By Amanda Kerr
Teaching is an art – a performance meant to engage, enthrall and inspire. The hope for teachers is that – like an audience in a theater – students leave their classrooms understanding the world a little bit more and dreaming of something new.
Up until six weeks ago, K-12 teachers did the show live and in person five days a week. But all that changed when public schools across the state and around the country went to online instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic. And for student teachers from the College of Charleston, it was an opportunity to test their teaching skills in new and different ways.
For Breanna King, a senior majoring in middle grades education, that meant prioritizing the information she wanted to share and make it digestible for her students at Berkeley Middle School in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.
“When it came to translating the curriculum for my students, I really had to look at the important facts that I really wanted them to learn and base all of the activities and information around that,” she says.
After noticing that only about 50 percent of her students were participating in online assignments each day, King decided to think outside the box to try and get more students excited about science. That meant using short videos from the social media platform Tik Tok and integrating them into lessons on plants for her sixth graders.
It was a hit!
“I saw my participation shoot up to about 70 percent, which – considering the number of students without internet access – is a really big win for myself and my cooperating teacher,” says King.
In addition to using videos from Tik Tok, King created a YouTube channel where she posted “talk-throughs of any material we were going over.” She also held Google Meet sessions for students twice a week to directly discuss any challenges they might be having and to “give them an opportunity for that face-to-face social interaction that they are craving at this age.”
Engaging middle school students through online learning is one thing, but keeping first-graders on track from afar is a different challenge entirely. Lauren Croghan, a senior majoring in early childhood education, made the transition easily with support from her cooperating teacher Meagan Corrigan ’18 (M.Ed.).
Corrigan had already started using the education app SeeSaw at the beginning of the school year with her first-grade class at Springfield Elementary in the West Ashley suburb of Charleston. So, it just made sense to start the shift to online learning with something the children and their families were already familiar with. From there, they focused on creating lessons and activities that would keep their young students learning.
“My cooperating teacher and I have worked together to shift to online learning through creating daily review videos and read-alouds in addition to daily assignments,” says Croghan. “The daily videos allowed the students to see our faces, hear our voices, and ultimately let them know that we were still there for them and their education.”
Corrigan says she’s been learning alongside Croghan during this unprecedented time, and she’s been focused on making sure that, as a student teacher, Croghan gets “as much experience as possible, even if it looked a little different than normal.”
The goal was to create content that would get students excited and responding to the lessons.
“Lauren had some great ideas for video activities and ways to review content in a quick and engaging way,” says Corrigan. “She has really impressed me with her drive and determination to get the most out of the situation. I hope Lauren comes away with the knowledge that it’s completely OK not to have everything figured out from the beginning. This experience is a big learning curve for teachers everywhere, and I hope she recognizes that it is normal to try something and then adjust as needed.”
As much as the shift to online learning has been an unexpected lesson for student teachers, it’s been a life lesson for the K-12 students they’re educating, says Jessica Charlton ’17, a senior double-majoring in foreign language education and Spanish.
“I think that, while this situation has been challenging at times, it has really made the community come together, and we’ve all learned to be flexible, which is a skill I try to impress upon my students daily,” says Charlton, who previously earned her undergraduate degree in exercise science from CofC.
In addition to using Google Meet, Google Classroom, YouTube and other social media platforms to deliver instruction to her Spanish students at Philip Simmons High School in the Cainhoy and Daniel Island areas of Charleston, Charlton and her cooperating teacher Christiane Camarillo ’08, assigned speaking exercises requiring the students to submit videos of themselves speaking in Spanish to practice vocabulary and grammar skills.
For Camarillo, who was Charlton’s high school Spanish teacher, watching her former student grow into a successful teacher, especially under such unusual circumstances, has been a point of pride.
“Jessica has come so far in so many ways: her content level, her organization, her creativity, her monitoring and adjusting and balancing her time, etc.,” says Camarillo. “She learned all of the things you can’t learn in college classes and you kind of have to be thrown into headfirst to learn.”
And King, Croghan and Charlton all say that having to embrace online learning platforms at the beginning of their teaching careers has been a formidable experience.
“I know this e-learning experience will shape my work in the profession, as technology has a role in all that we do nowadays, especially in regard to communication,” says Charlton. “I count myself lucky to have had this experience – albeit stressful and unexpected – as I now know that I am capable of making the switch if necessary.”