How are Lessons and Learning Evolving?

My 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training course requires a community service project. In pre-pandemic times, this would have been an easy task for me. I love designing lessons. I love teaching. I love the organic nature of learning through exploration and doing.

But social distancing and safety now require teaching in a virtual universe. I should be okay making the switch; but like others, I have fallen into a new version of Wonderland, or Oz. I didn’t think I would feel this way. In addition to having a teaching degree, I have experience working in radio and television. I have been a news reporter and anchor. I have reported from a phone booth (remember those?); I have been in a studio; I even climbed a float during a parade once to interview Santa Claus. So why am I having this mental inertia?

Based on what other teachers have told me, I am not alone. Shifting from classroom teaching to remote teaching presents challenges which take time to work through. Clearly, remote teaching requires a mental paradigm shift and a transformation of my teaching style.

First, I am a classroom walker. I hardly ever stay in one place when I teach. It was a style I developed as a substitute teacher. Keep the kids on their toes; don’t let them think you’re merely going to drone from the front of the classroom. Classroom walking also brought me closer to the students.

The other thing I can do during class is stop and remediate misconceptions; or, if need be, go off the plans and delve into an area to fill in a knowledge deficit. Honestly, for me, teaching is an art. It’s the art of understanding growth and development in children; the art of reading a classroom full of students; the art of being able to make the complicated simple. And, teaching requires a great amount of flexibility; so, if something doesn’t get covered as planned one day, it gets tucked into a lesson somewhere down the line.

But now I am faced with teaching virtually–a seemingly constrained environment. The lesson plans are constructed; but how to deliver said lessons in a 2-D space is the challenge. The questions swirl continuously in my brain.

How do I engage a group of students who I have never met? How big does my online personality have to be to translate to warmth and caring on the other side? The lesson shouldn’t look like a newscast; but, how should the lesson unfold in order to engage students for learning? And, I only have 30 minutes to teach.

Recently I attended (or should I write Zoom-attended?) a workshop sponsored by the National Kids Yoga Conference titled: Best Practices for Virtual Teaching. Several of the panelists talked about having props for remote learning. Now in yoga, props usually means: blocks, blanket, strap and mat.

But what these yoga professionals meant by props was really the theatrical version of props; what in television are called visuals; what in a classroom might be called a bulletin board, a manipulative, a poster, a book.

As I listened, I began to think about three critical obstacles before me: 1. What should my space (a classroom) look like? 2. How would I translate the written lesson to essentially a televised presentation? 3.What kind of technology would I need in place do conduct a class?

In television, the journalist doesn’t have to pay much attention to these elements. Set designers create the atmosphere. If one is in the field, the camera crew usually picks the location for what is called the stand-up (where you see the reporter on your screen); the crew takes what’s called B-roll. B-roll are the pictures which cover the reporters words. Video editors cut the tape and interviews–the reporter works alongside the editor so the B-roll and soundbites (oral quotes) create a story for air. Once the journalist is done putting the story together, unless he or she needs to be on the set with the anchor, the journalist is done. Behind the scenes, there is an entirely different level of personnel making sure the story gets on the air at the appropriate point in the newscast. In remote learning, I realized, I was going to play all those parts, including set designer.

While the presentation panelists spoke mostly about working with students virtually, how they set up their technology was sent in a PDF. I really needed that explained in detail–with pictures. At least traditional school teachers (hopefully) get Professional Development (PD) on how to livestream, and Google Meet, from what will become their in-home-studio/classroom. At the moment, I will be using Google terms like: In-home set-up for remote teaching for my PD.

Now I understand why long-time teachers not only feel tired, but also feel as though they have just started teaching for the first time. One has to think in entirely new ways in order to engage students in a 2-D universe. I thought about using YouTube videos to explain a concept, only to find a range of insipid offerings made by people who think kids want to learn from a talking, animated monkey. Or, YouTube presenters who babble like toddlers. Or, presenters who spoke so quickly, one could learn very little.

My daughter coached: Be like Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mom. He talked to us, not down at us. Yes, that I will do.

My first class begins on Tuesday, October 6th. Before then, I have to arrange my teaching space. I have to figure out how to use the technology. (Where to position the laptop and how high? Do I need a second laptop as a monitor?) I am scheduled for a Zoom workshop. I need to take my lesson plans and turn them into virtual teaching content.

I need to channel my inner Bill Nye.

Wish me luck.

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