7 Tips for Remote Learning and Virtual Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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!

Author of Blog

Virtual Classrooms for Remote Learning

The year 2020 has been an interesting time in education. Well, interesting is a lesser word to describe it. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States, and many schools went to virtual and distance learning, education has had a major shift. 

With many schools continuing a virtual or hybrid model of education for the fall, the teacher trends have exploded in a fascinating direction. No longer is it all about the “flair pens or ink joys” debate. Sadly, it isn’t about “the type of planner you use” debate.  No longer is it about the latest craze to decorate a physical classroom. 

Now, there is a booming trend to decorate a virtual classroom. Say what?! Yes, teachers can have a virtual classroom where students can log on and see a mock-up of a physical classroom online. It is a way to provide some familiarity to students during these crazy times, as well as provide a fun, engaging, and interactive environment. A virtual classroom, in this context, can provide a place for students to navigate links, videos, lessons, and materials, all within a version of the regular classroom. Students can click on a whiteboard for a link and then move over and click on a picture of a laptop for another link. Students love seeing a virtual classroom format. It provides some visual interest to online learning.

Teachers have also been all abuzz about creating a virtual classroom. For many educators, having a well decorated and welcoming physical classroom has always been important. A welcoming environment can be termed as the “third teacher,” following parents as first and teachers as second. A 2014 study “shows that optimizing physical characteristics of classrooms such as light, color, and seating options can improve academic performance by as much as 16 percent.” (Edutopia.org).

Teachers are taking the knowledge of what a physical classroom can do to academics and applying it to a virtual classroom. We don’t know if academics improve by having a well-decorated and colorful online environment. However, teachers are having a blast delving into these new and exciting waters. 

Once I saw the virtual classroom trend exploding all over Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram, I wanted to do that! My mother, the artist, saw the popularity too. I expressed to her that I didn’t have the time to possibly make a virtual classroom of my dreams, but I thought it would be awesome for my students to experience and explore. 

We realized that there’s probably hundreds of teachers in the same boat as me, with kids and demands and just not enough time to make one. (Mad props to all the teachers that did spend so much time on these! I don’t know how you did it! You are supermen and superwomen!)

My mother started exploring the virtual classroom craze and realized there were some issues arising with the online classrooms.

First, some teachers were painstakingly putting each and every piece of clip art in the perfect spot on their slides, but it wasn’t locked down. 

So, once shared with a student, the child was free to move the clip art all around the room, thereby disrupting the teacher’s wonderful creation. 

Next, the classrooms were becoming visually overcrowded. This was because it is so difficult to fit in everything that you need in a slide like this; yet, distance education pedagogy states to always keep things simpler for students. For more, check out 4 Tips for Teachers Shifting to Teaching Online.

Lastly, copyright laws were being violated. Clip art that was not free and clear to use was being copied and pasted into virtual classrooms.

So, we wanted to address these issues before we made our own virtual classrooms.

Our virtual classroom resource has the following:

  • Nine different classrooms to use already made for the teacher.
  • The classrooms are simple, clean, and not overly stimulating. It has an industrial farmhouse vibe complete with cozy elements.
  • Each classroom is different. There is a math one, history, science, computer lab, reading cafe, and a home office. The last classroom is the same but it appears in three different ways. One has a print alphabet for lower elementary, a cursive alphabet for upper elementary, and no alphabet for middle and high school classes.
  • Each classroom appears as a JPEG and therefore is pinned down. Students cannot log on and move all of the clip-art around.
  • Each classroom has clip-art uniquely made by us, so no copyright laws have been violated.
  • Classrooms have hyperlinks embedded already in them. Just click and edit your link.

Not only does this amazing resource save teachers hours of time, but it also saves headaches. Migraines. Big massive ones. Wouldn’t that teacher rather be spending his or her time on content and lessons? Teachers are strapped for time as it is.

This resource also contains nine different classy banners to utilize on a distance learning homepage. There is a chalkboard option, white brick, or stone in keeping with the farmhouse theme.

Last but not least, this resource comes with a virtual farmhouse/school building. The virtual farmhouse has either four or six “rooms” in it. The teacher can drag the classrooms over to each individual “room.” This can be used in a variety of ways. 

Perhaps the teacher would like to use the six-room virtual farmhouse and drag over six different classrooms, each classroom being a different subject. Each individual classroom would contain that day’s lessons for that particular subject. For example, the math classroom will contain the math lesson for that day hyperlinked in. The history classroom will contain the social studies work for the day. 

A teacher could also use the four-room virtual farmhouse/school building to have a whole lesson displayed. One room can contain a bellringer. The next room can be hyperlinked to a short story. The third room can hyperlink to a google doc with questions, and the last room can have the exit slip.

I have placed an example here of a typical seventh grade lesson in a virtual classroom within the farmhouse overlay. I have used this very lesson in my seventh grade English class virtually this past spring. It is similar to what I described above. I am keeping the lesson pretty simple, just as distance learning pedagogy suggests. 

My class starts off with a bell-ringer or focus question that brings the attention to what the lesson will be about. In this case our focus question is, “What makes seventh grade different from sixth grade?” This question relates to the short story they will read by Gary Soto titled, “Seventh Grade.” 

Students click on the hyperlink on the office virtual classroom chalkboard which takes them to a google doc that they would fill out to answer this question.

Next, right beside the office virtual classroom is the reading cafe. There is a hyperlink that takes them to a website to read “Seventh Grade” by Gary Soto. 

The third virtual classroom is the computer lab and it contains a link to the set of questions students will click on to answer.

Lastly, the fourth virtual classroom contains a link to the discussion board to answer the exit question of, “What was one thing you can relate to in the story today? Answer in three sentences and respond to one other student’s answer.” 

This whole set-up, organized in the overlay, is a quick way for students to have all of their work in one area for the class. Instead of them clicking on individual separate areas. All of the work is easily identifiable in one place and it is visually appealing. 

There are so many purposeful uses for these classrooms and the farmhouse/school building that can house them. At a time when education has been tumbled upside down, the virtual classroom is a way to provide a visually fun avenue for students to engage in distance learning. It’s just like a teacher to find an amazing and creative way to approach a completely new mode of school. After all, us teachers are resilient. We bounce back and make the most of every situation in creative ways.

We hope this resource can save you time and stress. That is our mission at Obsessed with Learning: to help teachers get their lives back. 

To recap, this distance learning product contains nine different virtual classrooms with an industrial farmhouse, yet cozy vibe. They are ready made for any teacher to use with NO PREP involved. The JPEG format means no students can change any clip-art around. The hyperlink, already in place in each classroom, is super helpful to lead students to videos or other documents needed for a lesson. The additional nine farmhouse banners that are included make your distance learning homepage super cute and classy. The farmhouse/school building overlay is a perfect organizer to place four or six classrooms onto one slide for various, purposeful reasons. This resource will definitely help any distance learning or hybrid learning teacher this year, while adding an element of creativity, classiness, and cuteness.