By Colleen Mulhall-Briski
In the past 6 months, so much has changed in the landscape of teaching and learning. Some days it feels like a monumental slog up the mountain of new skills to learn. But the good news is that even in the virtual classroom, tried and true in-person teaching strategies carry over.
Just like in an in-person instructional model, keeping a consistent flow of information between teacher and student and teacher and parent is critical.
Platforms like Google Classroom are designed to provide educators with the ability to outline expectations and to provide feedback to students. You can also develop quick videos where you detail instructions for an assignment or provide students with feedback. The beauty of recorded instructions is that students can review them an unlimited number of times, thus (hopefully) mitigating the ubiquitous question: “what are we supposed to do?” Whenever possible, try to provide multimodal instructions.
When it comes to communication with parents, there are a variety of tools you can use to keep the flow of information going. Consider using apps such as Remind or Bloomz for quick announcements and messaging. If your school utilizes Google Classrooms, encourage parents to sign up for guardian accounts. They can then access their students’ classroom, see announcements and assignments, and – even better – can opt to receive automated notifications about their child’s progress from Google Classroom.
If you have students whose families speak languages other than English at home, consider utilizing resources like your district’s translators (if you have them), native speakers of those languages, or even Google translate to ensure all families are able to access classroom information.
Of course, in this virtual setting, it can feel like you are required to be “on-call” 24/7, but just as you do in your in-person classroom, set boundaries and clearly articulate them to parents and students. Provide set times, or office hours, to provide additional help to students who need it, or to meet with parents. You may also consider creating a “help desk” type document that parents and students have access to which helps them to tackle any tech or login issues that may arise after hours.
2) Creating routines
From morning meetings to daily check-ins, you can translate a lot of your in-person classroom routines to the virtual classroom. This consistency helps students to feel at ease, because they know what to expect from each day.
Undoubtedly, your district has created a set school day schedule for you to follow, but within that routine, you can (and should) focus on routines that foster community connectedness. Provide your students with consistent opportunities to connect with you and with their peers.
In the early weeks of school, it is imperative that your early routines are designed to create a sense of community among your students. Interweave SEL skills with digital skill-building activities. Utilize platforms like Flipgrid or Zoom breakout rooms to provide students with a means for collaborating with and getting to know their peers.
Setting consistent routines around turning in assignments and behavior on video check-ins can also help to create a sense of calm and ease within your virtual classroom.
3) Student voice and choice
Providing students with authentic learning experiences is of the utmost importance in a virtual classroom setting. As you plan your lessons, along with solid content and research-based instructional practices, think in terms of flexibility and personalized learning. Ask yourself “how can I provide multiple ways for my students to demonstrate mastery?”
There are numerous tools available online to help your students create content to demonstrate their learning. While it may be tempting to jump feet-first into using all digital tools all the time, it is important that you balance the use of digital and non-digital means of content creation. Use a variety of tools – from writing and drawing to creating videos – to help your students convey information and understanding.
Of course, the simplest tool for teaching online is free and works with any platform or app: grace. Remember that you are going to make mistakes. Use those mistakes to model for your students how to be resilient and how to utilize a growth mindset. Provide your students and their families with the level of grace you’d like to receive. Remind them frequently that you are there to support and partner with them to ensure that virtual learning flows as smoothly as possible.
Resources to explore:
The Aurora Institute (formerly iNACOL)