap years to help lessen the problem. For a closer look at these issues, see my article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?” in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.