In this article, we share useful pedagogy tips based on our experiences teaching in a masked classroom for the Leland Scholars Program (LSP) in August 2021.
We have organized this document around four themes:
- classroom space
- classroom community
We hope it serves as a generative document for deeper discussion and collaboration around teaching strategies that support an inclusive classroom.
Explore different masking options to find the one that works best for you in the classroom. The teaching team preferred surgical masks or two-layered cloth masks. You might find you want a different mask for your commute (on the train, for example) and another for the classroom.
Take mask breaks. People likely will need to speak louder. Especially when it’s hot or for back-to-back classes, this can be exhausting over time, so take breaks when needed.
Use multiple modes of communication. For lectures or content delivery, use Google Slides in Google Chrome, which has a live speech-to-text captioning function (currently for English only).
Take breaks to check for understanding in pairs, small groups, or with the whole class.
Mix in written or visual modes for collaboration or backchannel support. Use tools such as whiteboards, audience polling, shared Google Docs, or Jamboard to incorporate written and visual communication into spoken communication.
Reflect on the notion of communication in class. For classes with presentation components, meeting this moment provides an opportunity to reflect on the range of strategies we might use in communicating our ideas and arguments and their cultural contexts.
Take notice of physical communication channels and spaces. For active learning pedagogy, classroom space matters. Does each student have a clear view of the whiteboard, slides, or Google captions? What kind of learning will take place: lecturing or small group work? Think about how the physical setup of the space best facilitates that learning and communication. For example, sitting in straight rows makes it difficult for students to hear each other in general. Try small group tables or seminar-style tables where students face each other.
Go outside. If the class activity and weather permits, go outside where students can take a sip of water and stretch their legs. Additionally, for one-on-one conferences and small group meetings with students, our instructors preferred meeting students outside at nearby picnic tables.
Provide multiple opportunities during class for students to check in on their own learning and access. Consider some of the following strategies:
- Anonymously poll students about access and hearing.
- Stop for questions from time to time. Provide check-ins.
- Open office hours and email communication for general check-ins.
- Open the quarter with an introductory email assignment or survey where students can express any concerns directly to the instructor.
Duplicate instructions or essential points. Use presentation slides to give group work instructions or write instructions on the whiteboard. Give students time to read through the slides and then a chance to ask questions.
Take breaks. Masks create an extra burden on communication for all of us. Not being able to consume food or drinks in the classroom means you need to go outside to do these things. Set an assigned break time for everyone to step outside and take a break from their mask or have a snack or drink. Take a group or pair-work activity outside. You’ll be working harder physically, so you’ll need the breaks too—especially for those teaching for long stretches of time.
Support various forms of student participation. The need to speak louder with masks might favor certain students over others when it comes to participation in activities. Instructors might encourage various approaches to participation or class engagement for more equitable access, such as discussion boards, polling activities, collaborative writing, small group work, and so on.
Be flexible. Returning to in-person school is a transition for all of us. Keep in mind the varying contexts students are coming from: some students will have had little disruption to their education, while others will have been out of the classroom for more than 18 months.
Establish shared classroom norms with prompts that address communication, participation, and masking practices early in the term. When we establish norms as a community, students see their stake in developing shared practices.
Set norms for how to handle situations when you can’t hear a student or they can’t hear you. Is there a nonverbal way to show a problem with hearing? Instructors of smaller classes might take to repeating or paraphrasing what students say more loudly (a common practice in a lecture class).
Establish norms for taking turns speaking. Consider non-verbal cues such as hand-raising, or a gesture to signal when you are done speaking. Have students call on each other or rotate students or groups into the facilitation role.
Make name cards. Names are important for building community, but masking makes remembering names more challenging. Consider making first-day name cards and collect them at the end of class. Use icebreakers and sharing name activities for the first few classes.