One Year #withCorona at Sagano High School

What a year it has been for the English program here at Sagano High School! We made a lot of changes this year to our program to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus which causes COVID-19, so we would like to let you know about all the changes we made to our classes to keep everyone safe and continue our great communicative English programs.

Masks, Ventilation, Alcohol Hand Spray
It is important to note that all students were asked to wear masks during all classes since they would be speaking out loud. This is a key feature, and we hope you will notice all the masks in the pictures. Next, the windows were always at least partially open to allow for the air to circulate. You can see in the pictures we luckily have many windows in the language lab (LL). Finally, because shared devices were used (and also to be safe) alcohol spray was provided by the entrances and exits of all the rooms and the students were required to cleanse their hands before and after each activity.

Room Configuration
In order to make sure everyone could be socially distanced during our classes in the LL, we first measured out where the desks could be placed for all of the different activities that we do. If there was a theme for the 2020-21 school year, we could say it was “Moving desks”. We realized in order to easily move the desks each time we should make markings of some kind so that it was easy to understand when we had to quickly change between classes. We decided to use different color masking tapes on the floor. For example, red marks were for a regular 40 desk lecture setup. Pink marks were for small group listening style classes, yellow triangle marks were for poster session presenters, purple x marks were for poster session audiences, and so on. You can see some of our markings in these pictures.

Regular Lecture Style
During regular lecture style setup, desks were positioned so that the students were 110cm apart from each other, which was the rule. All students were reminded to face forward and asked not to move their desks towards each other, even when they had to talk with the person sitting next to them.

Conversation Tests and Interview Tests
We regularly give students conversation tests and interview tests and we pondered how to do this as safely as possible. The first decision we made was to eliminate the passing of papers, so that students were not touching items that were previously touched by other people over and over. So their entrance tickets were made smaller and disposable, so that they just threw them away in a small trash bin after they held it up for the grading teacher. Then, instead of handing over their paper rubrics, all of the rubrics were computer based, inside of Google Classroom. Therefore neither of the students or the teacher had any kind of physical contact. All chairs were placed at least 2 meters apart, so that they would be extra safe.

Poster Sessions
We often have poster sessions and we wanted to continue this excellent activity in a safe way. First we made markings on the floor by measuring all of the distances including poster presenter, audience person, and teacher positions. We realized we needed two rooms to accomplish this, so we added in a different room to accommodate all of the poster presenters. Next we developed rules for how the students had to move, staying distanced and also staying on the floor markers. Through all of these measures we were able to have many great poster sessions this year.

We have many chances for students to make presentations so we had to design the room to be safe for presentations as well. The first row of the audience was 2 meters away from the presenters, and the presenters had to remain distanced from each other as well.

Group Discussions
Group discussion time provided us with a big challenge. First we decided to use a minimum of two rooms to spread everyone out. Next we measured a proper distance for all the desks to be set at. In order to keep the students from moving the desks closer together, we put a table in the middle of the group to keep it spaced out. When one group had to present to another, they had to stay distant from each other and from the other group.

Listening Classes
Listening classes are conducted in three stations. A teacher station, a video activity station, and a speaking practice station. In the past students rotated through these stations, but of course, that could not happen this year. So, we decided to have the teachers move from station to station. So we set up whiteboards at three different stations, and the teachers moved through the stations every 15 minutes. The students did their other activities on their Chromebook devices at the station when the teacher was at the other stations.

Special Guests
Every year we invite a variety of special guests to the school for lectures and also for interviews. Of course, we couldn’t have special guests physically come to the school, so we found ways to invite them digitally.

First, let’s talk about lecture setups. First, we set up one computer at the front of the room with the special guest’s feed on it, we connected it to a projector and speakers so all of the students could see and hear it. You can see this in the picture below.

Next, let’s talk about interviews. Usually we have 5-8 guests from universities or local businesses for each interview session plus some teacher guests at school, and we conduct all the classes on one day. This year, we conducted 1-2 every day over five days and coordinated the best times for the guests. We placed the desks so that the students would be staggered and spaced out, but still able to be viewable on the computer web camera or by the live teacher guest. Then the guests called in over Google Meet. Students were able to still be in a group setting and interview the guests. After 20 minutes, in order to change with another guest, we physically picked up the computer and moved it to a different group. The teachers could be live guests in class, and the university students, professors, or business people could meet virtually. We were even able to invite some older students from Tokyo and Australia. You can see the examples in the pictures below.

International Interactions
Also every year we usually have a variety of international guests, from Singapore, the United States, Indonesia, and other countries. This year, obviously, no guests could come, but we still wanted to connect with our international friends and new friends as well, so we reached out over email and Twitter to connect with different schools all over the world. We connected with schools in Singapore, India, Australia, Taiwan, Florida, Hawaii, and even international graduate students here in Kyoto. We arranged times and then connected over Google Meet, and even Zoom occasionally! Arranging the room and the wifi was a challenge. We ended up using 6 rooms and spreading out the students two to a computer to be safe. This created a lot of busy work setting up all the breakout rooms, but in the end we were able to have many great interactions. Overall we had 24 interactions over the course of the year, which we consider to be a great success!

Sometimes, however, we could not meet live, synchronously, for our interactions. When that happened, we used a screencasting program to film videos for our international friends to view at a later time. We hosted the videos within a Google Classroom and then guests could watch the videos and leave comments for us. All the students had a good time making the videos in class, as you can see below.

In Conclusion
So, we hope you can get a good idea of how English worked in class #withCORONA here at Sagano High School. As we enter the new school year next month and we continue on with the #NewNormal, we will continue to have a fun time studying English here at Sagano High School… in the safest way possible. Thank you!