Our New (and hopefully short-lived) Virtual Reality

Hello to all from my home office…Where I’ve been doing work for school for the last 2 weeks! It has been a weird and overwhelming experience. I am calling this time that we, as a profession, are mostly teaching from home our “New Virtual Reality.” It is something we are all dealing with and trying to navigate together. It is scary. It is causing anxiety and frustration.

And yet, it is something we will have to live with for the foreseeable future.

The first thing I must say in this post is that it has been wonderful to see all the bloggers and content and presentation companies who have started sharing resources for free for teachers to use during our new virtual reality. The generosity of those who are pitching in to help others in this time of crisis is truly beautiful.

That being said, my social media feeds are exploding with free content, free apps, free trials, and free lists of link after link after link of resources to use for teaching from home. Over the last few weeks I have felt like I was drowning in possible resources…literally. For the first few days, I looked at every single one of the links that people were sending out and I found that so many of them wouldn’t work for my teaching or I found that some parts would and others wouldn’t. I got really overwhelmed really quickly and I put it all away. I had to give myself some space for a while. That’s part of why I haven’t posted anything about our New Virtual Reality until now. I had to get my own head around what is most important and what my own students need.

In the spirit of my overwhelmed-ness, here are some tips for those who might feel similarly:

  1. Step away
    1. Get away from Google and Facebook and even WordPress (but not this blog, of course!) and think about your own current instructional goals and what your kids need to hear from you during your online instruction time.
  2. Make a Plan
    1. Now that you know what you want to cover, make a plan for how you want to get the information to them. Will you make videos? Will you write everything out? Will you use apps like gimkit or kahoot or peardeck etc. to present instruction to the students? Do they need to submit things back to you? Will you have online class meetings? Figure out what you have to do and what you want to do and then…
  3. Use that plan to guide your research
    1. Once you know what you want to do (not what others are doing, but what YOU want to do with YOUR students), target your questions and research towards those goals. You will get much more useful results if you target your search to your own needs.

For example: Many teachers are being asked to teach synchronously. Once you have taken a few moments to figure out what you want to teach, then you can look online and find the best way to do it. I, personally, have been asked to teach asynchronously, so I don’t have to worry too much about creating Zoom meetings or anything like that. Since that is the case, I am not going to try and learn it and stress myself out more than I need to be.

My teaching during our New Virtual Reality is asynchronous, meaning that I am not going to be hosting web-meetings live with my students. Since that is the case, I decided that the things my kids need the most from me are Comprehensible Input and …well… me. They will be working hard on their core classes and as such, they will need some of their work to be fun and engaging and entertaining. I like to keep my Spanish class fun; I believe it is important for language class to be a place of joy and expression, not drill and kill and boredom. As such, my instruction during the break will be made with that in mind. For example, here are a few of the videos I have made for my elementary students:

It’s nothing fancy, it took me a few minutes to edit it all together in iMovie on my iPhone (with some help from my kids), and it is 2 minutes of what my class is like. I am not serious when I teach, so I’m not going to be serious in my videos.

For middle school, I have the same philosophy. I am making our new virtual class as similar as possible to what the students know from our normal class.

When we do embedded reading activities, I make sure to have the kids read the story on their own first, then we read aloud together with actors and narrators and lots of visual support so that the students can all understand what happened in the story without necessarily translating everything word for word. During our New Virtual Reality, it will be the same, but just from home. The students have a reading assignment, then they watch a video of me reading it aloud and illustrating it with a whiteboard app (I recorded it using zoom–I used the share screen function and turned on my microphone and was ready to go. Here is the video of that story (an original one written by me specifically for the students’ first asynchronous virtual lesson):

After reading and watching, the students will complete a short comprehension quiz in our school’s learning management system. This is the only part that is slightly different because I almost never use comprehension quizzes to check for comprehension in class. Most of the time the students complete summaries, free-writes, timed-writes, or comics that show how much they comprehended. Since that would mean that I would have hundreds of kids emailing me their work, I figured I’d make my own life (and theirs, too) easier and have a quick 10 question True/False quiz.

Choose your own work

In addition to the videos for everyone and the middle school reading assignments, I will also have the students complete a Choose-your-own assignment. The purpose of this is to engage with Spanish outside of the classroom. Many other teachers have included this in their virtual work as well because it is so simple for the teacher and the students.

There is not much accountability, other than a sign-off sheet for the middle school students who can upload a photo of their parents’ signature to our LMS. With elementary, there isn’t any accountability at all. I just hope that they are able to do some of the activities and enjoy engaging with Spanish outside our classroom hours.

This is what my elementary students will get. The middle school version has more choices and the sign-off sheet attached.

In the end, our New Virtual Reality can be, or rather, has to be what we make of it. I intend for my students to get comprehensible input and to enjoy their time engaging with the Spanish language while at home and I hope you, dear reader, are able to the same.

¡Manténganse sanos y hasta la próxima!

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