One of my most popular posts lately has been this one. When I wrote it, I was expecting – even hoping – that schools around the nation would be closed to control the spread of coronavirus.
I’m now in Week 3 of remote teaching. On the one hand, as a lifesaving measure, it is stunningly effective. Australia currently has about 1,000 known active cases of COVID-19. We’re currently detecting about 8 new cases a day. No, those were not typos. One thousand active cases. Eight new cases daily. But on the other hand, teaching remotely is so much harder than I expected. Everyone is frustrated, tired, under-motivated, lonely and overwhelmed. There are not enough hours in the day for anything. My shining light right now is that at least I’m doing somewhat creative units, most of all in Year Seven.
I’m guessing many other teachers and parents out there are in a similar position, so it seemed about time to share some of my resources. I’m using all of these in my classes at the moment.
I hope they come in handy, wherever you happen to be!
1. Historical diary
Students complaining of boredom? Have them channel it.
There’s never been a time like this in living memory, and it will be studied in the future – much like the letters of eighteen-year-old Pliny the Younger, who observed the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79CE:
“It was not clear at that distance from which mountain the cloud was rising (it was afterwards known to be Vesuvius); it can best be described as being like a large pine tree, for it rose very high on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches. In places it looked white, elsewhere blotched and dirty, according to the amount of soil and ashes it carried with it.
My intelligent uncle [Pliny the Elder, who later died trying to help people escape from Pompeii] saw at once that it was important enough for a closer inspection, and he ordered a boat to be made ready, telling me I could come with him if I wished. I replied that I preferred to go on with my studies, and as it happened he had given me some writing to do.”
The task for your students is to record what is happening to them – or not happening to them – right now. Mine have captured their worries, their frustrations, their pain and their gratitude in this simple activity. I can’t take credit for this idea – it’s been kicking around online for a few weeks. Here’s how I framed it.
Imagine that it is the year is 3320, Common Era. Archaeologists have finally discovered how to read the long-lost, very confusing language known as English. They have discovered how to use a machine that people once called a ‘thinker’ (computer) and have discovered many fascinating new texts. They are still trying to figure out whether a ‘TikTok’ and a ‘Tic-Tac’ are the same thing.
They are especially intrigued by a diary entry from a young person who survived a famous tragedy they have translated as ‘Invisible Crown Going Everywhere Disease’ (the coronavirus pandemic). This diary entry teaches the archaeologists of the 34th century many new facts about life in the days of the Invisible Crown.
This young person is you. Write an account of your daily life, thoughts, feelings, things you miss, things you are looking forward to, and/or things you hope will never come back (goodbye, sweaty handshakes!)
Remember to include plenty of detail. You are the first ordinary person of the 21st century whose writing the archaeologists have seen, and they want to learn about how this unbelievable historical event affected you!
It’s also a good way to get a deeper measure of how your students might be feeling – but sometimes distraction is the best medicine. I set this for my competent students over a few periods while the others were finishing another project, and then let it go. It’s good Writing to Learn but eke it out too long and it might drag them down.