Ryan Humphreys and his Grade 6/7 class planted tulip bulbs at Ecole Phoenix Middle School before the pandemic. During the in-class teaching suspension, they used technology to stay connected. File photo by Marissa Tiel – Campbell River Mirror

Vancouver Island teachers find useful strategies in virtual classrooms

Educators finding out what is working and what is not

When Ryan Humphreys shifted his classroom from its physical location inside École Phoenix Middle School to a virtual setting, he noticed something.

Some of the students in his Grade 6/7 class who struggled in the in-person classroom were all of a sudden excelling.

“They’re some of the first students handing in work,” he says. “So now there’s this different kind of engagement that I didn’t have because we’ve taken away that anxiety piece about being in the classroom.”

When B.C. schools paused in-class instruction in March, teachers were forced to use alternate delivery methods.

For many, it meant embracing technology. While the Ministry of Education offered some resources, most teachers have come up with their own strategies, and some will be taking them along when they return to the classroom.

Penfield Elementary teacher Ryan Haines was using technology in his Grade 4/5 split classroom even before the pandemic.

So when the optional learning opportunities moved out of schools, he knew the key to using technology at home was to not overwhelm students or their parents.

“You can’t do anything too different than what’s been done in class already because not every kid will understand how to do that and it’s just a real challenge to support students with using a new technology, something that’s unfamiliar to them and unfamiliar to parents as well,” he says.

“Many parents had concerns about their children talking and interacting with other people online. We had to really take it slowly because we don’t want to overwhelm students or parents.”

Haines had been using video conferencing with his students, even connecting with them one-on-one outside of regular classroom hours.

“It’s a little more fluid,” he says of his work schedule, “because sometimes I connect with kids in the evenings or on the weekends as well.”

Haines appreciates that his students are able to participate in multiple ways in video conferences. They can appear by video, or not; they can type or speak. There are options.

“That’s not available for them in the classroom,” he says, “and so I’ve really seen that they’ve enjoyed that and felt much more confident to participate because there’s multiple options for them.”

Before the voluntary return to in-class instruction, he was holding two meetings per week.

He’d send out the week’s activities on Monday and would hold a class meeting on Tuesday where they could talk about it and ask questions. Fridays, they’d meet in small groups. But it’s not all serious. They’ll do some fun stuff too, like scavenger hunts.

“I check in with them: how are you feeling today, what did they do on the weekend, tell me a story,” he says. “It’s a mix of connecting with them socially and emotionally and also trying to move them along with their school work.”

They were watching a documentary each week and then meeting Fridays over video to discuss in small groups.

“They seem to like that,” he says. “It’s new, but it’s not impossible. It’s accessible to them.”

Humphreys hasn’t thrown many new concepts at his students, but he is building off some things he’s already taught. And that idea of accessibility reigns king.

“I think that’s my underlying thing. All students are different. All students work at different levels, but I do want everything we do to be accessible to all of them.”

His theme of offering accessible learning opportunities continues into literacy. His class was reading Deborah Ellis’ “The Breadwinner.” Humphreys is narrating it.

“So again it gives that equitable access to all students because some students aren’t as strong readers as others,” he says.

It’s something Haines has noticed in his class as well. A few of his students don’t use English as their first language.

But with Microsoft Teams, the collaborative software that the Campbell River School District uses, kids are able to access translation and accessibility options (like having the text read out loud).

“I’ve really seen them come out of their shell a little bit more,” he says. “That’s really nice to see.”

After seeing some students excelling with the online learning model, teachers like Humphreys and Haines can see how tools could be borrowed as classrooms transition back to a more traditional school setting.

“It makes me think this model does work for some students,” says Humphreys.

“I wonder going forward how it could look if we could incorporate more online learning for those kids who have anxiety issues about being at school.”


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