Teacher Candidates Navigate Online Learning with Their Guiding Teachers - National Council of Teachers of English
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Teacher Candidates Navigate Online Learning with Their Guiding Teachers

This post was written by NCTE member Kimberly Ferrario.


Although none of us were prepared for teaching and learning online during a pandemic, teacher candidates enrolled in universities whose graduate programs are online may be positioned to support their seasoned-teacher counterparts in navigating the sudden rough waters of teaching online in a synchronous classroom.

These graduate students who are earning their credential and MA online have become savvy with how to learn and engage actively in an online classroom environment with the tools in the synchronous platform. These learning tools, such as polling pods, chat box, whiteboard feature, and break-out groups, in combination with Google Classroom, can provide for an engaging and powerful learning setting. Tools used in platforms such as Zoom have much pedagogical flexibility and can help students actively engage in their learning process.

Teacher candidates who have observed and contributed to their learning with the use of these tools, first used and modeled by their professors, quickly became proficient, and can serve as valuable resources to their guiding teachers in facing the sudden challenges of an online synchronous classroom setting.

In facing the steep learning curve of quickly adapting to online teaching and learning, teachers have discovered a huge obstacle for students in their classes. Issues of equity and access to technology and internet have emerged as a serious concern as teachers have learned that not all families have stable internet and computers in their homes. This disparity has become clear in the current pandemic crisis, which further marginalizes students of low socioeconomic status. Some districts are trying to remedy this problem by donating classroom Chromebooks and providing hot spots for families with no internet service, while other districts are not yet addressing this need.

At the same time, districts, schools, administrators, teachers, teacher candidates, parents, and students are slowly forging a path to continue their roles in teaching and learning. The journey on this path is much like “building the airplane as you fly it,” but nonetheless, we remain hopeful that the educational disparities will be addressed as teachers do their best to provide some consistency in their students’ learning.

Teachers who are hosting teacher candidates in the spring 2020 semester are reporting ways they are trying to forge this novel path with the support of teacher candidates enrolled in online graduate programs.

Five ways in which teacher candidates (TCs) are providing support to their Guiding Teachers (GTs) are outlined below.

Technology Coaching

  • Holding initial meetings with students to check in—TCs have helped model and teach features such as muting and unmuting.
  • Establishing some classroom norms, such as how to speak/participate and how to attend class with few distractions
  • Playing simple games with the tools in Zoom and having informal conversation to become comfortable in the online setting
  • Demonstrating for GTs how to use the tools in Zoom: different uses of the chat box, how to share your screen, different functions of the white board, etc.
  • Texting on their phones to provide live support for the GT while they are teaching students in the online classroom

Enriching and Enhancing Students’ Online Learning

  • Producing prerecorded lessons that can be accessed outside of class time or as a “flipped” classroom model, in which students view the content before attending class to build background knowledge
  • Providing art lessons for students, such as step-by-step origami making
  • Playing online games and using applications that support students learning

Using Google Classroom

  • Posting a content-related question for students to engage with in writing prior to class, then designating time for TCs and GTs to respond and give feedback to students
  • Developing a Google Form as a survey: students respond to questions on the form and GTs and TCs receive the responses which can be used as formative assessment
  • Using Google classroom documents as collaborative tools during small group break-outs in the synchronous classroom (taking notes, developing ideas on a graphic organizer, using/sharing multimodal resources, etc.)
  • Using Google classroom documents as social emotional tools, for example, to create birthday cards for all class members to sign, or to make certificates of award to acknowledge students’ strengths

Coteaching with the GT

  • Planning/collaborating with GTs outside of class to coteach during class time
  • Leading half the class in a break-out group while the GT leads the other half

Stepping In for GTs 

  • If a GT becomes ill or for some other reason is unable to teach, the TC can take over the teaching.
  • In this situation the TC provides the main “face” in the online classroom with some planning and content support from the GT.
  • Stepping in for the GT helps provide consistency for students, since TCs have previously developed rapport with the students in their on-ground teaching experience

In these difficult times of COVID-19 and the shift to online teaching, we see a role-reversal in the novice and mentor relationship that is both refreshing and inspiring. Teacher candidates report that they have been happy to support their GTs, while GTs have been grateful to their TCs for their assistance in navigating something they had never done or even imagined they would ever have to do.




Kimberly Ferrario is an associate professor and teacher educator at the University of Southern California. She has been instructing and mentoring graduate level teacher candidates synchronously online for 10 years and originally comes from a 20-year career as a K–12 public-school teacher, reading specialist, and literacy coach.




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