Dianne Willoughby

In this month’s article, “Thinking Critically about Our Practices, Part II: Global Online Academy,” we described Global Online Academy (GOA) and its use as a new tool for personalizing learning for our upper school students. In this piece, we share examples of Nueva lower and middle school teachers using GOA to innovate in their classrooms.

A key attribute of GOA classes is that most are asynchronous — that is, not tied to a schedule — allowing students flexibility of time and place. Several Nueva faculty members trained in GOA techniques have embraced asynchronous engagement, creating new opportunities to personalize learning for their students.

Third-grade teacher Katie Kelly piloted online learning using FlipGrid as a discussion tool. She posed questions students could answer individually in brief video responses. The students loved watching one another’s videos and continued talking about the topics after class sessions ended. Students then interviewed their parents and synthesized the responses online. "Once the students got comfortable with the technology, I saw the positive impact on equitable participation, especially during large class discussions," said Katie of this successful assignment. "We also witnessed discussions transcending the classroom as students continued sharing their interest and excitement about the topics."

More recently, Katie experimented with a backchannel, an electronic space to share thoughts alongside a verbal conversation, during a classroom discussion. This tool brought new voices to the forefront while also increasing student awareness of group dynamics.

In the Middle School, Jennifer Perry, an eighth-grade English teacher, envisioned how GOA techniques could personalize learning for her classes. She and her fellow English teachers — Kelly Ward and Jen Neubauer — designed an entirely online study of the graphic novel.

Students advanced through four modules carefully ordered to develop online communication skills while giving opportunities for deep literary analysis. The four modules were digital citizenship, the graphic novel genre, cultural identity in their assigned novels, and discussion skills — connecting words and images of the graphic novels to make meaning.

Canvas, the learning management system used at Nueva’s Upper School, was selected as the online discussion tool. Canvas provided many dynamic features, including the ability to incorporate images and videos in discussions, perfect for analyzing graphic novels.

The curriculum design was also interdisciplinary: teachers gave students a choice of one of five graphic novels with important themes of cultural identity, the eighth-grade spring humanities curriculum. Discussion groups of four to six students were intentionally built as collections of students not usually in classes together, enabling new avenues of collaboration.

Students responded to prompts from teachers and posts from their teammates through Canvas. While students had flexibility in their response time, they also had a responsibility to continue the dialogue. As they progressed to module four, students assumed ownership of the conversation, posing questions to one another.

Faculty were excited about the students’ use of Canvas to illustrate and support their literary analysis. “I’m very pleased with the results,” said Jennifer. “As teachers, we heard so much more from students who are typically quiet in class. Using these techniques, students had time to think about their responses, and our teaching team could see their intellectual growth. Their analyses increased in complexity, they built upon the ideas of their teammates, and they made thoughtful connections to their humanities and world language classes.”

Assessment is rich and personal as well. “We perform the same assessment of students as we would for a classroom discussion, but this methodology gives us time to read and reflect on students’ understanding because it is not happening in real time,” said Jennifer.

Students have enjoyed it too. Anisha K., whose graphic novel March is a nonfiction, firsthand account of the life of Congressman John Lewis, explained the positives she’s gained. “We’ve had interesting discussions in my group,” said Anisha. “It has made group work more enjoyable to me because we’re not jumping from idea to idea. And we’re growing: our posts were initially bland because we were repeating the same ideas. Once we started to think about how to further the conversation, we began looking at cultural identity through different lenses, and it has made us more introspective about the many elements of cultural identity.”

Is online work isolating? Not according to Anisha! “Because of the way our groups were formed, I’ve connected with classmates I didn’t normally see. It gave us something new in common to talk about when we met up on campus.”


 By Dianne Willoughby, Editorial Manager

April 25, 2018

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