As we head into our fifth week of Virtual School in Vietnam, I think back to the day it was announced that students would not be returning to campus due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus. This was late on a Sunday evening, but the next day, teachers came to campus as usual. By the end of that Monday, our middle school had our Virtual School platform up and running. The credit for such a successful start goes to the organization and communication of our principal, as well as the willingness of our unified staff to tackle the challenge together. We were fortunate to have positive support and clear direction from Day 1.
There are quite a few structures and strategies that have helped us be successful. The uniformity across our middle school at Saigon South International School has helped create stability and positive experiences for our students and staff. For those of you just getting started, I’d like to share some of the approaches that have worked well for us:
–For those of you who have not started Virtual School, make sure students take home their notebooks/books every day. You likely won’t know in advance if your school will close. Likewise, as a teacher, take your needed items home each day. We’re allowed on campus to work, but in some countries, no one is allowed on campus.
–Determine if there can be a pick-up location for students or parents to get materials, books, or other items they may need from the classroom. For our school, this is outside of our security and health checkpoints, not in our secure campus grounds.
–Realize that you can’t keep to the same lesson pace as you would in the classroom. It’s okay to have lessons that extend over two classes. It’s okay to change pacing to fit your students’ digital capabilities and digital access. It’s okay to have check-in days to make sure students are ready to move on to the next teaching point. As professionals, we are always modifying for our students’ needs and if pacing has to adjust, we have to tell ourselves that it’s okay!
–Give estimated times for completing each part of a lesson. Having these as guidelines will help students with understanding expectations and help them with time management. It also helps teachers plan better. We don’t really know how long it will take kids in their home environment – and we can’t see how long it is taking them. This allows us to figure out what adjustments need to be made.
–Definitely keep it simple. Estimate that students can do about 1/2 of what they can do in class for the time given. Some students may need more time, or 1-1 instruction through video conferencing.
–Give clear, simple, numbered directions for each assignment. Remember that not all of our students speak English as a first language, and even for those that do, simple, short directions are best. For example:
1. Open this slideshow.
2. Find the document called: “5. Narrative Ideas” in your Google Drive.
3. As you read the slides, complete the matching sections in your document.
4. When you are finished, submit your document through PowerSchool Learning. 5. Due Date: 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 10th.
–Keep your format for delivery the same for each lesson. For my own Virtual Classroom lessons, I have slideshows for each lesson which are uploaded to PowerSchool Learning, our school’s online learning platform. I’ve found that keeping my slideshow presentation for each lesson and creating a matching document in their Google Drive is easiest for my students. The slideshow often includes a video of me teaching as one of the slides.
–Start a numbering system in their Google Drives. I suggest your first virtual assignment being called: 1. (And whatever it’s name is). You’ll thank yourself later when you’re going through 10+ documents for 100+ kids!
—-Have all class lesson directions delivered in the same format for all subjects. Unify the layouts of pages where students will find information for each class. This was managed by our IT director and administration. On our first day, every teacher immediately created a “Virtual School” page that every student would land on when they went to any PowerSchool Learning class. This page has identical layouts for all subjects, making it easier for students to find what they need.
–Consistent timing across a division is important. At our middle school, all teachers post their lessons at the same time each day. This time is between 7:30-8:00 a.m. All assignments are due at the same time as well (9:00 p.m. to allow students to help younger siblings at home during the day.) This allows for students, whether in or out of country, to access information at the same time each day, as well as only having one time to remember for submission deadlines.
–We’ve encouraged our students to stay on a school schedule, and to check in with their classroom teacher at the beginning of each class block. We know how important it can be to have routines in an abnormal situation, for both physical and emotional well-being. The feedback we have received is that having a routine as close to regular school as possible is helping our students to view this experience as Virtual School, rather than, “having a lot of homework.”
–Students are asked to check in for the first 20 minutes of each block via Google Meet. I go over the new lesson, answer questions, and clarify directions. More often than not, students
are desiring interaction. They love to see their classmates online, and even though it isn’t the same, seeing their faces virtually always makes my day better as well! After the first 20 minutes, anyone can stay and work via video conference with me.
