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NewsMay 8, 2020

Undergraduate education majors undaunted by remote learning challenges

Future teachers find ways to engage young students despite social distancing challenge

Screenshot of a Zoom call, students hold up paper rolled up to look like diplomas. Professor Eisenbach wears her regalia.
Photographed: Brooke Eisenbach and her undergraduate education students celebrate their upcoming graduation on Zoom.

By Georgia Sparling

The seniors in our undergraduate education program have responded to the coronavirus pandemic with flexibility and agility as they continue to educate students through their teaching internships. Associate Professor Brooke Eisenbach has worked with these future educators over the years and shares how they have stepped up during these unprecedented times.

Imagine, if you will, your final semester of undergraduate studies as an education major — the anticipation of your final practicum, the opportunity to lead a classroom for the first time and the joy of connecting with students, creating lessons and teaching the very activities you once wrote about in your coursework.

Now, throw a pandemic into the mix. Suddenly, everything you once anticipated is intertwined with uncertainty, confusion and chaos. Rather than cultivating a classroom of safety and security, you find yourself responsible for maintaining relationships across time and space, navigating the health and wellness of your students, family, friends and self. Instead of practicing lessons and instructional approaches you’ve come to know and understand throughout your program of study, you find yourself transforming your activities and assessments to an online platform as you engage in new technologies, all the while striving to ensure your students have access to technology, content and individual instructional supports. You find yourself navigating new expectations from the district and school, while also worrying about your current certification processes, documents, observations and evaluations of your teaching abilities within a context outside anything you’ve learned or experienced in the past.

This semester, Lesley education majors within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences found themselves in uncharted waters, their final practicum changed almost overnight. But, like so many educators, administrators and school personnel across the nation, they faced this challenge with strength and resilience. They chose to view this experience as an opportunity to continue growing and developing as novice teachers, and they did so in creative, thoughtful and compassionate ways — always putting the needs of their students first.

“Right after hearing that school was canceled, I was in tears,” Caroline Acquaviva, an English literature and secondary education major, recalled on learning that her final practicum would transition to remote teaching. “Yet several hours later, I had a burst of motivation and creative energy, trying to imagine how we can leverage technology (that students are so familiar with) to learn in new and exciting ways.”

Acquaviva found ways to use online journaling as a method of differentiating her teaching to promote accessibility for all of her learners and to enrich their understanding of content through creative, personalized options for learning.

“Each area of the journal allows students to put in their own perspectives and opinions, usually responding to articles, poems, videos and even the work of their fellow peers. There are plenty of opportunities for students to show what they know through art, creative writing and more,” she said.

In addition, Acquaviva used the synchronous platform Zoom to meet with students and to begin an online American Sign Language (ASL) club.

“Being able to engage with students in this space has been overwhelmingly positive, as we are able to communicate how we are feeling and thinking but using ASL,” she said.

Paula Beckford and Joshua Crampton, both mathematics and secondary education majors, also found new ways of encouraging students in their love and engagement with math through online learning.

“I always put my students and their needs first. That’s why I’ve been creating online videos on a new YouTube math channel,” said Crampton.

He used his phone, books and a sheet of paper to create a homemade document camera, akin to an overhead projector, to aid him in the creation of his video series. Students are able to view the videos on their own time and meet with Crampton during office hours for continued assistance along the way.

Joshua Crampton says goodbye to students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School as his semester comes to a close.

In a similar fashion, Beckford combines asynchronous activity with virtual office hours as a way of encouraging student learning, while also maintaining connections with learners.

“Online learning has been a new experience for me. I’ve been reaching out to students to check in and posting Edpuzzle lessons and virtual assignments,” she said.

Both teacher candidates identify the value in encouraging student engagement in a variety of ways for a variety of learners and specific student needs.

Emma Hue, an English literature and secondary education major, took advantage of technology she encountered within her coursework at Lesley to spawn an online book club with her practicum students.

“During this time of remote learning, I was able to successfully introduce the middle school teachers and students to a forum they hadn't yet used before to upload and reply to video recordings of themselves,” said Hue. “Dr. Eisenbach introduced me to the website called Flipgrid in one of her classes and I fell in love with it!”

Students were able to engage in book discussions through a series of video posts and responses.

“I knew my students would love it and my colleagues quickly agreed.”

Although their final practicums were not what they expected, Lesley teacher candidates maintained their resiliency and passion for teaching and learning. They supported one another throughout the experience in weekly seminar conversations, chat threads and phone calls. They leaned on their supervising practitioners and education professors for support and mentorship, and they found innovative ways of maintaining relationships, connections and instruction with their students across time and space. And now, they celebrate as they finalize their program, and prepare to meet whatever awaits them around the next turn with passion, excitement and experience beyond anything they could have ever imagined.