This fourth online meeting, the community engaged in another Video Reflection. One of our RoP Leaders, Lindzy Bivings from California Academy of Sciences, volunteered to be educator-presenter. Given everyone’s focus on teaching online, Lindzy selected a lesson and problem from one of her distance learning classes with kindergarteners.
These moments highlight the strength and versatility in our community.
Here is the slide deck for the meeting.
Balancing the silence and the gaze
Silence is necessary in learning. Many of us know and practice wait time when we teach in-person — that 3 to 5 seconds pause after we ask a question to give all learners a chance to consider the question and come up with an answer before we select someone to speak. This simple practice came from Mary Budd Rowe back in the 1980s, and is a revolutionary educator move everyone needs in their repertoire, even online.
Wait time for the educator is think time for the learner.
There are other occasions when learners need quiet, like when they’re reading a passage, considering an idea, or writing their reasoning for a prediction. That silence gives them a moment of reduced distraction to retrieve memories and make connections. We offer this silence easily when we’re teaching in-person. While learners are working, we move about to prepare for the next task, clean up, or monitor their progress and offer individual assistance. Learners can get a bit of space from us, too, as they work through their thinking in private before sharing it with others.
However, silence when we’re teaching online is different because the interface is different. If we are teaching via video conference, learners’ videos are staring at us and we’re staring back at them. We’re facing each other, 12 to 18 inches away from one another. That is prolonged and constant gaze in close proximity that we do not practice, even in-person. This constant gaze is exhausting. If we’re live streaming or pre-recording ourselves, we are talking into the void, pretending someone will listen and participate. Needless to say, the silence is a lot more uncomfortable for us to enact and endure when teaching online. We may feel compelled to fill every minute with (nervous) chatter.
- Make tasks for intellectual silence. When we first started teaching online, offering quiet time was difficult for us. It felt awkward to have them stare at us in silence. But we found that it was incredibly necessary, in part because it slowed the pace of the interactions. It gave everyone a moment to breathe and think. Even well facilitated conversations tend to favor only a few voices, especially when teaching online. In addition to practicing wait time, we intentionally include a few short tasks that involve them doing work in silence. Like to write a prediction and reasoning (Meetings 1 and 3), read a slide of text (Meeting 3), or watch a video (Meetings 2 and 4). During the task, people are welcomed to turn off their videos so they can have some privacy while they work.
- Organize your space to minimize technical silence. Sometimes it’s quiet because learners are waiting for us to transition from one task to another. It can be nerve wracking in-person, but we can turn our backs to them while we prepare and they can talk with their table mates while they wait. Eventually, we create our routines have our materials ready to make these transitions smoother. When we’re online, they’re inches away from us and it feels like they’re all just staring at us as we scramble to find things on our desktop. Anything they say, is said to the whole group, so they sit in silence waiting for us. Feeling nervous? Here is what I do when I run the three-ring circus from my laptop.
- Close all unnecessary windows and applications, including notifications.
- Have the windows I’m using to teach tiled and staggered on my desktop so I can find what I need easily.
- Have a Staging Document for links and items that need to be shared incrementally.
- Sit further away from my laptop than the usual arms distance, which means I’ll have to use an external keyboard and mouse (better ergonomics any way). This is to create a bit of “physical” distance between my learners and me when I’m toggling through windows. It’s tempting to lean into the monitor as you search for what you’re looking for, but the further you lean in, the bigger your face gets on camera!!
- Coordinate with your co-facilitator so that they keep the group engaged while you prepare for the transition.
You are stronger than you think
This video reflection featured a distance learning lesson. Lindzy was orchestrating a 30-minute lesson on scientific illustration with a room full of kindergarteners via video conference. The context is not entirely like our situation now with everyone in separate locations, but it is similar in that the educator and learners are not physically in the same space together.
We forgot to take a poll to inquire how many participants have taught online prior to the stay-at-home order. My suspicion is that few, if any, have taught online. What we found incredible was the creative and productive feedback that everyone provided to Lindzy, despite their limited experience teaching from a distance. Twenty four people on a Good Friday afternoon/evening came together and offered support, innovative thinking, and sparked ideas for Lindzy to consider for her own practice. The generosity from our community was inspiring. I’m not surprised because you are amazing educators, amazing people. The point here is that, you got this online teaching thing. Now that the initial shock from the abrupt transition to shelter-in-place is beginning to subside, we can think a little clearer. I recognize the situation remains fluid. Threat of job security still looms on our minds. Work/life balance is in the compost. Summer is coming.
But the thing is, you are stronger than you think. If you have ever received an email from me, you’ll recognize that line. I wrote that to myself when I was in the depths of despair during graduate school. It was miserable. I was miserable. But then one day, I realized, strength comes in many forms and is tested in many ways. When I searched deep within myself, I found strengths I never knew I had. When I started pulling on that thread, I was able to pull myself out of the pit.
So, remember. You are not alone.