Pulse Check with Polls

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Prior to our rapid transition from in-person to online learning, I used polls on an intermittent level. Sometimes I polled students on their thoughts about a controversial topic prior to an in-class activity, and other times I incorporated polls to share student feedback across all six classes of world history.

But when we moved completely online, I decided to ramp up my poll use. I started by posting polls with quirky or fun questions, and other polls asked for more serious feedback. I addressed that my previous blog post so I’m not going to elaborate anymore on that here.

What I do want to share is the importance of conducting pulse checks with students. Some teachers use polls or Google Forms to collect information about students at the beginning of the week/day or at the end as an exit ticket or reflection. I first conceived of using polls as a means to see who was logging into the LMS. Because I didn’t have time to prep my students for what distance learning was going to look like, I was hoping that they would just know to log into our LMS every day.

I was wrong.

Sure, some of the students logged in right away. They were used to the routine in my class. But others either didn’t log in at all, waited for emails from teachers, and in some cases a phone call from the community liaisons. But logging in, reading emails, or fielding calls from the front office staff didn’t reveal important information about how are my students doing.

So amidst the various fun polls like what’s your favorite place to get burgers, I polled students about how they were coping with remote learning. During this crisis, my students have been juggling more than just completing assignments for six different teachers, they have been dealing with larger issues such as shelter, food, and safety. I have posted before on the whole Maslow before Bloom’s thing so you know where I stand on this matter.

Because I couldn’t physically see their faces or their body language, I made it a point to poll my students on how they were doing. I asked them these questions in a variety of ways, but the one that was most telling was the one that asked How are you doing today?

Check out the progression of student poll responses over time…

This poll was conducted four days after in-person instruction was implemented in my district.
This poll was conducted at the conclusion of Quarter 3 on the Friday before Spring Break.
This is the most recent poll.

As you can tell, my students are getting the hang of things. Sure there’s still quite a few who don’t like online learning and are struggling, but I’m seeing an upward trend. And that’s a relief. I think middle schoolers are quite resilient so I’m glad that at this time almost 75% of them are on the positive side of the scale.

Whew.

As we close out the school year, I’m conducting one final poll. It’s a reflection of the past 12 weeks of remote learning. But that’s a post for another time.

Let’s Get Real

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When we quickly transitioned from in-person to remote learning, I started using polls with my students to see who was checking in (or not). The polls were mostly fun topics:

  • If you could be a superhero who would it be?
  • What is your favorite type of French fry?
  • What is your sleep position?
  • What is your LEAST favorite vegetable?

And then there were the ones that asked more serious questions:

  • How are you doing with remote learning?
  • How many hours are you spending online?
  • What are your thoughts about learning online?
  • How many hours a day do you spend studying?

The polls, without a doubt, provided insight into my students’ likes and dislikes while also providing some important information that they did not readily share in their Living History Project journal entries.

The poll that I did last week was one that I was curious about since there are talks about how schools are going to look in the fall.

So I conducted a Social Distance Poll…

Student poll on social distancing

As you can see…only 22% of student respondents* think they can socially distance from their peers when we return to campus. Twenty-two percent!!! The majority marked not sure which I believe is closer to the truth since they know how they are.

Truth be told, so do I.

Having taught 25 years at the middle school level, I think I have a pretty good understanding on what adolescents can and cannot do…what they will and will not do.

As they flex their independence, middle schoolers like to push boundaries. While they listen to me (most of the time), if I’m not in their line-of-sight, they are going to pretty much do whatever they want.

And I don’t think that it’ll be six-feet away from their peers.

Do you recall seeing the following image from the New York Times? It came out roughly one month after transitioning into remote learning. When I saw this photo, I was both saddened and skeptical. Saddened because this is a new reality for children (and adults) and skeptical because…well, the expectation is that children will follow directions.

Recently, I was asked to participate in a focus group of alumni from Johns Hopkins University. It was a diverse group of educators from across the United States. And while it was validating to hear that I was not alone in my struggles with getting students to complete work, I was a bit surprised that some of the educators thought that social distancing was mainly going to be an issue for elementary-aged students.

But let’s be real. Students, no matter their age or grade level, expend quite a bit of energy and brain-power figuring out ways to push the boundaries. How many of us have come back to a sub note that contained numerous incidents of students pushing the buttons of the sub? Or how many of us watched our student teachers struggle with classroom management because the students saw a challenge?

I have always had control issues. It’s just my nature. So I make it very clear on the first day of school what will and will not be tolerated. But those expectations only work when I’m physically present.

When we return back to campus, I am sure that there will be policies in place so that students, teachers, and staff can socially distance from each other. But I know the reality that I can only control what happens in my classroom. So we can take out the extra tables and chairs…I can create seating charts so that students are not seated close to their peers…but once that bell rings and students are dismissed…do people honestly think that students are going to socially distance? Even if the school operated in shifts at half-capacity, is it realistic to think that students are going to follow directions and stay six-feet away from each other?

I’d like to think that they would follow the rules…but as any classroom teacher can attest…children have a hard time following directions, let alone rules.

It’s going to be an interesting school year in the fall.

*NOTE: Not all of my students completed the poll as I have approximately 150 students enrolled in my six classes.

A Time for Reflection

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It’s been a little over two months since in-person instruction was canceled due to the coronavirus crisis. I vacillated between thinking that things were under control to realizing that I was operating under the guise of controlled chaos.

As other educators have mentioned via Twitter…many of us are working harder than before. And I truly believe we are. Not only are we planning and administering lessons that we hope are as engaging online as they would be in person, but I’m sure many of us are also considering how we can better support our students who are struggling with this mode of learning.

Despite my expertise in ways to integrate technology for meaningful learning as well as the experience I have as an online course designer and instructor, I have to admit that this has been a trying time for me.

I struggle because other than what my students write in their Living History Journals or what they share via emails to me, I really don’t know how they are doing…academically or emotionally. And I worry about them. A lot.

Some of their journal entries bring tears to my eyes when they write about how lonely they are, how much they miss school, how much they hate online learning, how they are having to deal with sick or dying family members. It’s heart-breaking.

And then there’s the comments and emails about how they miss me and hope that I am staying safe, too.

I’m not pretending that my situation is any different than other educators around the U.S. It’s not. And I think that’s what is helping me at the moment because I’m not the only one going through this.

And I’m lucky. My husband and I both still have our jobs and none of our family members have been sickened by the virus.

If anything, this experience has taught me to truly be grateful for what I have.

I am lucky.

I am blessed.