Conversation is a cornerstone of Cicely Woodard’s classroom. Every day last spring, her eighth-graders at Freedom Middle School in Franklin, Tennessee posed questions, discussed math problems in small and large groups and responded to one another’s ideas. Woodard wanted those experiences to continue when her school switched to distance learning during the coronavirus outbreak, but she knew that key elements would be missing. She wouldn’t, for instance, be able to read body language or see students’ work in real time. Like many teachers, those differences made her uncertain about what to expect. Once virtual classes got rolling, though, she was gratified to see that familiar classroom techniques worked to get kids talking online, too. “I was very intentional about continuing to use (these strategies), because I wanted to keep as much normalcy as possible,” said Woodard, a former Tennessee Teacher of the Year. In an interview after her final virtual class this year, Woodard shared six strategies to generate student discussions online.
Woodard’s students attended one live class per week during distance learning. Woodard opened each of these virtual classes with a question unrelated to math, such as “How are you feeling?” “What are you grateful for today?” or “What’s bringing you joy?” The activity mirrored the “circle time” exercise that her classes usually did on the first day of the week in school………………………………………………………….
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