School closures have presented us with challenges as to the different ways we can continue to teach. We have lost the familiar dynamic of our classrooms and are all trying to chart a new course, utilising technology to set meaningful work and trying where we can to maintain helpful and valuable communication with our students. Colleagues at Sandringham have been using Google Meets to teach part or whole lessons. In this blog, I interview Alice Wiggett, our Assistant Director of Learning for English, who has used a Google Meet with her Year 12 English Literature class.

How did you find setting up a Google Meet and getting your students to join?

Setting up the Google Meet was very straightforward and once the students knew the expectations, it was easy to use the chat function to propose questions and discussion. One of the students in my group has a hearing impediment, so all students are required to turn off the microphone to ensure better quality of sound as I’m teaching. We use the caption function so everyone can follow the lesson and what’s being said, although there have been some phrases that have been lost in translation, it’s generally worked well.

How did your manage a discussion with your students?

I mainly use the lessons to go through key passages in a lecture format and then we break for discussion. We have a double session on a Wednesday and so we spent two hours going through key chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale where I would pause after key moments and offer some points of discussion. Students then use the chat function to ask questions and give their opinions on the passages and ideas I’ve been introducing. Structuring the lessons like this has worked well because we have time to pause and reflect and then students can turn on their microphones to speak. To begin with, the conversation was quite fragmented. It’s difficult to know who is waiting to say something, but using the chat thread has enabled us to invite people’s opinions (like putting a hand up). I’ve also been able to direct questioning to students to manage discussion.

What were your students’ reflections?

The class think using Google Meet is working well, and for the unit we are completing, it’s the best format available to us. However, despite the positives, we’ve realised how our discussions are not as fluent and natural; students have said how the lockdown has made them realise the importance of face-to-face lessons so they can read body language and engage fully in dialogue with one another.

The irony of studying a dystopian novel in such a climate has also been quite bizarre for the class. It’s difficult for anyone to relate to the characters’ restricted conditions in The Handmaid’s Tale, but now we can draw some parallels between lockdown and the world of Gilead. One student reflected on a part of the novel where the character Offred is excited to see oranges in the shop when she goes on her daily walk – just like when we find that eggs and loo roll have been restocked!

Do you think you’ll continue to use Google Meets?

Yes. The students will be completing assignments on Google Classroom, but we will keep using Google Meet as appropriate.