Christopher Cormier is a joint postdoctoral scholar in the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) and the Learning Differences and the Future of Special Education initiative. Catalina Martinez is a clinical associate for STEP and a former bilingual elementary teacher and instructional coach. Together, they formed the dynamic teaching team that facilitated the course Dis/ability and Access in Elementary Classrooms (EDUC 285).
- Provide students with breaks during class
- Collaborate with other instructors as it is even more essential than when teaching in-person classes
- Talking through challenges with a team can be helpful when collaborating
- Be flexible and understand that there is a learning curve
Can you tell us about your transition to teaching online?
Cormier: The transition to an online platform was quite a challenge because we had already done half of the class. The class was designed where the first half of the class was in the winter quarter and the second half was in the spring. We always felt that we needed more time, even with two hours and fifteen minutes of course instruction in-person. So when we had to shift to an online format where we also lost 45 minutes of instructional time, we wondered, “How then do we take that and scale it back by 45 minutes and also keep in mind all of the things that we wanted to make sure students needed to learn?” One of the great things we had is our Digital Ambassador. She was outstanding. Every week, she came to the course as well as met with us each week and after class to go over any challenges that we were facing regarding the technology. That was very helpful in terms of trying to transfer this class from in-person to online.
We knew that we were going to be missing out on the time you have with students at the beginning of class.
Martinez: Beyond the fact that our course is about disability and access, we knew that we needed to look at the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) guidelines to help us reconfigure our course design within this new medium. Within our syllabus, we highlighted for our students changes we made based on principles of UDL. Additionally, we knew that we were going to be missing out on the time you have with students at the beginning of class — those quick check-ins. We knew that we would be missing out in some sense on the formative assessment that you have when going from group to group, when you can kind of understand where the misconceptions and confusions are. We also knew that we were going to be missing out in terms of hands-on activities. So, we worked hard to strategically modify our course design to address those pieces.
How did you begin the first class session online?
Martinez: Students knew that what the class looked like five weeks ago is going to look different now. We knew a lot of students left campus. So, we did a map and we used the annotate feature on Zoom during our first course to understand where our students were located. They were able to pin themselves on the map as we reconfigured what it meant to be in community together.
One of our instructional goals is to support teachers in developing our students’ understanding of their own learning profile and when they learn best. So, we engaged in ongoing metacognitive reflection, thinking about preference around workspace needs, noise levels, and how they best learn in their new contexts.
Can you describe more of the activities conducted at the beginning of class sessions?
Martinez: For a few weeks, we asked the students as they came in to create free drawings on squares with their names on them. This allowed us to model one way that elementary teachers might take attendance online. It is a nice way for students to do something as they come into the Zoom room. Many instructors I know have been talking about this: What happens when everyone comes in? What are we working on? What are we looking at that isn’t everyone awkwardly looking at faces?….I’ll share another one. We had the students do a scavenger hunt where they raced around their house and created a self-portrait using objects found in less than a minute. I had them send me all of their pictures, and then during the break I put it on different slides. They’re really creative, and it was kind of fun.
What are some ways that you used technology to support your learning objectives?
Cormier: The interesting thing is that there were some aspects that were easily transferable from the in-person class to the online platform. We were already using Padlet, where at the end of each class, there was a QR code that students could take a picture of, and there were certain questions that students could post on the Padlet. So, a lot of times, we used it to make sure that we weren’t using a lot of instructional time — if we didn’t have it — to go over questions about assignments. That way, if we answer the questions, then it was on a platform that students could refer back to. This is something that continued even in the online platform.
Martinez: We had students create a Jamboard to reflect on some of the course learning. They compiled course takeaways using different course artifacts and their reflections. They put that together into a Jamboard, thinking about a vision for their future classroom. The nice thing about it is: I think had we been in a physical classroom, we would have had them create something on posters, but this actually worked much better online because we created something that lives on digitally. So, if we were to do this again, regardless of if we were in person or not, we think it would be better to use Jamboard for this purpose. I feel like it allows for more creativity in terms of demonstrating their understanding beyond what they might necessarily be able to write or draw on a piece of paper.
How do you balance the purpose of the course while modifying plans for an online learning environment?
Cormier: A lot of institutions are taking this opportunity — and I understand why — to reshape the curriculum and expectations of what they are asking students to do based on a COVID-19 world. For us, it was really important to stay true to the actual intent of the course. The purpose of the course was dealing with inequities, particularly access for students with disabilities in K-12 classrooms. Just like all courses, this was designed to teach students strategies to use in a physical classroom space.
For us, it was really important to stay true to the actual intent of the course. The purpose of the course was dealing with inequities.
Also, given that schools are struggling to teach general education students, we recognize that many aren’t at this point using empirical research to teach pre-service teachers how to accommodate lessons for students in special education programs virtually. So we then spent a significant amount of time trying to find some common ground in how the students were teaching in their student teaching assignments virtually. But at the core of this course, even when it moved to Zoom, we focused mainly on those instructional strategies for teaching in a typical learning environment. It was really, really important that we stay true to what our students came to get and ensuring — at least for now — that we focused on that. If we infuse aspects of virtual environments and discuss bits and pieces of it, that’s great; and we did that, as well.