Summer school was not quite the same as it was during the years before the COVID-19 pandemic altered everyone’s reality. Normally, hallways of schools around the Vancouver School District bustle with the sounds of rushing feet, and chatter about classes and summer activities. While that was not possible this year, the academic courses many students must complete were still offered, ensuring each student was able to fulfill their requirements.
This year, taking a summer school course online was the only option, so all staff and students could be kept safe. While the courses offered are usually a variety of elementary, remedial, secondary completion, preview, English Language Learners and Skills Development courses, this year, the offerings were limited to academic completion courses for grades 10-12. Students in the courses wanted to earn credits toward secondary completion, to improve their final mark, or to clear a spot in their schedule during the following school year.
Lokavya (Sunny) Jain is a student at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary set to start Grade 10 in September, and has just wrapped up Foundations and Precalculus Math 10 Completion. He says he is happy with his experience. He expected more challenges learning online on Microsoft Teams Classroom, but adds his teacher, Lucas Guillen, was engaged and responsive.
“And hearing from some of my friends in other classes, they also say that if they have a question, it’s not really a problem – they can just either email or post it in Teams and they’ll get a response right away,” Jain adds. He says in his own class, the students were sent videos from an online resource which explained the content, and Guillen took questions and helped to deepen their understanding.
Guillen has taught summer school for three years and is a math teacher at Prince of Wales Secondary during the regular school year. Delivering the class remotely was a new experience. In a tutorial session offering extra help, Guillen greeted the virtual group with friendly “hellos” and “good mornings.” This was the first part of four hours each day he made himself available to students – breaking the time up between the morning and afternoon – and spending the in-between hours marking and contacting students’ families.
He acknowledged there were challenges that came with virtual teaching, like being unable to move around a classroom to check-in with students, and the additional considerations for students who needed to manage their time to work through an exercise. But even with these adjustments, Guillen said his students were very good about following the schedule and doing their best. He adds the experience showed the value of creating opportunities for meaningful connections online.
One way he fostered those connections was by doing attendance through a daily question he used to check in with his students.
“For example one question I asked was ‘What is a question you would want asked, but that no one in the world could answer?’” he explained.
He expected to get responses like, is there life on other planets, and what will the world look like in 500 years.
“But most of the responses were about when will the pandemic be over, or what will their friends be like when it's over, and because of this I got to use Teams to give them a little pep talk that many of them felt this way and we're kind of all in this together."
Meantime, Natalie Wai taught English Studies 12 Completion. In planning how she would teach in this new format, Wai said she tried to look at it from the perspective of a student who had no experience with it. On Microsoft Teams Classroom, her first class meeting was focused on navigating the program and accessing assignments. In addition to mandatory meetings, releasing assignments and offering feedback, Wai held recorded tutorials that students could revisit.
“I discovered over time that it was in my best interest as a teacher and their best interests as students to have these tutorials,” she said, explaining students taking the course to graduate were more likely to get their assignments done when the tutorials were there to help. Wai also held office hours when a student could discuss an assignment one-on-one over Microsoft Teams.
While both teachers missed the engagement that comes with in-classroom instruction, they evolved the way they led their courses online, dedicated to giving their students the best chance to succeed as we all continue to adjust to our changing reality.