In this interview, Socorro ISD Instructor Melanie Garcia shares how she’s utilizing online tools and instruction to keep adult learners motivated.
What is your role at Socorro ISD Community Education?
My official title is Teacher on Special Assignment and I work for the Socorro ISD Community Education Center. Our adult education program offers everything including English as a Second Language, High School Equivalency (HSE)/GED and vocational training. We are partnering with Workforce Solutions Borderplex to serve as the HSE provider under the Youth Job Skills grant they received from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC).
I teach HSE courses 20 hours a week in addition to providing curriculum support for other HSE as well as ESL instructors.
What did you do prior to your current position?
I worked as a part-time advanced ESL instructor for four years with Socorro ISD Community Education Center. Prior to that I worked as a K-5 teacher for 16 years at four different schools in El Paso.
What courses do you teach now?
I teach GED Reasoning through Language Arts, Social Studies and Science in a multi-level classroom. I also work with a co-teacher that does Math instruction.
How are you and your students adjusting to this transition to distance learning?
I have a very supportive system of directors and colleagues—our assistant director, Isabel Justo, is doing practice Zooms with teachers and our director, Anthony Fraga, has personally called students and met with HSE/GED instructors prior to all of this to emphasize the importance of our program.
The saying ‘it takes a village’ is really coming into play at this point.
You can’t make any assumptions right now, you really have to connect with them (the students), and you can’t stop reaching out. I have students that are parents and are balancing homeschooling and other priorities. I know that I have to be consistent and persistent, even if I don’t get a response. I’ve noticed on Google Classroom that more students are joining online and they are coming on board with time—I’ve gone from seven students to 20.
What tools and resources are you using to help with online instruction?
The student score report and the Tuesdays for Teachers webinars have been helpful. I’ve also used the Spanish resources on GED.com for my curriculum support.
The Google Classroom platform is good for assignments and I use sites like CommonLit.org to facilitate reading and answering questions online. My students are also encouraged to continue taking the GED Ready practice tests.
I think it’s important to ask students what works for them. I sent out a survey asking my students what mode of communication they prefer and how I can further motivate them to continue their GED studies.
How are you creating a connection with your students during this time of social distancing?
Zoom has been my go-to for virtual meetings and classes but I haven’t done many thus far. Some of my students aren’t comfortable being on camera in a group so I also do phone calls. I’ve even had a student ask to do a Facetime call because they wanted something more personal—other students prefer email and text messaging.
I conduct the methods of communication as if it’s being done face-to-face—I think about how I sound and come across even if that includes smiling when they can’t see me over the phone.
I’ve taken notes as we talk so I don’t forget what we’ve shared and I try to be very clear when communicating with them. I understand that time is fleeting and everyone is stressed out so I make sure to connect with them about other topics. I have some students that just started and we haven’t met so it’s more of a challenge but I make an effort to connect with them the ‘old-fashioned’ way.
I am on standby for my students because I want them to reach out to me when they can.
Are there any issues with Wi-Fi/Internet access? How are you addressing them?
We do whatever we can to help, we know that some students don’t have laptops and internet access. I’ve delivered a calculator and workbook to a new student that lived far away with his grandmother. I put the materials in a plastic bag and left them by his gate.
We have a parent with twin boys who don’t own have a laptop, although one is in the works, but his sons have an Xbox. So I texted their father instructions on how to use an Xbox for Google Classroom access.
I also use the mobile messaging app GroupMe to post quotes and reading skill activities and my co-teacher uses WhatsApp with our students.
I have students that take pictures of their work and text it to me for direct feedback. There are other students that take pictures of lessons in their GED book and show me the question and answer choices and want me to do modeling of problem solving.
What is your advice to other GED instructors?
I would suggest approaching instruction in chunks—do a little bit at a time. Whatever you feel most comfortable with start with that and ask for help to do everything else.
Be clear, consistent and prioritize. Make sure you communicate to the students how to use the platforms you’re suggesting for learning and explain the purpose of what you’re doing. We all have to have a purpose and right now it’s even more important to reiterate that. You want to do what you can now to be ready for when we’re on the other side of this.
I would also say be flexible—have compassion, demonstrate patience and acknowledge equity issues. I have students that have disabilities, are ill, have poor Wi-Fi access, are losing jobs and experience so many other challenges.
You can help your students persist by letting them know that you care and that they belong—we are still a community.