–The structures we have in place for feedback have been incredibly helpful. Our administrator sends weekly surveys to students and we use these to monitor who we can reach out to on a regular basis. We track responses week-by-week to see change over time, to determine how our students are feeling about their learning, and to see where we can improve. We know that our students have academic needs and socio-emotional needs, and our feedback systems focus on both. If your school has an advisory system, I’d encourage you to capitalize on advisory teachers’ relationships with students as you ask students for feedback.
–Our administration also has systems in place for monitoring which students need help, tracking missing assignments, and setting up “case managers” for students who need extra support. These have worked very well. From using the analytics of PowerSchool Learning, to keeping track of contact with every student in Google Sheets, we can see the history of personal outreach to each student in our middle school.
–All of our teachers and staff reach out to individual students each day by video chats or phone calls, but we are also case managers for students who are struggling. We reach out to these students more frequently. For the three students I help, I talk with them 3-5 times a week. We set up plans for learning together, and I cheer them on as they finish assignments. I also encourage them to join their class chats with other teachers. The more contact we have with our students, the better it is for all of us!
–We’ve kept up what makes middle school fun for our students, too. House Leagues are still happening, our latest trivia being, “Which Teacher Sang That Song?” A weekly video on Mondays is sent out for House Leagues, with jokes, wigs, funny hats, and point results all included.
–Videos are loved by our students! We are sending weekly fun videos on Fridays to the students from our entire MS staff. So far we’ve had TikTok challenges, “SSIS Without You,” and a video montage that included Marz, the science classroom lizard. Our principal is the positive force behind these videos, and they are a huge hit.
–Our librarian has set up a system for daily library book check-outs. She has even wrapped up books as “blind dates” for students to enjoy, and there were a plethora of pink and red-wrapped books on Valentine’s Day! Students could pick them up in a delivery area outside of school grounds from 9-3, and they are disinfected upon return. Our Book Bingo reading challenge continues as well.
–In my own classroom, we are going to have a “Battle of the Memes” next week with student-generated memes connected to their analysis of Greek literature. I also have a joke ready for my class each day when they log on for our Virtual Class. When students finish all of their assignments, I’ve been known to dance on our video chats.
–Wellness for our staff is highly encouraged and supported. People care for each other at SSIS. We invite each other to go off campus and eat lunch. We get each other out of the classroom to take walks outside. Our P.E. department organizes daily activities to get us moving. Our Sunshine Committee provides healthy snacks and smoothie vouchers at a nearby cafe. We meet at the coffee pot, and we take breaks as needed. We listen, cheer each other on, and understand that this is tough and that we are there for each other.
–As a staff, we recognize that some days are great and we’re super productive, and other days it’s hard to even open up another student folder to give feedback. These are the times when we reach out to the teacher next door for perspective (and perhaps some chocolate). Lots of grace for others and for ourselves is encouraged.
Finally, I have to say that the support and clear direction from my administrators has been fantastic. Our middle school leadership team is strong and unified. They are a critical connection between administration and teachers, as we are not allowed to have large-group gatherings. I am very fortunate to have such a positive and supportive school in an uncertain time.
While we all eagerly await for the day our students can return (I have promised to throw paper confetti and dance, much to the delight of my students), we know that the structures we have in place are working, and we are modifying all the time to improve them. While we may only see our students through a screen for the unforeseen future, I’d like to think that our relationships with them are even stronger, as we face this unique situation together. I wish the same for you and your students as well.continue reading
As an educator in China this is a crazy time! I am an Elementary School teacher at a well established international school in Beijing. I couldn’t be more pleased with how well this crisis has been handled by our school board and administrators!
We were all leaving for CNY when the Novel Coronavirus outbreak was occurring. At that time I was relieved to be staying in Beijing with my kids, and not traveling.
