Jessica Kang Engages Students Virtually, Province-Wide

Published: 7 February 2022

Jessica Kang (B.Ed. ’20) knew she wanted a career that would promote her out-of-the-box thinking and allow her to inspire others; her recent ventures as an online elementary school teacher have definitely met those goals. Graduating with her Bachelor of Education degree at the start of the pandemic, this Toronto native has been teaching elementary school students throughout Montreal and across Quebec on virtual platforms, successfully leveraging her creativity to keep her grade five and six students engaged and feeling supported.

As a McGill student teacher, Jessica’s fourth field experience ended abruptly when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced in March 2020. After doing some substitution work with the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), she was offered an online teaching job with EMSB Virtual Learning, teaching students from across the island. “In 2020, online learning was a new environment for almost everyone. It can be great for certain students but a struggle for others. I find that the challenges presented in online teaching are similar to those in-person, involving keeping students engaged and finding strategies and creating lessons to support the diverse learning needs in the group.” As challenging as this new format was, Kang had the added task of figuring out how to accommodate a student who was completely blind. “This presented a new learning opportunity for my teaching team”, said Jessica in interview. “We learned to adapt creatively for each lesson, often focusing on auditory learning techniques.”

Now mid-way through her second year of remote teaching, Jessica is a staff member with the Quebec Online Alliance (QOA); an online campus for students with medical exemptions from seven English school boards across the province of Quebec. “Miss Jess”, as her students call her, holds her classes from the comfort of home and has been educating children without the benefit of hardcopy textbooks, workbooks, or novels for several months. Instead, Miss Jess’ English language arts students have been exploring topics such as identity, anti-racism, and media literacy thanks to her exciting out-of-the-box lesson plans. Her students’ December project was to write cover letters and film job application videos to apply to work a fictitious winter holiday job at Santa’s Workshop, Muffin Family Bakery, or Ice Sculptors Incorporated. The class resumed their studies in January by creating digital vision boards to set optimistic personal goals for 2022 and recently completed a theme on the outer space hotel of the future. “People are astounded when I tell them about the fun and practical work my daughter is doing online in Miss Jess’ class,” said QOA parent, Ben Urovitch. “Despite the many possible distractions with the online learning environment, whenever my wife or I peek in on the English class, we see the kids are all eager to unmute themselves and participate.”

“I am a creator and a kid at heart,” quipped Jessica. “My ideas stem from my students’ interests and my own teaching values, such as offering a diverse range of inclusive topics and materials. Through my lessons and discussions, I love to challenge my students to reflect, to keep curious, and to use their voice to support themselves and others.”

“One of my favourite lessons that I had led so far was a Fake News project, where my grade five and six students had to write a convincing article about a creature that does not exist.” The lesson plan idea was sparked when Miss Jess saw a fictitious infomercial called House Hippo, produced by Canadian media literacy organization, MediaSmarts. “As a class, we went over the importance of fact-checking and the impact of misinformation. After going over the main elements of a newspaper, students had the creative freedom to design a creature and compose a fake article around their animal using templates on Microsoft PowerPoint. From living stuffed animals to singing koalas to turtle ducks - their ideas were impressive, innovative, and the students loved creating and learning about each other’s creations!”

Jessica Kang is an educator who has shown that a little ingenuity goes a long way in keeping students engaged. “Being in an online space does not automatically mean a lack of connection. Similarly, as I’m sure many other teachers can attest to, proximity doesn’t necessarily guarantee engagement. To me, it takes both parties to facilitate an engaging space. I love starting my classes with group check-ins to give each student the space to be seen, to be heard and to share how they are feeling in that moment.”

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