Note: this post is part of a series about Noble’s preparation for the upcoming school year.

Teachers across Noble have prepared for a different, yet great school year. We’re talking to a number of them to hear how they approached remote learning in the spring, what they learned and how they’re thinking about teaching this semester. We sat down with Amelia Gernand, a U.S. History teacher and Humanities Content Lead at Noble’s Johnson College Prep campus, to hear how she handled the curveball of COVID-19 closures in her classroom. Amelia has been a teacher for 10 years and is heading into her seventh year at Noble.

.MM: Thanks for making the time, what were you thinking when schools had to close in the spring?
AG: It didn’t feel real for a while. At first, it felt as if we might not be back to school in a few days, or maybe we would be back at least the next Monday and Tuesday after the closure. Then it turned into we might be out for a few weeks… and then the reality set in that we weren’t going to be back for the remainder of the year – that felt surreal. Honestly, the thing that came to mind first was just missing the in-person connection with my students and with families. My first concern was how can I make sure I am reaching my students and ensuring they still feel supported. I wanted them to know that I am here and available every day even if I’m not in front of them in person – that I am still very much their teacher and their advisor.

Amelia Gernand
U.S. History teacher &
Humanities Content Lead
Johnson College Prep

MM: Once you got past the initial news, how did you think about adapting your instruction for the remote setting?
AG: I teach U.S. History and Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History, so for my AP students I was thinking about how I could prepare them as best as I could for the AP test which was still one of our targets in the spring. I also needed to be mindful of the other concerns or responsibilities my students had that may be more pressing than the AP test. For my Honors US History classes, I was thinking, ‘how can I give you real-world practice with reading and writing skills’. So we switched to engaging a lot more current events, including news analysis and treating the pandemic as living history. Students collected news articles, fact-checked them, analyzed them for soundness, and then journaled their understandings, reactions, and thoughts. I told them they were curating these historical artifacts that might be studied by students 50 years down the line. What I really cared about was that everything my students were doing felt relevant and that they had some choice with what they were reading. I also wanted to ensure that the skills I prioritized to teach were things that students were going to use outside of school and that they saw the real-world application.

MM: What did the logistics look like for your transition into remote teaching?
AG: It was a steep learning curve but I definitely started relying on Screencastify so that my students can still see my face. Google Classroom was the platform that Johnson picked to give students some consistency across virtual classrooms. All of their teachers were using a similar platform and learning structures so they didn’t need to adapt to multiple different ways of learning and accessing materials. For this semester, we are using Loom because it’s user-friendly and allows you to embed your webcam into your lesson so students can see you and see their work at the same time.

MM: What went well in the spring and what are you looking to do differently?
AG: Especially in the first few weeks, I want to prioritize building a really intentional online community so that students still feel like they are part of a community of learners. I don’t want students to see themselves just siloed off, sitting in front of their Chromebook not feeling any real connection. I’m excited to start synchronous sessions with students and synchronous advisory to be able to build those relationships; especially with the new group of students in my history classes. Engagement is really the top priority for me.

MM: Any tools, tips, tricks, or anything you’d like to share with fellow teachers as they are thinking about planning for the upcoming semester given your experience in the spring?
AG: There are two things I would suggest. First, I think that relevancy and choice are especially important this year. Students should feel like everything they are doing is going to in some way prepare them for the next school year, college or post-secondary success. My other piece of advice is to look  at this year as an opportunity to do something really great rather than something we just need to “get through.” I think there is a certain amount of grieving for what a “normal” school year would be that is very understandable. However, I’m trying to push myself to think about what can be possible in a year like this. This school year presents us with such a unique opportunity; if we do this right, we can really prepare our students to be independent learners and thinkers and set them up for long-term success. 

MM: Thank you so much for the time and best of luck in the new year!

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