Students started school about three-and-a-half weeks ago (it feels like it has been much, much longer). Of all the things that can be said about this school year (and there are many), one of the biggest surprises to me is that it is the quietest school year ever.
We are currently on a hybrid A/B schedule, so we have roughly half of our students in the building at a time. Of course it would be expected to be quieter than "normal."
But it's not just "quieter." It's quiet. Sometimes silent.
The halls are quiet. Our counselor has been playing music between classes to inspire some energy. And noise. Yesterday was the first day I actually heard students while they changed classes.
Part of it is the masks. Students can't whisper or talk quietly to one another, so they don't talk.
Part of it is the synchronous live class + Zoom format. Students on Zoom don't want to talk at all. Students in class are beginning to participate some, but not much. I bribed a group on Zoom yesterday with candy if someone would unmute and answer a question.
I have never been a "quiet classroom" teacher - teachers who had those classrooms always amazed me (and freaked me out a bit) - but this year, it's a quiet classroom. I have one decently chatty group right now, and they feel much noisier than they really are because of the extreme quietness of other groups.
I played a couple of games this week, and they were eerily silent. Zero response from the group who played Bingo. A few reactions from the groups who play synchronous Quizlet Live, but not many.
This coming week I am going to do a digital breakout, and I hope it spurs communication and collaboration. We'll see.
Students seem a little hesitant to even ask questions when they have them. A few will raise hands. I try to make sure I circulate and look over shoulders and comment on what they are doing so they will hopefully feel comfortable asking me something if I am in their vicinity.
I am finding that personal, digital means are the best ways to communicate with students.
I do a daily "Attendance & Bell Work" Google Form and ask students if they have any questions or comments for me. I don't get many, but a few ask how I'm doing (that is always touching), and one girl asks me a "Question of the Day," trying to get to know my favorite things. I love it. A couple of students ask questions about assignments or procedures. And one student reached out for help with current material. If a student makes any sort of comment whatsoever, I try to respond.
Thankfully, students seem to be pretty comfortable reaching out through Google Classroom or email. The distance learning of last spring probably helped develop that habit.
It has been much more difficult to establish that ever-important connection and relationship this year (and I can't even imagine how it is for those who are completely virtual), but we are getting there.
I've always been a huge believer in the importance of "checking in" and seeing how students are doing and how things are going, but if students are currently not comfortable speaking out loud, it is more important than ever. I will be even more intentional about trying to break the deafening silence.