Remote learning and virtual teaching can be phrases that send shivers down the spines of educators. When I hear those words, I immediately think back to spring 2020. I was TRYING to teach virtually to approximately sixty middle and high schoolers. Not to mention, I had a newborn daughter, a first-grade son, a lot of gumption, and no sleep.
Currently, many school districts in the United States are facing rapidly rising numbers of Covid. This combined with many staff shortages due to exposure and positive cases. Remote learning is a phrase I’ve heard quite often the past month. Currently, many schools went virtually after winter break to avoid Covid exposures and to help with staffing issues.
Since March 2020, I have had to repeat remote learning from time to time. In addition, I taught hybrid learning all of last year. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself these 7 tips for remote learning and virtual teaching that would drastically help save time and my sanity.
As I am by no means an expert, I am a lifelong learner. I’m constantly reading about how to improve my teaching. Nevertheless, I love to hear how other teachers do things and how they accomplish this insane task of virtual teaching. Let’s dive in as I share what I have learned and wish I knew way back then.
Tip 1. Keep Lessons, Activities, and Assignments Simple
What I have found to be most helpful for students, teachers, and parents is to keep the lessons super simple. Choose activities that contain as few steps as possible. Students face motivation issues at home and can easily become overwhelmed by a complex lesson or a multi-step activity.
Lessons and activities can be rigorous, but also simple. For instance, have students write a reading response to a short story. It is a simple and more direct way to assess their understanding than trying to explain how to do a digital one-pager. A one-pager is a wonderful assessment I’ve used quite often. However, when it comes to introducing something new that contains multiple steps students have never accomplished, it’s hard to convey the directions virtually.
You will also receive less questions from students and parents if you create lessons and activities that are straight-forward and easy to understand. Students will not be as confused and will gain confidence in their abilities to finish their virtual tasks.
Tip 2. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
I’m a mother of an eight year old and an almost two year old. Virtual teaching for me is akin to a three-ring circus with a toddler running around and me trying to keep up with my son’s Zooms as well as my own. In this season of my life, I do not have the time to design lessons and activities from scratch.
However, we are blessed in the fact there are so many educators who have done just that for us: teachers or former teachers, in their seasons of life, who have the energy and ability to design virtual resources for us. I am so very thankful for them!
My mother is one of them. As a grandmother and an accomplished teacher with plenty of technology experience she has gained over the years, I turn to her, as well as you should. Here is a link to some resources she has put together that transition wonderfully to remote learning.
My virtual learning platform is Google Classroom, so I try to find resources that are available in Google Docs, Slides, and Forms or any type of Microsoft that can quickly be uploaded into Google Drive.
Figure out which type of resources work best with your virtual learning platform and go from there. Teachers Pay Teachers has been my go-to and there’s many resources on there that are free!
A simple Pinterest or Google search can also elicit a plethora of free resources for you as well. If you simply do not have the time in this season, find educators who have already made those digital resources for us! They are more than happy to share them with you. Also, if you utilize them, please let them know through reviews. My mom gets so excited each time she receives a wonderful review from someone who has used our lessons or bulletin boards.
Tip 3. Utilize Online Video Services
For asynchronous days or even lessons that require a bit more support, I like to add in various links to videos students can view to help reinforce the concepts we are learning.
A quick YouTube search can find videos that enrich your lessons. For example, I just found a cool Black Plague video for my sixth graders who are learning about the Renaissance. If you are not allowed to use YouTube, EduTube is a wonderful alternative.
If your school has a subscription of some sort, utilize it as much as possible. I love BrainPOP. With permission, I place the username and password into my lesson and have students watch the video link on their own time.
Flocabulary has a free trial and it has tons of videos for all subjects.
Khan Academy is a free website with videos spanning all subjects as well.
Simple History is a wonderful website made in the UK that offers lots of history videos.
We have to put together a list of various websites with games as well that help enforce those concepts you are teaching.
Click and grab our KIDS ZONE Websites PDF. Then simply insert it into your Google Drive and share with your students when they or you need a breather. No sign-ups for this, and it’s FREE, FREE, FREE. Just click and download.
Students love videos and games. Use what they enjoy and they will love learning.
Tip 4. Use the True Blended Learning Model
Blended learning is a model of education that blends teaching in a traditional classroom with online learning. It was used before the pandemic, and it has numerous benefits for students. It creates a student-centered approach to education.
Blended learning allows students to access their lessons, assignments, and videos at their own pace throughout the day and give them control, flexibility, and autonomy of their own learning. A student has to be more active in their own learning.
True blended learning is offering assignments and lessons that allow the student to become their own teacher of the concept and puts them in the driver’s seat. It allows for the teacher to become a facilitator.
To use the true blended learning model in a remote learning setting, I love to assign simple and straight-forward research-type projects that span a couple of days.
I provide clear instructions, websites they can use, and a research form for students in which they answer questions. I normally give two days for them to do their research. Next, I give them two days to create their presentation, whether their project is in a Google Slides format or a poster board. As long as my options and instructions are straight-forward, students love this type of project-based blended learning.
