Wanna Hangout?

Today’s contributor is Alex Hubbard.
Alex is a 6th Grade Language Arts and Science teacher and campus Innovation Connector at the Lee Elementary 6th Grade Leadership Institute.

How will I communicate with students when they are working from home? This was one of the first questions that crossed my mind when Covid-19 sent school’s packing last March. My experience has always been that some of the best instruction and connection with students comes during the time outside of the class period; the moments when you are walking to lunch or outside at recess; sitting on the bus on a field trip or after the bell rings. I needed to find the best way to create those settings virtually for myself and for my students, and, suddenly, I remembered that somewhere hidden in the AISD Google app suite was an app that I had never used, but now has become a mainstay of my distance learning model. Yes- I’m talking about Google Hangouts- the online digital instant messaging and video conferencing app that is available in a safe, easy- to- use way for teachers and students.

 Google Hangouts has allowed me and my students to communicate consistently and on-demand throughout the school day. With over 80 percent of my students learning from home this year, this app has become an unexpectedly invaluable instructional tool.

One of the primary ways I use this app throughout the day as a teacher has been to send out schedule reminders to my 6th graders. Executive functioning is a challenge for the adolescent brain and students rely heavily on their teachers guiding the way. With so much being expected of students working at home and asynchronously, Google Hangouts has given me a quick, easy way to tell students where they need to be on the drop of a dime. I created a “Homeroom” group and I can instantly shoot a message out to everyone in the class with zoom links reminding them of where they need to be. 

Another area that Hangouts has been useful is to answer questions for students as they complete their asynchronous work. Students will direct questions to me as they come up and I receive them instantly on my browser pop-up. I can send them a quick text answer to clear up any confusion or if that isn’t working I will hop on a quick video call to talk them through an assignment. Moreover, when I’m grading and notice missing assignments or have questions about work  I can communicate with them quickly. 

As expected with so many kids working at home, “emergencies” come up constantly. “Can you send me the zoom link for…?” or  “Sorry I had to leave, my internet went out,” and “Mr. X is not letting me in the meeting.” You get the idea. Google Hangouts allows these very important, time-sensitive messages to be communicated instantly so that I can help students take care of their issues. 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the times it has really come in handy are when the kid who is feeling sad about Covid needs someone to talk to or when the student who has been working in isolation just needs some validation from a familiar face. Emotional connection with others has become more difficult during this time and Hangouts has helped to make it just a bit easier for my students. 

Now don’t get me wrong. Hangouts is not perfect. It’s important to stress and remind students to keep it on during the day or else they will miss out. Also, you will want to really emphasize and model digital citizenship norms, so as to avoid any less than savory communications among students. However, for the most part, this tool has provided my students with a way to problem solve, communicate, and feel connected that otherwise would not have been possible in this period of remote learning. If you are not already using a messaging app of this sort – I highly recommend you give it a try! 

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