Four days into holiday we were informed that we would not be returning to school until Feb 17, and that learning would commence On-line at the end of CNY on Feb 3.
Quickly many teachers that were traveling cancelled their return flights and chose to stay where they were or travel home. Those of us in Beijing made quick decisions about wether to stay put or go somewhere else. In Beijing many public venues had closed, all tourist locations closed, ski areas, movie theaters and hotels began to close. As a mother with children, I did not want to stay in my apartment for weeks with nothing to do, so made a quick decision and flew back home the next day.
Our school uses a lot if on-line platforms for learning and sharing student learning, such as blogs, and moodle for older students. We already had an on-line teaching policy and tips document in case of school closures due to weather or pollution. This gave us a platform to begin on-line learning right away.
Most teachers quickly shifted from vacation mode to teaching mood well before Monday’s start date. Our IT support was in contact with reminders for guidelines and assistance to access. Our Media specialists quickly redistributed our subscription to online resources and shared out what could or could not be utilized for online learning. The lists of don’ts was daunting at first, as we are limited to things all families can access in China.
The school conducted a community survey, in part due to government requirements and in part to know more about the access for our students. From this, we were informed that approximately 50% of those who responded were still in Beijing and 50% were spread around the world in all time zones imaginable. The original policy was that teachers needed to be available during school hours in Beijing regardless of where they were, but thus just was not realistic or doable. Some teachers in the States and Canada were battling a 13-16 hour lag. This policy soon changed to holding some hours during school hours and offering our available hours to students, so they can access us when needed and according to times suitable in different time zones.
As a teacher in the elementary, we have been successful in connecting with some of our students with FlipGrid for morning greetings and provocations to our units. FlipGrid has been helpful for mini lessons and individual support to students with specific learning needs. Almost all teachers have been meeting with groups of students via Zoom, where teachers offer 2-4 time options so students can participate with one in their time zone. Epic Books has been a great resource, as we can send links to specific sets of book related to our UOI or learning topic. RAZ kids has given students access to reading practice at their level and teachers can track which students are accessing this as a resource. Older ES students are using IXL and our younger students are accessing Mathletics. We are trying out some additional on-line learning tools, to see what works best. We have also taken advantage of our school’s subscription to Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr.
We have also used Zoom as a platform for all of our collaborative and planning meetings. All groups of teachers: grade level, single subject, leadership, and support services have been required to touch base and meet on a weekly basis. This week the school is setting up online Teachers Teaching Teachers meetings on Zoom, so we can learn additional tips about different tech and online teaching tools and resources.
Our school is known for being a highly collaborative school, and this experience has highlighted this aspect in a new way. Teachers are really working in teams, not in isolation to support our learners.
The school has recently informed us that we will be given a 3 week notice of the commencement of school, to be determined by the Chinese Ministry of Education. As the Chinese government is requiring all individuals to undergo a self quarantine for 14 days following travel, week 1 of these 3 weeks will be for returning to Beijing. They are replacing our spring break with this week 1 of return and there will be no online learning during that week. The following two weeks, while in quarantine, we will continue on-line learning.
Most of us are missing our students and the routine of our daily lives, so eager to have this date announced by the Ministry if Education, though appreciate their need to stop the spread of the virus and their desire to not put students in any harm!
This article was submitted by an ISC member currently working at an international school in Beijing, China.continue reading
We all seem to know somebody in the international school community that is being affected by the health scare in Asia connected to the Coronavirus.
But how are those international schools coping with this situation? What are the teachers’ responsibilities? Where are the teachers doing the online teaching? Which technologies are they using? What is the overall feeling of the situation from all stakeholders? How was the organization of it all?
