Quizzes, games and robust discussion sessions were just some of the learning tools utilised by teachers in the online classroom space during the just concluded academic year as they rose to the occasion, adapting, learning and employing innovative means to reach students.
School plants were closed in March 2020 as part of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). However, institutions were allowed to reopen temporarily for face-to-face classes to accommodate students sitting external examinations.
Grade-five teacher at the Ocho Rios Primary School in St. Ann, Shaunalee Bennett, tells JIS News that she had to pivot to ensure that none of her 35 students were left behind.
“I have been trying to adapt since last year, one day at a time, but I know that I have been progressing from that time until now,” she notes.
She says that not all students have access to a device to enable them to access online learning, “so you had to find other ways and means of reaching them and then again, you are still not there to see them face-to-face to see if they are grasping the concepts”.
Ms. Bennett, who has been teaching for seven years, says that the first task was to find out the needs of each student and then adapt teaching strategies to address those needs.
“If these students can’t be reached via Google Meets, we implement the use of WhatsApp, and of course, we try to deliver some of the materials to a meeting point within the community to the students,” Ms. Bennett points out.
In addition to the Government’s recommended Google Suite platforms, Ms. Bennett explains that online games were also used to cater to the pedagogical needs of students.
She says these tools allow students to showcase their talents, skills and versatility, while learning a concept.
“We were able to implement tools online that guided the teaching and learning process, so we were able to utilise online games, testing [students] online and using a myriad of technological (tools),” Ms. Bennett says.
As she reflects on the just concluded academic year, English language/literature teacher at St. Elizabeth Technical High School, Dania Allen, says she had to rethink how she interacted with her students in the virtual space.
She tells JIS News that a student-centred approach was used to increase engagement, which gave pupils some level of autonomy over the teaching-learning process.
Ms. Allen says she tried to increase student interaction as much as possible, which often meant allowing students to lead discussions.
“What I noticed with these student is that when you give them a task and they are the leader, they will take it and run with it because it is not very often that they get that opportunity,” she shares.
She tells JIS News that online games were an added bonus to the teaching-learning process, which kept students engaged.
“There are so many game sites that our students have come across, which they have even shared with me to help me enhance my teaching, so I have given them the opportunity to come up with their own questions where they are able to quiz their peers and even I, myself, participated,” she points out.
She says another strategy used was starting classes with non-academic discussions, placing special emphasis on how students were feeling as well as social issues.
“I think one of the things that has helped me to be successful during this time is that I tried to incorporate social issues within my Google classroom structure, so that I am not just focusing on academics. I realise that I get more participation, more robust discussions from my students when we discuss world issues… and what is going on around us,” Ms. Allen points out.
Similarly, Physical Education and Resource and Technology teacher at the Runaway Bay Primary school in St. Ann, Krishane Brown, worked diligently to keep his students engaged and moving in a virtual learning space.
He tells JIS News that he had to get creative, adapting ideas from online resources in executing his lessons.
Mr. Brown recalls that in one lesson, he instructed students on how to use plastic bags to create balls for a passing drill session. He says that these ideas helped students stay engaged in physical activities during the remote learning period.
“We let them know in advance that in next week’s class we will be doing some passing drills. I would ask them to make a ball out of plastic [bags] or if they have a ball at home I tell them to prepare that for the next class and find a space in the house even on their verandas. We have them turn their cameras on so I can assess what they are doing and also demonstrate what to do,” he shares.
In addition, Mr. Brown says that efforts were made to utilise different platforms to reach as many students as possible.
“We even called parents to tell them what to do verbally or through WhatsApp if they don’t have access to the Google classroom,” he says.