• Ellen Schafer

Teaching in a pandemic: What, like it's hard?

If you were a teacher in the 2019-2020 school year, then you would have discovered that it is hard to teach in a pandemic. None of us had done it before and we were all given a few days notice to flip our classroom around from in person to virtual. Personally, I was given two days where I know some teachers were given three weeks. Either way, teaching in a pandemic is hard and no one wants to do it again. Fast-forward through summer 2020 and COVID-19 is still here and school is starting back up again. Each district has decided to do something different with their school reopening plans, but one thing I would bet money on is we will all be teaching virtual at some point or another during this school year.

If you think teaching virtual is hard, imagine how learning virtually feels to students. In the beginning, students were excited to sleep in and learn at their own pace, but as the pandemic continued on, the excitement wore off along with their motivation. It was hard for students to sit in front of a computer every day and not be able to socialize with their friends.  Learning this way proved not to be all that fun to students either. It was interesting to see students that excelled at school, almost failed at home learning and students that didn’t do so well at school, thrived while learning at home. As a teacher, I have had the summer to think about and learn new ways to engage my students that teachers can utilize with their students whether learning in school or at home. My hope is that if you are teaching and learning virtually that this will keep students engaged and having fun while learning. I’m surprised I haven’t been using these for years, but I will be implementing Digital Interactive Notebooks or DINs to my students this year.

DINs are creative, engaging, and fun for students to be able to interact with while learning their content for the school year. Teachers can create them on Google Slides, Microsoft OneNote, Canvas, or any other interactive platform that your school/district uses. I have created mine on Google Slides and will be able to share the DINs through Google Classroom. Each student will get a copy from my master version and through an extension called “Slip-In-Slide” from Google Suite, I can push out new slides to the end of their DIN's whenever I want so their notebook can continue to grow.

Within the DIN, students can create a thinking map using Google Draw, click on links to articles or videos, drag objects around for a vocabulary matching activity, take their own notes after reading a passage in whatever color and font choice they want, decorate their pages with school and age appropriate stickers pulled from the internet and so much more. The best part is since it’s all online and in their Google Classroom account, I can see all their progress and grade the DIN as they go for participation or a formal grade. I don't have to worry about standing next to them to see their work or collect papers that could be contaminated.

If you’re a teacher reading this and don’t know how to start one, there are YouTube tutorials online on how to make one. Just search “Digital Interactive Notebooks” and you’ll find multiple options to choose from. I also recommend joining a DIN group on Facebook. Within those DIN Facebook groups are subgroups related to specific subjects if you only teach one subject or need something specific. The camaraderie of teachers working together this summer to create these DINs is spectacular and many teachers are sharing their creations for free if you just ask for it. You can always purchase a pre-made set on Teachers Pay Teachers if you don’t have time to put in all that work, which is understandable and relatable.  

Like everyone else in the whole world, I’m very anxious to start the school year and interested to see how it will go. My school year is starting in-person, but families have the option to keep their children home for whatever reason. A DIN also allows those students not in the classroom to learn at the same rate as their classmates who are in the building. One thing that I will add to anyone reading this is to be kind to us. The decision to go back to school in person or start the school year virtually was extremely hard to make. The decisions for families to send their students back to school or keep them home for virtual learning was extremely hard to make. None of this is easy and we're all learning as we go. 


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