Here are four stories from four different teachers at international schools in China and Vietnam:
In the days leading up to the Chinese New Year break, there was awareness and increasing concern about the new virus in China. A lot of masks were being worn at school and some students were talking about it with a degree of concern. The virus quickly became a national issue and by the third day of the break, on January 28, we were told that school would be closed until at least February 17. During the holiday week our school let us know that we would be implementing an online learning structure. Leadership teams met and outlined what this would look like in order to continue to provide a rigorous curriculum but not overwhelm the students and parents. In elementary school our primary platform is Seesaw, which the students had already been using all year. We are maintaining the daily schedule as much as possible (i.e. if your class has PE on Monday, the PE teacher would send an assignment on Seesaw that day). Homeroom teachers are expected to send out a morning message with daily assignments by 9:00 each day and be available for the entire work day providing feedback to students. The secondary school is following a similar model using Microsoft Teams and Managebac to share content and assignments.
It has been more work than everyone anticipated, but it has also been nice to be able to connect with students. As parents we are also working with our own children and it has been good to create some structure in their day as the time away from school stretches on. The situation is ongoing. We are far from Wuhan, but there have been a number of cases reported in our city. There is not a formal quarantine but movement is very limited and we are under a lot of pressure to stay indoors at all times. The police are outside taking temperatures and collecting information. As of right now it is likely that the school will stay closed for several more weeks and there is a lot of uncertainty. We are hoping for a resolution of some kind to this crisis and we look forward to getting back to the familiar routines of a normal school day.
I work at an American International School in Shanghai, China. We received an email about starting E-learning lesson on Feb. 3rd and to contact our administrators if we had questions. The email stated to follow our daily class schedule and post a mini lesson video of no less than 15 minutes for each subject taught. As an EAL teacher in primary for different grades, I’ve had to make reading, writing, phonics, and handwriting videos. The email also had a long list of expectations for teachers such as assignments with deadlines to be uploaded on our grading website, students must work for 30 minutes and give feedback. However, little to no support has been given on the IT side of e-lessons, other than contact your supervisor for questions. Edmodo was the only platform suggested to use where someone could support you with it, but we were told to use any platform we preferred which led to parents getting bombarded with messages to sign up to Edmodo, Seesaw and others. I only chose Seesaw because my collaborating teachers were using it, and I wanted to make it easier for my students’ parents.
The two biggest problems we are facing with our E-lessons is not being allowed to use Google technology due to its restrictions in China and most parents not having a VPN. Second one was how to upload videos of 15 minutes in Wechat when it has a five-minute limit. Our school’s official Wechat group went blasting with messages about condensing videos using different websites, different APPs, and etc. Nothing concrete on these APPs with specific tutorials on how to get set it up in a few days to start running e-learning. These links were all helpful however we needed time for E-training, which we haven’t receive in 3 years that I’ve been working there. Luckily for me, I had received classes on using technology in grad school.
I think my school’s expectations are unrealistic due to parents and teachers being stranded all over the world due to CNY holidays and not having access to reliable internet. I was vacationing in Boracay, so I did my lessons with an IPad and my IPhone. Yes, I am without a laptop making this a headache for me. I also have limited or unreliable internet access. Also, you can’t expect the same teaching as the classroom when not everyone has internet, web knowledge or skills, nor the time to sit through a regular day schedule of videos, which include videos for math, science, reading, writing, Specials subject (art, P.E., etc), and foreign language for K-5. Parents spent a long time setting up accounts, learning how to navigate one, two or three APPs. In all honesty, it was hell for teachers, parents and students. I’ve been working around the clock answering questions from parents.
One parent said it best when he voiced his frustrations “Parents can’t teach children. We are not native speakers nor teachers.” Think about the difficulties one of my student’s parent is facing having to login to different APPS and instructions from all teachers for her three children. Can you imagine the series of videos they have to watch daily for each kid? She is beyond frustrated because she’s in the pharmaceutical industry, so she’s still working during the day and has to come home to help her children.
You see I’m happy to learn as I’m doing e-lessons, but I wish my school was more realistic and practical with their expectations. Although I think handwriting is important, I don’t think under these circumstances we need to have e-lesson. I’ve only been focusing on reading and writing and that’s all I can do for now. That’s all more than enough for parents to handle. They are not trained teachers to assist their kids specially in grades K to 3 where children have a shorter attention span and are not yet independent learners. I can teach in a video, but can students be expect to sit through six videos of 10-15 minutes from all their teachers?
