Creating instructional familiarity in a sea of constant change
For 7th and 8th grade Science & Social Studies teacher, Sam Berzins, her pre-pandemic classroom was filled with upper middle school kids who were used to tackling great responsibility. Many come from exceptionally hard-working families, where parents are working sometimes multiple jobs to provide for their children, and Sam's students are tasked with being rockstar big siblings, chefs in training, and housework assistants (in addition to being students, friends, and kids).
When the COVID-19 pandemic broke, Sam knew that balance would be everything. From the very beginning, the school team at New Branches formed a plan to first check in on each and every one of their kids, assessing their emotional wellbeing and understanding what tools they would uniquely need to have success with distance learning. For Sam, that meant ensuring that the online platforms she built for her upper middle school students were engaging enough to keep their attention, and were balanced enough to create a manageable workload under these new circumstances.
Utilizing creative tools like Google Classroom, Seesaw, and more, she quickly adapted her instructional strategies, creating videos for student note taking, connecting students to one another, talking with students one on one, and assigning at-home work. And while the online tools and resources have been a necessary bridge for students and educators to continue instruction at a distance, it has been equally important to Sam to integrate consistency from her real classroom to help her students adjust. One simple strategy - use the format of note taking she does in-person during a lesson, and record the same process online, encouraging her students to follow along and take notes just like they would during a regular school day.