In partnership with eSchool News, Illuminate Education is spotlighting teachers in a series recognizing educators, the way they have moved instruction online during COVID-19, and how they have prioritized the needs of their students.

Aaron Troyer
Visual Arts Teacher
Journey School
Capistrano Unified School District, CA

“We have the opportunity to help motivate students to create something that’s not just for a grade, but is something that their friends are going to see and engage with.”

How are you moving to a remote learning model?

Moving to a remote learning model was definitely an adjustment. As far as their assignments go, I am creating a piece of art and taking pictures of it step-by-step. I initially tried to create videos for my students and upload them to a server, but encountered a lot of technical issues. I also didn’t want to put that stress on my students if they couldn’t access it. Also, doing live videos would be a challenge for my students who would need to pause and start the video many times so that they could do the project at their own speed. It made much more sense for my students if I uploaded the assignment to a Google Doc with really detailed instructions for them to follow. I post new assignments twice a week. They have really latched on to it.

I’ve also created a Google Slideshow presentation where it’s open for the students to post their work, as well as leave positive comments and critiques for their classmates’ work. That’s been really exciting to see, and I’ve had about 60-70 students participate. The next steps will be to motivate them to start going beyond just following the steps and really express their creativity.

Related content: 7 tips for remote learning

In the Google Slideshow, I also encourage them to share any of their art—not just their assignments—so it has been fun to see all of their creations. I have a student who shared her anime drawings that she did digitally, and they were really good! They looked almost professional. I never would have known that before.

What have been the biggest challenges?

One of the biggest challenges is that I feel as if we are taking a step back in our progression. At this point in the school year, we had just started getting into paint, watercolors, pastels. But not every kid has a watercolor set or a full colored pencil pack at home, so I need to make sure that each assignment is just paper and pencil. I need to make sure the assigned work is equitable for all my students. This also lends itself to the other challenge of finding projects that have concrete step-by-step instructions that every student can follow, based on their ability.

The first couple of weeks were spent just really trying to get kids to participate. It’s been hard to really hold them accountable to participating or assign grades because of their access to the material and their individual abilities. However now that we know this is how the rest of the school year will be, I will need to be more diligent about how I assign, present, and grade the assignments, so that the students will be more interested and it’ll be a more rewarding experience for them.

Have you run into any unexpected “positives” in the past few weeks?

One unexpected positive was having the opportunity for my students to now comment on each other’s work. When we are in the classroom, we only have 45 minutes for the class, which includes set-up and clean-up, and we don’t often have the time for the students to go around the class to see their classmates’ work and give critiques. But now they have this great opportunity to encourage one another and it’s been really cool to see.

What advice would you share with other educators who are struggling with remote learning?

I think the biggest takeaway from all of this is the communal aspect. Don’t just have your students submit an assignment, but actually have them share it with one another. We have the opportunity to help motivate students to create something that is not just for a grade but is something that their friends are going to see and engage with.

Would you like to share a message to your students?

I love that you guys are motivating each other and inspiring each other and staying creative in these troubling times.

Share your remote learning story

Our education community is facing unprecedented challenges around teaching and learning. In these times, more than ever, we are each other’s best resources. We invite you to reach out and share how you or a colleague, friend, or family member is approaching remote learning.
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About the Author:

This article is part of an ongoing Teacher Spotlight series that is created in partnership with Illuminate Education.

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