On the Saturday before the school was supposed to open after the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, the school sent an email to staff and parents saying they intended to keep the school open during the Coronavirus outbreak, outlining the enhanced health and safety measures the school would implement. Less than an hour later, the Vietnamese government announced that the virus was an epidemic and all the local and international schools decided to close soon after. Such is life when you live in a country where the government is less than transparent – executive decisions seem to come at short notice, and all schools and administrators can do is adapt as best they can.
As teachers, we all know that death, taxes, and faculty meetings are the unchanging staples of life. As such, even though the students are away, we have faculty meetings three days a week. We enter the campus one at a time, as a guard checks our temperature and directs us to a giant bottle of hand sanitizer we must use before entering. We are updated on the situation on the ground and how it affects school. We meet about students of concern – who’s not doing their remote work, who didn’t bother to check their email until Tuesday, etc. We also discuss strategies for remote work. Everyone uses various online platforms and is happy to share success stories and advice. This is the silver lining of the whole situation: while remote learning is a bit dull if you actually enjoy engaging with students as individual human beings, it’s a great opportunity to experiment with different types of learning platforms. I’m using Edpuzzle and Flipgrid for the first time – I’m not sure if I would have the time or inclination to test them in normal circumstances, but I’m happy to test them out in hopes that I can use them again when everything returns to normal.
When I accepted an offer to work in China I was never to expect that something like the outbreak of Corona virus would happen. However, I consider myself to be the virus free, being in self quarantine for the last 12 days without showing any symptom of infection.
As for the next week, I am required to start teaching online. What does it mean in terms of my effectiveness to share knowledge with students in few classes (different subjects, years and levels)? To be honest, the difference in comparison to my usual days when in school is not so significant (in theoretical terms). As since the beginning of this school year, we have been required to explore and use opportunities of digital learning. My usual working day (for the last few days) starts around 9am and I work, both with teachers and students for the next few hours (read, until I start getting that feeling that my brain will explode). I am relying on Microsoft Teams as the school follows the official Chinese politics and does not welcome Google classrooms. The initial stage of working with Microsoft Teams (this is not an advertisement!) may seems confusing as you can create as many Teams (groups and classes) as you want but soon you may realize that you may be overwhelmed with the amount of messages which keep on getting higher. Students are being required to learn about services of Microsoft Teams on their own while teachers have received some support in that. This basically means that in theory I can use any teaching platform which fits to my current needs, but in reality I have to communicate lessons and instructions on Teams and Manage back only. I am also using Wechat for a quick communication with students.
What I am also currently surviving is the feeling of panic as I have students from six different continents in my classroom and I must reach all of them. I am currently planning our virtual timetable and that seems to be the biggest challenge that we are currently facing (as I must offer face to face instructions). For the last 24 hours I was trying to reach students across the globe, to determine their time zones and assure them that they will have enough knowledge and skills to take the final exams.
In terms of strategy, what to do, how to deliver lessons, I can no longer rely on lesson plans being planned for our classroom space as they emphasize the value of activities much. Now I am trying to find text and create written assignments which would force them to read, think, analyze and construct their responses. In terms of what to do for summative assessment, well, as for now, that is science fiction. I am counting on their honesty when doing formative assessment (though I still aim to use Turnitin).
All in all, the sense of panic is still being strong as I don’t fixed timetable and I am rushing to plan lessons for five different teaching programs,. There is a feeling of fear in me too as some of my students are in cities which were locked down more than two weeks ago and their chance for survival depends only on their willingness not to leave their apartments.
To finish this story, I am still learning how to deliver completely effective virtual classes but I have delivered my first teaching instructions already (in the virtual space which reminds to those of countless forums). I am spending much of my time in calling students wherever they are, to assure them that we can go through this situation and that no one of them will be damaged in terms of their knowledge acquisition.continue reading