Using YouTube to Reach Students During Covid
March 22, 2021
March 22, 2021
By DeWayne Harrell
Reaching and teaching my students through YouTube seemed to make sense to me after the way last school year ended and how 20-21 was going to look. At first, I thought using the tools I had—Canvas and my school computer—would be enough, but I was finding that having only them limited my creativity a little. Being able to video myself was a great way to reach all my students, who are online, in a hybrid set-up, and coming in-person. Plus, I didn’t feel I could compete with what students watch every day on YouTube if I was using a basic video recording program.
So, with the school video recorder and microphone in hand, the process of creating videos in my house and in my front yard began. I began a few weeks before school started, so I developed some basic “first day” videos for my students and edited it all with the video editor program on the school computer. It worked: I was able to create, save, and upload to my website or on Canvas, which is the preferred choice by our school system. These first videos were OK, but like most teachers, I wanted to do better. To make that happen, I was able to purchase a laptop, microphone, a better camera, and editing software with some budget money—now I could create videos that would compete with the YouTubers of the world (and there are plenty).
It didn’t take long to see why the benefits of these new tools and my transformation as a teacher were important to my students and me. By designing my own content, I felt a better connection with my students, and they got to see me trying something new. The ability to create activities or lessons in this new format was a challenge to enable me to become even more of a learner and grow as a teacher. After watching numerous videos about editing, film, lighting, setting, and how to attract viewers, and finding success day by day, I started thinking like a YouTuber. The ability to record myself and create an organized playlist gives me both lessons and a format which allows students to become better independent learners.
Now to the real reason I went this route: I did not want to try to teach with a mask on my face! My teaching experiences date back to 1996, which means that while I’m a little old, I also know my teaching faults. One of them is that I talk fast because my mind is racing, so teaching with a mask on during the pandemic would make it difficult for my students to understand me.
As an elementary school librarian, my focus is on books, research, technology, my school community, and the needs of my students. Now, please understand that I was once a high school teacher, and my thinking process would have been the same if I were still in the classroom. These basic concepts were the driving force behind all my content.
The first thing I did was find a strong reader who could keep the attention of my K-3 students. I reached out to my 13-year-old neighbor who’s in the children’s theater, and she was happy to read books for me. Using her audio recordings, the process of creating interactive books was next, matching the audio and images of the books together. Knowing there would be a loss of communication trying to read books with a mask to emergent readers, I thought this would be the best way to share books with students. During a video lesson, students would see me introducing the book, the interactive book, information about the author and publisher, and be able to ask questions to better understand the message of the book. As I felt the excitement of the students, I was able to get to retired teachers to read other books for me, and the process was repeated. I could show the video to an entire class or connect it to their Canvas, where they could watch it individually at any time. The ability to stop, pause, and ask questions became more deliberate while viewing as a class.
The research and technology came together by paying attention to student conversations, as well as using the library standards provided by the state and national organizations for librarians. My videos became ways to teach students specific tools using technology while doing their own research on particular topics, or just learning information. Using the camera and basic screen recording programs, I can create tutorials for students and teachers, using this basic format:
1. Teacher explanation
2. Teacher showing
3. Teacher modeling
4. Students creating
5. Students final product
6. Student submission
Most of these tutorials are done with a split screen by the students, watching me in the YouTube video on one screen and following the directions on the other screen. This allows students to work at their own pace and gives me the opportunity to help individuals more because I’m not trying to teach and help at the same time. This method has also helped decrease behavior issues. Of course, this is another topic, but I felt it needed to be mentioned.
A focus on my school community and the needs of students is what seems to get the most attention on my YouTube channel, and enables me to be creative. Students and I both share about topics. One playlist, called “Did You Know,” has videos in which I’ve interviewed people or shared basic facts. Students also upload their own videos to me, and I can edit them so other students can learn from people they know. During this process, I try to focus on trades or topics that are more like field trips for students. The goal is to bring the “outside world” into the classroom so the students can gain a better perspective of how they want to become productive citizens.
I can’t predict the future of my library, but I’m sure there will be more YouTube videos there for my students and me. I’d like to keep extending the learning environment by creating more videos about trades, professions, people, museums, authors, and, of course, books. Giving students an opportunity to upload their own videos about books they’ve read, topics of interest, and their own knowledge will create a better learning platform for all involved. The library, as well as schools themselves, need to keep evolving to establish a better presence in the lives of our students and communities.
Harrell, a member of the Salem Education Association, is the librarian at South Salem Elementary School.