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It’s been a while since I was a student-specifically 4 years. However, I decided to take a course this summer to get qualified to teach Social Sciences, which has been a goal of mine for a while. With the current state of the world, this summer was the right time to take the step to become a Social Sciences teacher. As I’ve been taking the course, I’ve been teaching summer school classes at my current school. It’s been a difficult balance – teaching and being a student, however, it’s been such a good learning experience. From being a student, I’ve gained some good insight into what it’s like to be a student in a class that is mostly virtual and based on online learning.
Here are 5 things that I’ve learned so far as a student this summer:
1. Scheduling is Key – My professor for my online course provided a clear schedule for all the due dates of all my assignments and course materials, which has been so helpful for a planner like me. In particular for online learning, it was important that the teacher provided deadlines ahead of time so that students can make adjustments in terms of balancing outside commitments with work. As such, when we are designing our courses (online or in-person) and engaging in backward design to delineate our assignments, it can make such a big difference to student success as they are able to plan accordingly.
2. Teacher-Student Connection is so Important – My course currently does not have any video lesson components and everything is solely self-directed. Thus, I haven’t had much interaction with my teacher, and they don’t really know me, who I am, or my story. I feel as if I need the opportunity to see and talk to my teacher (even if it’s over video) to be able to connect with them. It makes such a big difference to have a connection with your teacher as you may feel more invested in the material, and the class while also feeling safer to ask for help or support. Similarly, it’s important that our teachers know who we are so that when we pour our experiences and histories into our work, that they know where we’re coming from and understand us better.
Although I can e-mail my teacher, it doesn’t feel like they’re really present and this makes me feel disconnected to the course at times. As such, even if you transition to online teaching for the next school year, be sure to spend the time and effort to know your students and allow them to learn about you as their teacher. That connection is invaluable and not having it can make students feel disengaged.
3. Peer Collaboration is Beneficial – As teachers, we all know how important it is to have students work with one another but in my current Social Sciences course, we’re required to make posts about various topics almost every day, and then we’re also asked to comment and make suggestions on our classmates’ posts. These comments have been so beneficial to my personal and professional development. My classmates have shared resources such as videos, articles, online tools, field trip locations, etc. that relate to the content in my posts and have allowed me to take my lesson planning and course development to the next level.
It’s really a testament to the importance of peer learning and collaboration. So, moving forward, it might be good to always include a space, especially on an online platform (if you’re teaching online) where students can exchange ideas because it makes such an impact on the learning and growth that they will experience.
4. Immediate Feedback aids Growth – As described in point #2, my course isn’t designed to have too much teacher involvement in day-to-day activities. The course mostly has some assignments and daily discussions amongst classmates. However, I often feel lost in terms of how to start an assignment or whether I’m on the right track with my work because I’m not getting immediate feedback on my discussion posts. As such, I empathize with some of my students who struggle to get through assignments that are based on prior work because they don’t have the feedback from me that would help to direct their thoughts/ideas. Specific and speedy feedback is so essential for students to feel less lost and confused about their work. Therefore, this course has told me to step my feedback game up because from my experience as a student this summer, I can see the direct impact of well structured, timely feedback.
Celebrate mistakes – As a perfectionist, I love getting good grades. So, taking this course has reminded me of my time in university when I would do assignments for grades rather than to learn or improve. I’ve found myself doing the same thing throughout this course. On my most recent assignment, I didn’t get a perfect score. So, I felt bad about myself and looked at my mistakes as representative of how I didn’t do well enough. I think our students feel this way quite often as they try to meet our expectations of what is right or good enough. As such, it’s important that we honor the room for growth that each of our students have.
This will take a lot of intentional work but it will help them to focus on their growth rather than their achievements. I know that outside forces (universities, jobs, etc.) place a lot of emphasis on their scores and performance so they are taught to think that their grades mean everything but it’s our job to help them look beyond their scores to understand how they can improve. As such, mistakes should be celebrated as a learning process.
This course has been such a valuable experience. I’ve learned so much about myself, about Social Sciences but mostly I’ve gained insight into how to be a better teacher for my students as I’ve gotten to see their perspective. I already knew many of these things listed above but this course has reinforced their importance by giving me first-hand experience with each of those aspects. I know you may also know these things too but it’s helpful to hear again how it can benefit our students. As our teaching has shifted from in-person to online, like my course, we can also see how these things make such a difference. So, spend the rest of the summer thinking of ways to address these points over an online platform.