California Educator

August/September 2020

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Reading the Room — Remotely How to tell if students understand what you're teaching By Youki Terada T E A C H E R S A R E E X P E R T S at reading nonverbal cues. Whether they see a con- fused look on a student's face or furtive glances that confess, "I don't know what we're doing right now," teachers effec- tively read the room to gauge how well students are following a lesson. A sea of blank stares is a signal that the teacher needs to explain a concept further. "Some people read books. I read peo- ple," writes Vicki Davis, a teacher and IT director in Albany, Georgia. "I read the thousand tiny microexpressions that reveal the little things that make a big difference in our bondedness of being teacher and student." Reading the virtual room In a v ir tu al cl a ssro om , mu ch of thi s information is lost. Does a student look confused because they don't understand the material, or because they can't figure out how to unmute themselves in Zoom? Is eye contact meaning ful when there's no way to tell if the student is watching funny videos instead? If a student can't hear the teacher, saying "speak up" won't solve anything until someone determines the source of the problem. There are additional limitations to online environments. Teachers can't pace around the room to check student work and progress. If a student is experiencing network or video lag, they may not feel comfortable asking the teacher to pause while they resolve their technical issues. And there's little a teacher can do if stu- dents are distracted by siblings or a TV playing in the background. Teachers are typically familiar with u s i n g s t u d e n t f e e d b a c k t o i m p r o v e i n st r u c t i o n — c o m m o n ly k n o w n a s formative assessment. But they tend to focus on how well students understand the material, not how well they can access the material. e distinction is important, according to the authors of a 2019 study, who interviewed eight award-winning instructors of online courses and found that they frequently gathered data on how well their courses were administered "to identify what was working or not." "An important element in the develop- ment of an award-winning course was the way in which instructors had collected data on the course or engaged with exist- ing evaluation data, reflected on how to improve the course, and made improve- ments," explain the authors of the study. Teachers of high-performing online classes, in other words, read the virtual room and collect feedback not just to gauge how well students understand the 54 Teaching & Learning

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