When Girls Preparatory School closed campus in March, teachers quickly adapted to teaching remotely. The success of that unpredictable predicament helped faculty return to 205 Island Avenue this fall, knowing that if remote learning was to commence, they could confidently reach and engage each student.
A few teachers remained off campus this fall, including art teacher Debbie Glasscock. As a remote instructor, Glasscock has an on-campus teaching partner who remains in the classroom with students to provide hands-on assistance as needed.
“By the end of that spring semester, I realized I would have to plan differently for virtual or hybrid learning, should it continue in the fall,” Glasscock says. “Not only would the projects have to change, but the way I conducted class would be different as well. My goal was for students to have a successful art experience no matter how class was conducted. My challenge was how to plan that!”
Glasscock learned from the spring semester that some students associated asynchronous work with a lighter workload and what used to work in class did not translate into an identical virtual experience. “At times the length of our class period felt too long; other times it was too short,” she says.
When GPS began to plan for a return to campus, Glasscock let the administration know that her preference was to teach virtually, due to health concerns. “I knew that I would have to carefully plan my time on campus so I could work alone and, for the most part, that has worked amazingly well,” she says. “I came in during the summer and now I come on the weekends, wearing my mask and gloves the whole time, even though I’m alone. I set up supplies, write comments on student’s work, and mat finished pieces on the weekends—usually on Saturdays, but occasionally I have to be there Sunday, too.”
Key to successfully teaching art virtually, Glasscock says, can be summed up in one word: organization! Previously, one set of classroom supplies was shared among students—pencils, erasers, paint, brushes, etc. But this year, students couldn’t share materials, so she had to rethink what projects so every student would have her own set of materials.
“I created packets that girls took home, with supplies for their projects included,” she says. “In the event we had to quickly pivot to virtual learning, every student had what she needed to keep working. We could seamlessly move to the next project and, upon our return to campus, pick up where we left off. I had to think ahead, anticipate a student’s needs, and plan accordingly.”
In order for Glasscock to teach her classes virtually while her students were on campus required her working over the summer to consolidate two art studios into one larger space. Deconstruction of the space also took place as the facilities team removed a wall between two classrooms to better accommodate safe distancing for students. In turn, all the supplies had to be sorted and the shelves rearranged.
Glasscock created a master list so everyone could find the materials they needed without her direction, ensuring students could be self-sufficient. Maegan Gossett '08, GPS Rowing Coach and one of Glasscock’s former students, was hired as her on-campus teaching partner.
“She is my eyes and ears, as well as my hands and feet in the classroom,” Glasscock says. “I create a document for her every week about what materials each class will need. She sets up class and cleans up afterwards, collecting and storing work and disinfecting surfaces between groups.”
The two relay messages during class about students of concern, and Gossett handles the logistics of keeping students six feet apart and taking attendance.
“I have to admit, my room has never been so neat and tidy. Maegan runs a tight ship!” Glasscock says.
During class, each student can see and communicate with Glasscock in real time via Zoom. And while her mode of interaction may have changed, the discussions and instruction feel exactly the same, at least to her. An added bonus is this year’s 75-minute class periods, which allows girls to get fully engaged before they have to shift gears to clean up.
“When I demonstrate technique, whether it’s for one student or for the whole class, each girl can pin my iPad and watch a very close-up view of the work,” she says. “This has been a real revelation, and I feel it’s better than when I used to do it in person.”
Glasscock says this will be a practice worth continuing once she is able to return to the classroom, as every student is allowed a great view of the same piece, not just those who happen to be sitting close by.
To view student work in class, Gossett often walks around class with her cell phone on the Zoom call, so Glasscock can watch the girls as they work. Students are also able to hold work up to their individual cameras or share their screen with her if their work Is digital. Occasionally she will speak to students in Zoom breakout rooms, and girls email images or send direct messages via the Zoom chat.
Another positive outcome of this new way of teaching is providing an opportunity for girls to digitally record their progress each class period. Reflection surveys allow students to tell Glasscock exactly what they finished and upload a photo of the progress they made in class.
“My AP students upload images to two different Google slide decks—one for works in progress and the other for finished pieces,” she says. “As I look through these each week, I leave comments and suggestions on the shared document, and these comments show up in their email so they know I’ve left a note.”
How are students faring under this unconventional teaching method? The quality of their artwork speaks for itself. While many projects are different, the basic skills are still being taught and clearly this mode of instruction works.
“The pieces being produced are as impressive as ever, and the depth of student-to-teacher conversation is still personal and meaningful,” she says.
Off-Site but Still Present
While Glasscock misses the teenage energy of the art studio and the constant hum of chatter and laughter, “I still talk to each girl individually every class period and the girls still ask plenty of questions!”
Teaching virtually has changed how Glasscock thinks about pacing a lesson, organizing the setup of materials, and presenting demonstrations. “I had to change the size and subject matter of projects and order four times the supplies I used to,” she says. “And since I have a helper on site, I have another person to consider when I plan my class. It can no longer be a one-woman show! I miss my students and my colleagues, but seeing them this way is better than not seeing them at all. And of course, I miss lunch! No one fixes that for me anymore; I have to plan that too.”
Most of all, Glasscock is grateful for the opportunity to teach remotely, even though our students are on campus.
“I feel safe, but I also feel valued and appreciated by my school,” she says. “I’ve become adept with new technologies and have grown accustomed to teaching with a laptop and an iPad at the same time. I’ve become so organized and streamlined, at school and at home. I had to. There is no way to teach this way without being efficient!”
Does it take more time? “Yes,” she says. “Is it worth it? Absolutely!”