Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
—James 1:2–4, NIV
The spring of 2020 began like every other spring semester at Regent University. Student teachers began their semester-long internships full of excitement, nerves, and determination to finish what God had called them to complete. Little did they or any of us know what was going to happen that spring. After just eight weeks in the classroom, their internship was cut short due to the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus. While public and private schools paused for two weeks to regroup and begin the process of teaching online, student teachers at Regent were sent home. As the pandemic continued into the summer, we suspected teaching in the fall might look a little different, but we never imagined we would continue with virtual instruction. The saying that necessity is the mother of invention was certainly true as it came to preparing our students for a virtual classroom setting.
Preparing student teachers to teach online meant our students had to “adapt to new pedagogical concepts and modes of delivery of teaching for which they had not been trained” (Schlichter 4). Our program prepares teachers to use apps associated with iPads and smartboards, but our students were not prepared to teach completely through virtual platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet. Consequently, the move to online instruction caused the education program at Regent to adapt as well.
As the Director of Student Teaching, I feverishly searched websites and blogs to identify and learn how to use various tools that might be implemented in the online classroom setting. To prepare our student teachers, I had to learn how to use Zoom and Google Meets, as these platforms would continue to be used by local school districts in the fall of 2020. Because many of the school districts were using Google products, I spent a great deal of time learning how to use and create activities through their platform.
In the fall semester of 2020, to prepare students for virtual teaching, we overhauled our orientation to the student teaching course. Instead of spending two days reviewing how to write lesson plans and create classroom assessments, and then practicing the use of various instructional strategies, this new orientation course provided students with an intensive week-long course in which they learned how to use Zoom, Google Meets, and various Google products. One of our biggest hurdles to overcome was how to create virtual lessons that were as engaging as the same lessons in a face-to-face classroom and that still allowed our student teachers to use various research-based instructional strategies that promote student thinking.
Instructional strategies and thinking routines are key elements within lesson plans that help to foster student engagement during the lesson, but they are also ways teachers can document student thinking. In a normal classroom setting, chart paper, whiteboards, and smartboards are the go-to tools to document student ideas, making their thinking visible. The documentation of student thinking using various strategies and thinking routines helps to reinforce learning to think, and it also reinforces the notion of thinking to learn. But in a virtual world, how do you do the same process? Finding tools that we could use in a virtual setting was important, because we wanted student teachers to still be able to use various instructional strategies and thinking routines that normally become the fabric of learning in the face-to-face classroom through their repeated use (Ritchhart 17). In this article I will share how student teachers took three different instructional strategies/thinking routines often used in the face-to-face classroom setting (See, Think, Wonder; Graffiti Wall; and Big Paper Conversation) and implemented them in a virtual setting using the Google Tool known as Jamboard.
Think of Jamboard as a digital interactive whiteboard or chart paper that allows students to collaborate in real time while online. Teachers can create one or multiple slides that students can interact with in various ways. Students use sticky notes or text boxes to respond to prompts or questions posed. These notes can be different colors, which can allow for various uses. A total of fifty participants can engage in a Jam at one time. For our student teachers, Jamboard became the flexible tool that worked well with several instructional strategies to engage students in collaboration online.
See, Think, Wonder
See, Think, Wonder is a thinking routine that uses observations to engage students. This routine is helpful to begin a unit of study because it taps into a student’s natural sense of curiosity. Using a painting, photo, artifact, video clip, excerpt of a text, political cartoon, chart, or anything that can be observed, students are asked to describe what they see with only their eyes, what ideas or thoughts the picture makes them think about, and the questions the picture brings to mind.
As an example, in a traditional pre-COVID classroom, fifth grade students would be shown a picture of a mother and her daughter in Mickey Mouse ears and given three minutes to observe the picture and then record what they saw, what they thought about as they observed the picture, and what questions the pictures raised. Students recorded their answers on a sheet of paper and then the teacher led a discussion of students’ thoughts. A class chart of what students observed (See), what they thought about (Think) and the questions the picture raised (Wonder) was recorded on a class chart using the smartboard. This was the beginning activity for a lesson on observing carefully, as students would be making observations of changes in animal life cycles using mealworms.
In transitioning this strategy to be completed in an online setting, the student teacher began by creating three slides in Jamboard with the titles “See,” “Think,” and “Wonder.” Each slide had the picture students would use for the activity. The student teacher then directed students to use the arrows at the top of the Jamboard to move between the three slides and create sticky notes to record what they observed, what the picture made them think of, and the questions the picture raised. Students had about six minutes to go through this activity. The teacher shared her screen while the students were completing the Jam. This allowed students to see the thoughts of their classmates in real time. Scan the QR code to see the actual Jamboard.
Another example comes from a middle school science classroom lesson focused on analysis of data from an experiment. In the face-to-face classroom, students would be shown a chart displaying the mass of bubble gum prior to chewing and then a chart representing the mass of the gum after chewing for five and then for ten minutes. The teacher would ask students to write down what they see, think, and wonder as they look at the graphs. This information would then be put on a piece of chart paper, or the teacher would document student thinking using a whiteboard or smartboard. A discussion of what the students feel the data reflets would then take place.
In transitioning this lesson to the online classroom, the student teacher used a modified version of See, Think, Wonder for this activity, simply directing students to make their comments on Jamboard slides. Again, to see the slide in Jamboard, scan the QR code. This activity was actually very powerful for the student teacher, as she was able to use the data from this activity as a pre-assessment to see student thinking as it pertained to interpreting data.
Graffiti Wall is an instructional strategy that uses large posterboard or chart paper as a place where students record their comments and questions about a topic. A teacher can post multiple questions around the room on chart paper and then have students move through each of the questions using different colored pens. Students can work independently or in groups. In using this strategy, the purpose is to help students “hear” each other’s ideas while providing a way for shy students to engage in the conversation. It also becomes a document that can be used again at a later point, as it creates a record of students’ ideas and questions.
Dr. Jenny Sue Flannagan is the Director of Student Teaching and Associate Professor at Regent University and has worked in public and private Christian school education for the last twenty-nine years. Prior to coming to Regent, Dr. Flannagan was the Elementary and Middle School Science Coordinator for Virginia Beach City Public Schools and a middle and high school science teacher. Dr. Flannagan’s area of expertise lies in curriculum development, science instruction, and the use of instructional strategies in the classroom.