We’ve moved online. A great lot of the education world seems to have moved online. Online is the new buzz word with all its pitfalls and variations from context to context. I have moved my classes online, too. A very complicated situation. Hana Tichá, a colleague from the Czech Republic has recently written some thoughtful posts. She is voicing her concerns, worries, gratyfying moments, too, on this new, for many of us, terrain. One which has been dictated by the critical situation we’re in. I suggest you read them all especially if you work within state education systems. I am providing the links at the end of this post.
In my post I want to write about an online teaching instance that has been rewarding for me and has captivated students’ interest and curiosity. Those of you who know my work are also familiar with the fact that art in language teaching and learning is close to my heart. Certain strategies, too, like the Visible Thinking approach. Below follows an account of how I have found a way to apply them online. The context is that of asynchronous online teaching and learning. I post material, assign tasks and students work through them at their own pace. An indicative deadline is usually provided, but quite often, too, overlooked so as to encourage struggling students. Struggling in the current state of affairs refers to low achievers as well as to those who struggle with technical equipment and ICT skills.
This teaching instance involved 5th grade, 10 year old students (A1 foreign language learners according to the CEFR).
A friend on social media recently posted this painting. Its title is Urban landscape, an artwork by an Italian artist, Mario Sironi. It struck me at once. I sensed that it could speak to children on various levels. Still, I stumbled upon practical and technical issues relevant to the online platform we work on. How to come up with a creative approach within the limitations of this online world. Technology is not my cup of tea. But it’s also true that necessity is the mother of invention.
Welcome to Jamboard
Just before the lockdown I had started attending a state course on the use of ICT in the teaching practice. At one point the trainer sent us a list with some useful tools. Jamboard was one of them.
Jamboard is a google tool that allows group collaboration. You can visualise it as a cloud digital whiteboard. One of its features is that you can upload images. Another that you can create and write on colourful sticky notes. A perfect match to visible thinking. Collaboration can be real time though when I was planning the task I did not intend to use it to this end. It somehow, however, turned that way later.
My initial concern was how to help students learn to use it. I first created a google doc with instructions on the tool. Mainly in their mother tongue enriched with English terminology. Then I prepared a google forms questionnaire in English to check their understanding of the tool’s basic functions. Once these steps were completed, I created a Jamboard, shared the link with the students and invited them to collaborate.
See, think, wonder
This is a screenshot from the first response I got on our common Jamboard. My heart pounded fast. Art and thinking had found their way even in this online environment.
One after the other my young students began to make sense of both Jamboard and the task. The former proved more difficult than the latter. It was Wednesday when I assigned the task. I reckoned that many of them might try to work during the weekend so I tried to be online as much as possible. I checked whether I saw any of google’s little “anonymous animals” trying to work in the See, think, wonder Jamboard. Whenever I spotted one, I would monitor their moves in case they had any technical issues using the tool. I let them first experiment on their own. Whenever I detected severe problems, I quickly created a sticky note, said I was there and offered help. It was great fun to have them experience at first hand what online collaboration means.
Gradually, an extensive sharing of ideas took place. See, think, wonder Jamboard grew and grew over the next days. A total of ten frames. I then had to think of how to provide feedback on the language they had used. I came up with the idea of writing some comments on a different colour sticky note (yellow) and placing it near the one I wanted to comment on. It was a wise thing that I had aimed at anonymity in the activity. This allowed me to give personalised feedback on their language without fear of the children feeling embarrassed that were exposed to some sort of critical collective gaze of their English abilities. Online teaching works in mysterious ways and I wanted to avoid having them demotivated or losing their confidence.
As I was providing feedback, I thought: Why not invite students to comment, too, on their classmates’ ideas? So
See, think wonder & Chalk Talk
In an offline classroom situation, Chalk Talk would be a silent activity that provides all students the opportunity to reflect on what they know, and then share their thinking and wonderings while connecting to the thoughts of their classmates. To my mind, taking into consideration my students’ language level and the practical restraints of the online environment, I was just aiming at giving them the chance to realise that their ideas were read. “I’m here, I’m reading you and I write something back”. Read carefully and comment on your classmates’ ideas was the instruction. Say something nice to them (use a pink sticky note).
Click on the image to view a copy of our See, think wonder and Chalk Talk Jamboard.
Another aspect I dealt with was how to make sure that we could all understand what we were reading. Classes are not only mixed-ability but also multi-level since students are normally receiving foreign language tuition outside school, too. At the same time, in the see, think, wonder activity I had given them instructions on how to use an online dictionary to help them express their ideas. Probably, some of them had made use of it. Grammatical forms and lexical items like “is contaminated, humanity, quarantine, avoid a situation, infected by or residents” were not encountered during our previous classes. So, I prepared a document gathering lexical and grammatical elements that appeared in their answers and which I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to. I shared it with them and then at a later stage asked them to fill in a google forms worksheet to check individual progress and understanding.
My city of Hope
True, the painting is a bleak one and students noticed it. They made associations with the current state of quarantine we’re in; with environmental issues, too. I wanted to end on a high note so the last task was to encourage them to transform the visual message of the painting into something hopeful. The task was: Let’s change this dark and gloomy painting. Let’s talk about your city of hope. Write, draw, write and talk, draw and talk, choose (a photograph or a painting) and talk. I gave them choice, recorded myself talking about my city of hope, and shared a new Jamboard for them to work on. And they still are.
How can you tell if students are motivated by a task when teaching online? Or that sharing of ideas is effective? In the first place, I can tell from the number of responses to the see, think, wonder routine and comments on the Chalk Talk stage. I can also tell because from the very start whenever I logged in the Jamboard templates to check work progress there was hardly any time I was without company. At least one student was there. Reading, writing or attempting to make sense of how to create the sticky note. I knew it because google shows these little animal icons on the top right corner of any document shared. Later in the Chalk Talk stage, I could see in the template’s overhead bar this little icon move from frame to frame, forwards and backwards, reading, before finally dropping a pink sticky note to comment on someone else’s idea. I knew they were engaged.
Hope all of you stay safe.
Tip: Do keep a back up copy of your collaborative Jamboard work from time to time.
The above teaching practice was implemented within the framework of the Advanced course for the utilization and application of ICT in the teaching practice” (B2-Level ICT teacher training), project of the Operational Program “Human Resources Development, Education and Lifelong Learning”, NSRF (2014-2020).
Welcome to Jamboard guide (In English)
Reading beyond this post