My seventh grade history students just did a president project in which they took two days to research a president of their choice (with clear-cut questions) and two days to create a Google Slides presentation showing their research and creativity. They became an expert on a president, presented it to the class, and the rest of the class learned about many different presidents in the presentations.
For younger grades, my son’s wonderful teacher last year had students read a Who Was? Biography and then spend a couple days filling in a Scholastic Biography Poster. Next, we then uploaded the photos of the completed product for his classmates to enjoy.
For reading, assigning independent reading is a form of using the blending learning model. Students choose their own novel to read and fill out independent reading check-in forms that ask a variety of questions about their book. The broad questions can vary and be centered around characterization, setting analysis, or conflicts. Many public libraries offer online check outs of their online books and materials.
Blending learning shifts from the teacher lecturing to students, to the teacher being a facilitator as the student learns independently. It ends up saving time for the teacher, as actual lecturing is less, and allows for students to own their learning. It also gives that flexibility so they can become interested in the subject on their own terms.
Tip 5. Establish Grading Rules For Yourself
One of the most overwhelming parts of virtual teaching was how assignments trickled in all day and evening. I felt like I was constantly grading a couple of assignments here and then a couple more an hour later.
Due to students working at their own pace, I wasn’t able to collect assignments like normal. Within an eight-hour span, I’d receive two or three every hour. It felt like it was never-ending and I was at the mercy of when the students submitted assignments. Therefore, I made a rule for myself.
Even if the assignment was due at 3 pm that day, I would not grade the assignments until the next day. I gave myself a full 24 hours after the deadline before I checked the assignment to be graded. That way, I would have my virtual “pile” to grade and not feel like I spent all day grading trickling assignments and never feeling accomplished.
Another rule I implemented for myself was not to grade until about 90% of the students turned in the work for that assignment. Virtual learning does produce some side effects of late work submission as kids are learning time management and battling at-home distractions, and their own intrinsic motivation. Sometimes, even after 24 hours, only 50% of the students turned in it. I then would reach out to those students that were missing that assignment, but still wait to grade it until about 90% of the students had completed and submitted the work. This was to avoid that never-ending feeling of trickling work and to have the same semblance of my collected “pile of papers” to grade.
Tip 6. Set Office Hours
With virtual teaching, you can feel like you are working all day and night, especially if you are remote teaching from home and not remote teaching from the classroom like some districts require. Teaching from home can feel like there is no separation at all between work and home which can be a recipe for burnout.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was on-call all the time. We had some students that did not complete assignments until their parents got home from work, so even after teaching all day, I would continue to answer kids’ questions and parent questions all evening. As it was an unprecedented time, I wanted to be available to them and understand that they couldn’t complete schoolwork until their parents were home from work. Once my daughter was born in April 2020, I knew I couldn’t continue this way, so I set office hours.
I wouldn’t respond to questions until the next school day. Stick to the office hours you set once you make them. It can be tempting to respond to just one question here or there, but it’s best not to. Once you set office hours, follow through on them. Your mental health will be so much better because of it.
It is never fair to assume that a worker should be available 24/7. If a parent can not understand that, (and there will be some), refer them to your administration. You will be a better teacher to your students if you get a mental break every evening.
Tip 7. Set Yourself Up for Success
When teaching from home, it can be really tempting to sleep in later, since you don’t have a commute.
I like to take advantage of getting extra sleep if possible because a well-rested teacher is a better teacher. Yet, I try to split the difference. On a typical in-person school day, I normally wake up at 5 am to get myself and kids ready. I leave my house at 7 am and get to work around 7:30 to start my day.
With remote learning, typically the first class doesn’t start until 8:30, so I could sleep in much longer than 5 if I wanted to; however, I choose not to. I do sleep in until about 5:45 and then get ready and I mean fully ready.
You will feel like you’re in work mode if you wake up and do your typical morning routine. Get dressed, put some makeup on, and do your hair. You deserve to feel refreshed. You deserve to give yourself time to get ready. It will energize you and help you feel like you’re a teacher again, instead of just our comfy and cozy at-home selves.
Let’s avoid looking like this. (Even though once my daughter was born, this was pretty much how I looked in spring 2020.)
You will feel more like yourself if you get ready for the day!
Make sure to give yourself time to get your water and coffee and all your drinks ready before your day begins. Get all your supplies ready and within reach. Get prepared and you’ll feel prepared.
When it’s your designated lunch time, put your phone away to deter yourself from answering questions. Take your full lunch time without distractions. You deserve an actual lunch break.
Once your contract time and office hours end, then be completely done with school for the day. Don’t touch your laptop. Leave it all in another room.
This break will help set yourself up for success as a well-rested teacher.
Virtual teaching is a skill I honestly never thought I would have when I started in education twelve years ago. Even though it’s taken me almost three academic years to start to figure it out, I really hope the 7 tips for remote learning and virtual teaching could help another educator in some way. I am by no means an expert in this, and I am constantly on the lookout for other ways to help make this career a bit more sustainable. By keeping remote lessons simple, not reinventing the wheel, and utilizing online videos, remote teaching can be doable. Also, by using a true blended learning model, setting office hours and specific grading rules, as well as getting ready for the day, teachers can not only survive but thrive during their stint at remote teaching.
We wish you luck in your remote teaching endeavors!
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