October 19, 2020
Classical Language with a High Tech Spin
The thought of teaching remotely and raising two children, one child in first grade and learning remotely, frazzles the nerves. But, then you don’t know Upper School Latin teacher Maureen Lamb. Calm and preternaturally positive, Lamb makes it look easy. As one of KO’s key academic tech coordinators (ATC), she has embraced new technologies, adapted seamlessly to remote teaching, and delivered an exceptional learning experience to her students.
“With remote teaching, you have to come at it a bit differently and try to find ways to center the remote kids and engage the students in the classroom. I think it’s really important that I’m reaching all students,” Lamb said.
Lamb accomplishes this by several means in her teaching arsenal. First, she has created a wayfinding doc, a series of slides, for her classes that she feels is a very effective tool. There she has established every activity the classes are doing for that particular day, whether synchronous or asynchronous, which would be the equivalent of homework for Lamb.
“As we are going through the class, even if a student doesn’t want to jump on their Google Drive and doesn’t want to see all their documents for the day, they have every activity they are going to do for the day. Basically, it almost like a lesson plan for the day. They have one place where they have everything. I feel this is really helpful for students’ organization, so they know exactly what they can expect when they come to class. It also keeps me grounded in exactly what we are covering that day. It’s a win for everybody,” she said.
Another important lesson for Lamb that came out of last spring’s remote teaching is her reliance on student surveys. In her final survey, she asked the students what she could be doing better as a distance learning teacher. She discovered that students want opportunities to have social interactions with their peers. Over the summer, she spent time reviewing ways to incorporate more group work and embed ways for students to interact with one another in a friendly, casual way in class.
She shares a ‘this and that’ document that allows students to review vocabulary while simultaneously having the opportunity to get to know one another. Students converse in English (Do you prefer sweet or salty? Summer or winter? Breakfast or dinner?) but present their findings of the other person in Latin.
“This works especially well for my students that didn’t know each other. For students who have been together for a while, it’s a great opportunity to interact with their peers. I feel that’s been helpful. It grounds the class,” she said.
Students who are remote enter the break-out rooms, and she often assigns students in the in-person class join the Zoom call with the remote learners. The students in the physical in-person class work in small groups of two or three and remain socially distanced at all times.
Lamb also engages the students even if their cameras are turned off, and they have ample opportunity to demonstrate their learning by using Google slides to center most of the text. Peardeck allows Lamb to insert questions in Google slides, and she permits the students to do work synchronously and go through the slides together. She also allows them to work at their own pace for 10 to 15 minutes and type feedback into the slide while doing the work. “That’s really helpful. I can see what they understood and what they didn’t understand. And as a teacher, that’s great feedback for me. I can see they’re getting this, or they are not getting that and really need to review certain material. I can get immediate feedback from the students,” she said.
In order to keep the energy level humming in the class, Lamb breaks up the activities in class into 15 to 20-minute chunks and does not linger on one activity for too long. The students take brain breaks, take quizlets, which is an opportunity to do a review and be a little competitive and Cahoot, which is a gamified multiple choice.
Lamb is always available for her students whether she meets them online outside of class, heads into a breakout to give a student some extra help, uses the chat function in Zoom, or comments on their Google doc. The upside of remote teaching is Lamb’s ability to give immediate feedback. Through Peardeck and Go Formative feedback tool, if a student writes an answer, Lamb can provide the student a hint or some direction.
If a student is excused from class, Lamb records it and ensures it is okay with the other students in the class. She allows those remote students to turn off their cameras and is mindful that they may not want to be staring at themselves all the time. She also conducts weekly check-ins with students to see how they manage the work and monitor her own progress as a teacher.
“Constructive feedback is so valuable. I ask them, ‘What’s working for you? What’s not? What could I be doing better? Students have been great about giving feedback, and they’ve been sincere. They let me know what works, if they are confused or if I should be going over the material more slowly. I’ve been doing surveys for so long now that I am very appreciative because it helps me improve as a teacher. I will continue that as long as I’m teaching because it’s so good for me to get that feedback every week. Students are more than happy to give feedback, and I’m more than happy to take it,” Lamb said.