Haiku #6

As an alternative means of capturing my thoughts and reflections, I write haiku about my teaching practice. This is the sixth post in the series.

Teaching and learning have both been upended in recent weeks and, while I am energized by change, I’m still searching for ways to process this one. Our new normal has arrived with no mercy for what we took for granted. Who would have thought I would miss my trapezoidal desks and the fight my SmartBoard always seemed to give me. I miss making copies and catching up with colleagues who I never see around the building. I miss the building. Maybe it misses us too.

School reborn on screen
Empty classrooms left confused
Where are the humans?


One week in, a conversation with myself about remote learning

In this time of sun-deprived isolation, pardon me as I indulge in a much-needed conversation with myself about remote learning.

Me: So, you’ve been doing remote learning for a week. How’s it going?

Remote Learning Me: I don’t like it. No matter how excited I am about breakout rooms in Zoom, being tethered to my MacBook and staring into a little green light for hours on end is torture. I’m buoyed by the details of personal interactions. A brighter-than-usual smile, a new backpack, a pair of slumped shoulders; it is the minutia that drives me and my teaching. Not having access to these subtleties have blinded me from my kids. I don’t see them and I can’t stand it. But it does present my teaching with a new challenge — which I am learning to savor. Plus, it beats sitting around refreshing the NY Times homepage 23 times a day. My apartment is a mess, but I need the structure, and so do my students. That said, my days don’t feel organized or even separate. They’re bleeding into one another, creating a very strange experience.

Me: Given the strangeness of it all, how are you approaching things?

Remote Learning Me: I let go a lot. While I’m fascinated by how I might reinvent learning for my students, hoping along the way that I’ll become a more robust teacher when this is all over, I’ve relaxed my curricular expectations. I’ve embraced that, at best, I’ll probably accomplish 40% of what I would have in a normal setting. We’ve been yanked in all directions by this virus. We’re all overwhelmed. There’s no way I am going to make the situation worse by shoving Common Core in my students’ faces.

Me: OK, then. What’s working?

Remote Learning Me: Nothing, yet. I don’t get my kids to work hard for me in person, so how am I supposed to work my magic when they’re concealed behind a screen, wrapped up in a blanket, eating cereal? That’s another reason why I’ve become far less aggressive with the curriculum. Anyway, pre-corona, I structured our Algebra 2 course to revolve around interleaved problems that I asked them to complete prior to class, which we then interrogated during class. The problems surface key ideas. I have no plans to abandon this structure, but helping my students have meaningful conversations is proving to be hard on Zoom. On more than one occasion this week, having asked them to talk about a problem, I entered silent breakout rooms, with every kid having muted themself. I couldn’t help but wonder what cereal they were scarfing down.

Me: How might you improve this?

Remote Learning Me: I envision using a lot of student work to guide their discussions. In person, we did this using giant whiteboards around the room. On Zoom, many students are working from computers, and holding up their work to the webcam is awkward and clumsy. So towards the end of the week, I began having students scan some of their work using Genius Scan and upload it to Google Classroom.

When we meet on Zoom, I want this bank of student work to be the backbone of class. Before we meet, I imagine sifting through their work and pasting a few of them in a Google Doc. I would then put kids in breakout rooms to debate the work, discuss errors, and agree on a correct solution. Ideally, then they have something tangible to latch on to even if they didn’t do the problem (all the while enjoying their cereal).

Me: So everything will revolve around the work they scan and upload before class?

Remote Learning Me: Nah, I don’t think so. I plan to leverage the work-based discussions often, but I’m also making short videos to overview certain problems that are less complex. Students would watch these on their own outside of our virtual class time. There are also problems that will require direct instruction. I hope to keep it to a 10-12 minute lecture, with time for the kids to practice an example or two in breakout rooms. This may also come in the form of a YouTube video (not me) that I direct them to watch before class. I’m also relying a lot on Desmos and DeltaMath — which now has instructional videos.

Me: Any thoughts on formal assessments?

Remote Learning Me: Well, stressing academic honesty, I “administered” a quiz on Friday. I posted a problem on Classroom and gave students a six-hour window to scan their work and upload it. Glancing over their work on Friday Night, I provided meager written feedback as a private comment on Classroom. It’s not perfect, but the quiz served its purpose: to put me on to what they know and what they don’t know. The results were typical of what I know of about students and I plan on making it a routine until something makes me change my mind. It’s not the best solution to the issue of asynchronous, at-home assessment, but I don’t want to give up and say that we cannot formally assess our students anymore just because we can’t do it in a controlled environment. Benjamin Dickman’s thinking around take-home exams comes to mind.

Me: Anything else?

Remote Learning Me: 



A week ago

A week ago, I administered an exam to my students. It focused on the leading coefficient test, rational exponents, exponential functions, radical and polynomial equations, and the Pythagorean Identity. The class averages for the exam improved across the board, except for period 7. They struggled, performing 10% worse than they did previously.

A week ago, A-S expressed their frustration over their lack of progress in Algebra 2 this year. I’ve been working closely with them since September. We spoke in the hallway. It may have seemed counterintuitive, but I admitted that I loved being deep in struggle with them. They smiled with renewed energy. I did too.

A week ago, I was overwhelmed with finishing the Preface and Introduction to the book I’m editing that features my students’ writing from this year. I had a goal of finishing both by Friday to give to a colleague at my school who is penning the Foreword. I failed by two paragraphs.

A week ago, out of frustration, I chewed out a student during class for not being their best self these last couple of months. They have had a lot going on and I apologized afterward for not being my best self at that moment. They didn’t deserve that.

A week ago, I was scrambling to plan our discussion for our book study on Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. It was around chapter two and was the fifth “session.” I’ve had high hopes for this all year, but my lofty expectations were met with stale looks and respectful boredom from my students.

A week ago, I playfully bothered C-O about a drawing they had been working on that I sabotaged during class by inserting a huge horizontal line where the head was going to be. They were supposed to show me what they made of it, but forgot their sketchbook.

A week ago, I was looking forward to playing L-C in one-on-one basketball during open gym in the weeks ahead. I’d been attending the early morning sessions and reconnecting with my game.

A week ago, Y-P asked me whether I researched Muhammad Ali. I didn’t, but their excitement was enough for us both. I felt bad.

A week ago, we started circular motion in physics.

A week ago, I was prepping the metacognitive journals that my kids submitted. I had to remove identifying information for the peer-review. This journal was their third of the year. After giving them a once-over, they looked more polished and more thought-out than the others. I told J-C that I really appreciated the extended effort that they put into theirs.

A week ago, I exposed my students to this graph about this price gouging happening around hand-sanitizer.

A week ago, I was handing back my hand-written responses to the Friday Letters I received. The longest one was to C-I, who asked for advice on how to handle a delicate situation with a fellow teacher. I told her to be herself. That was enough.

A week ago, I had my sights set on seeing my students play in their baseball, softball, and soccer games this spring.

A week ago, I didn’t know that I probably wouldn’t see my students in person again this year.

A week ago, I wasn’t checking and rechecking the New York Times homepage 10 times a day, a sinking feeling eating me alive each time I closed my laptop or put my phone down.

A week ago, I wasn’t fretting over how to reimagine my classroom for remote learning, hoping that my students and I would stay healthy enough to even do it. I never thought that I would have messaged them on Google Classroom yesterday, saying, I will miss looking each of you in the eye because I rely heavily on the face-to-face moments that bond us each day. I will miss sharing the air with you in the coming weeks. We’ll make due. Stay tuned.

A week ago, I wasn’t wishing that I would wake up from this nightmare.