Meet Ms. Unicorn and her Class of Stuffies: Creative Teacher Education Practices for Pandemic Times

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By Christie Fraser      

I am a “teacher of teachers” and that is extraordinary! When you teach teacher candidates (TCs), EVERYTHING is a teachable moment. TCs watch your every move—every word—as guidance for when they are in their future classrooms. But what does exceptional teaching look like in virtual course delivery? How do I model teaching strategies for my TCs from behind my computer screen? How do my TCs practice new teaching strategies when they are alone? How do I prepare teachers for teaching in a classroom when they are not currently able to do so because of pandemic restrictions?

The Inspired Idea

Last summer as I sat at home planning for the pandemic term, something caught my eye. In my daughter’s TV show were little children role-playing with their stuffed animals. That’s when it occurred to me: why not create a virtual classroom of stuffies that I could use to model instructional strategies? Et voilà! (“And there you go!” in French): meet Ms. Unicorn and her class of stuffies. 

Ms. Unicorn and her class

This modeling epiphany was a game-changer in my virtual teaching practice. I was able to use the stuffies to demonstrate teaching strategies and to role-play the various parts of what teachers can do in the classroom (and how students might respond). I recorded myself and posted these videos in my asynchronous virtual course. Click HERE for an excerpt from one of my videos.

The Inspiration That Followed

What happened next was really where this practice took off. In an activity that followed, the students were asked to record themselves reading a story as they might to a class of students. My expectation was that I would get just that – a view of the TC and their chosen book, reading to the camera. But what happened was amazing. The students took the strategy they had seen in my video and ran with it. I met classes filled with all kinds of stuffies! I also met live cats and dogs, small plastic animals, a blow-up giraffe, a gigantic stuffed rabbit, GI Joe figurines, and even a whole class of pumpkins all named “gourd” and a Lego school. I modelled and they followed!

Learning from Ms. Unicorn

There are so many pieces to what I have learned from this experience. I learned that it really isn’t about how a course is delivered, classroom or virtually. It is about how you teach in that delivery. I was reminded again of the value of taking risks and being vulnerable in teaching. I certainly felt very silly playing with the stuffies and recording myself the first time around! And finally, maybe together isn’t always better? Well maybe it is, but this practice can be the next best thing when we can’t be together. 

Great teaching requires opportunities for creativity and taking risks, both of which have been presented for myself and my students in virtual course delivery. With great risks can come great rewards in learning and teaching, even during a pandemic!

Bio: Dr. Christie Fraser has been an educator for over 20 years. Currently, she is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University in beautiful BC. 

Questions

Have you taken new risks in your classroom because of the COVID19 pandemic? How have pandemic restrictions unexpectedly inspired your practice? Leave your comments below.

References

Woolfolk, A., Winne, P., & Perry, N. (2020). Educational Psychology: 7th Custom Canadian Edition. Toronto: Pearson.