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  • Writer's pictureKatie Powell

In-Person Learning Update

We've been back to full in-person learning for a couple of weeks now. How's it going?

I teach at a small, rural district in Indiana. We started our school year with hybrid instruction. About 7 weeks into the school year, we moved to full in-person instruction. Families could still opt for their children to attend virtually, and we understandably have kids joining from home while under quarantine for symptoms.

I'm sure you're aware of the case numbers, both for our country and your area. Like most states, Indiana is seeing an increase in cases, and our county is no exception. However, until very recently, our numbers stayed low, and we were "blue" on the county-by-county designation system. As of my writing this post, we remain blue. We've had no staff cases in my building and, I believe, one documented case for our school. There are 3 districts in our county, and all 3 work together closely with our local department of health on all decision-making, including the decision to move to in-person instruction.

As you can imagine, response to the announcement was mixed:

Since many of you will likely find yourselves moving toward full in-person instruction at some point this year, I thought I'd share my reflections with you. Like in my previous post reflecting on hybrid learning, I'll organize my thoughts into "Things to Celebrate" and "Not Yet."

Here's what I'm celebrating:

  • Kids are awesome. I said this last time, and it remains true. I sincerely don't believe this would be working if we didn't have the buy-in and enthusiasm from our students.

  • Moving from the kind of instruction to which we're accustomed to hybrid instruction meant a HUGE learning curve. Moving from hybrid to in-person did not. Instead, we were able to bring back some of our favorite activities and strategies, and this kind of teaching definitely feels more natural.

  • Therefore, it is much easier to plan and implement instruction. Less juggling, more efficient use of instructional time, feeling more confident again, definitely lower stress levels among staff. All DEFINITELY worth celebrating!

  • One of the best elements of instruction I've been able to bring back--successfully--now that we're in-person is differentiation. Sure, I could technically differentiate before, but as you likely know, there was just SO MUCH (SO MUCH!) to juggle while we were hybrid, just keeping up with the physical bodies in the room and the virtual faces (or icons...) on my screen with ONE activity was challenge enough. I tried to differentiate some, but because we use Google Meets, it was really cumbersome to try to group kids in any way. However, now that we're (mostly) in-person, I can much more easily offer a variety of learning opportunities and keep them all running. I've even been able to pull students in small groups!

  • One of our biggest frustrations when we were hybrid was the amount of missing work. I've never in my 15 years of teaching had the kind of missing work I've had this year. It was discouraging and time-consuming, and we understood it was largely due to the fact that our young students were just too immature to manage their own learning while home alone on their virtual days. Needless to say, it stunk. Now that we're back in-person, work is getting completed, dare I say, maybe even a little better than normal?

  • One of our other major hybrid challenges was behavior. When kids acted out online, which they inevitably did, because, well, they're kids...and human..., it was practically impossible to address that behavior in any way that respected them and preserved their privacy. Ugh. Honestly, though, a lot of that acting out behavior has not translated to the classroom. Instead, kids have settled in well. Most seem calm and relaxed. And to be honest, whether it's just the nature of the students I have this year or some byproduct of their sheer joy at being back in school, I have yet to face any significant kind of behavior issue from any of my students. I know, I hesitate to even type that. I think that's the equivalent of saying it's a quiet night in the ER. Regardless, though, it's true!

  • In my earlier post, I mentioned the challenge of fostering a sense of being one class among both my online and in-person learners. Now that we're together, I'm definitely celebrating the sense of unity that comes with it! We've had to do some back-to-schoolish activities to help them learn each other's names better now that they can actually see each other, but it's so great to see them "click" and become one cohesive class.

  • We are definitely feeling the fun! Seriously, it's like a GOOD kind of contagion! If one or two kids get excited about something, it spreads like crazy! Who else has been trying Gimkit's new Floor is Lava mode? Oh my goodness, talk about energy! We can't get enough! I'm also loving hearing them all over-react to the dramatic cliffhangers on our daily episodes of the Six Minutes Podcast. So great!

  • My gamification system is working SO WELL with us back in-person! The kids are focused on earning their Power Ups, and so many kids have already chosen customizations to their class experience. I love it!!

  • Having a consistent daily routine with the kids back at school 5 days a week is definitely easier on our local families. Parents are rejoicing!

  • We've also, with the guidance of the health department, been able to start re-introducing some elements of our school community life. We hope to bring back our advisory competitions and games in some way, shape, or form soon!

  • Now for the one I'm not sure where to put. Safety?? So far, we're good. But obviously no one knows how long that will last. We're spreading the desks out as far as we can, enforcing mask use, wiping desks between classes, limiting bathroom occupancy, etc. But honestly, who knows if it will be enough?

OK, so what am I not celebrating yet?

  • Creating seating charts that try to maximize distance between students, while still allowing everyone to see the big screen and board, navigating normal personality and behavior concerns, allowing space for my Chromebook on the cart since I still have to stream class, and documenting EVERY interaction kids have for potential contact-tracing purposes is...well... a lot. Our awesome custodial and maintenance crews hauled desks back into the building for us, and we worked together to figure out what configurations would work in our space. It's like normal seating chart woes all Hulked out.

  • Although I'd prepped my students for the shift from being a class of as few as 6 to a class of 22 (still blessedly small, I know), we still had developed some bad habits in our relaxed smaller classes that don't translate well to a larger-class environment. I'm having to double down on procedures and expectations, be very consistent, and practice frequently with them.

  • Although it's far easier to juggle just one--or even a few--online learners now, I do still have to make sure everything's available digitally, everything includes my online students, everything's running for the live-stream of class too. That gets hard. With us being in-person, I want to start utilizing in-person strategies and materials more, but I don't want to exclude my online kids either. Tough balance.

  • And I can't forget that supplies still aren't supposed to be shared, so if we are using physical supplies in class, I have to sanitize between students. Y'all, my sanitizing spray is supposedly lavender-scented. It's so strong I have to take supplies out into the hallway to use it or wait till my room is empty and open all my windows to air out the room.

  • I also find myself lulled into a false sense of security. It feels so normal to be together like this that I almost forget sometimes. Then I'll hear myself say something about masks or sanitizing and remember we are in a pandemic. I don't know if I should feel this safe, this normal. *insert emotionally-tired shrug here*

Finally, I'll leave you with some favorite tools. My list of tech tools has not changed. I'm still using Pear Deck, Google Classroom, and Class Dojo daily. Here are some of our other current faves:

  • The new Floor is Lava mode on Gimkit is, as the kids say, life right now! The collaboration is awesome! Check out these clips from my classes:

  • Blooket has a new Halloween mode releasing this week! We are looking forward to trying it out!

  • Our favorite Brain Breaks right now are Stand If and This or That. I did not create either, just found them through the awesome Susie Highly in our Indiana Middle Level Association weekly email. Thanks, Susie!

    • This is our favorite This or That channel. We mask up and move! I don't do the full 30 seconds of the exercise, just a few seconds. The kids LOVE it!

    • To do Stand If, I just put a series of statements onto slides in our Pear Deck, and the kids stand if it applies to them. They get up, and I get to learn a bit about them. Some examples would be, "Stand if you are left-handed," "Stand if you share a room," "Stand if you know how to cook at least one thing," etc.

Well, there you go, my friends. Some things are much easier. Other things (like the fact that I still fall asleep on the couch before making it to bed most nights) have not changed. We've got to stick together and lean on each other to carry on the way our students need us to. If you read my previous post about us losing our student, Andrew, recently, you can understand how important that is. When you're feeling in need of support, commiseration, encouragement, or just camaraderie, I'm here.

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