What I Learned This Week With Online Teaching

sergey-zolkin-_UeY8aTI6d0-unsplashLike many of you, this past week was my first week of moving to an all-online format for teaching. It was definitely a week of both blessings and challenges. As I follow education folks on Twitter, it does seem like those of us who teach in high schools have an advantage over elementary and middle schools in that our students are, by and large, more prepared to learn in the online world and to make that transition. In addition, most of our students already have personal technology devices, so we have been blessed with few issues of access.

Still, any major paradigm shift leads to new discoveries or reinforces existing beliefs in new ways. To that end, here are the things which I have learned this week with online teaching

THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO PROVIDE ONLINE TEACHING

It is easy for any of us to presume that the way we accomplish something is the best and that everyone should consider doing things our way. My education friends on Twitter have pushed many approaches such as these:

  • Only go with synchronous learning to connect with students
  • Asynchronous education is best to give families flexibility
  • Keep taking grades
  • End grading as it is not important right now
  • Lock grades
  • Keep the same curriculum
  • Limit the curriculum to the basics
  • Explore and experiment with newer learning models, such as project-based learning
  • Keep a regular schedule so students have a structure
  • Ease into online learning
  • End school altogether since it isn’t a priority right now

Everyone seems to have their own idea of what should be happening in learning right now, and I guess I am no exception. But we need to take a step back and recognize that we will all approach this differently since we all SERVE DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES. We need to know our communities and adapt accordingly. As a result, THERE IS NO ONE RIGHT WAY TO CARRY OUT ONLINE LEARNING, and none of us should pretend that there is. We can suggest best practices from our experiences, but none of us should expect others to do exactly what we do. There are just too many variables in play. Know your community, communicate with your community (two-way), and build your plans accordingly.

START SLOW AND ADAPT YOUR SCHEDULE

Now I am going to (kind of) break the rule that I just shared above and make a strong suggestion, recognizing that this still might not be appropriate for every learning community. Still, it seems like the better way to approach online learning, especially with little to no preparation time, is to start slow and adapt your schedule to avoid overwhelming both students and parents. For example, our administration built a four-day a week, three classes a day schedule, with Monday dedicated to teacher prep. They also encourage educational triage — teaching what was most important for students to take the next step, something I wrote about in my last blog post, instead of completing everything we might normally cover. So many education friends have already been overwhelmed by some of the high and seemingly unrealistic expectations established by their schools to carry on education as normally as possible. These are not normal times and anything we can do to get through but keep everyone as sane as possible at the same time seems appropriate.

5-7 MINUTE CHECK-INS

My school is using Zoom for its online delivery backbone in our three synchronous classes each day. I am thankful for this robust product because it provides so many ways to keep students engaged. After my first day of online classes, it was clear to me that while my students were enjoying the freshness of this new format, it was also easy for them to lose focus, and I could not use classroom proximity and other management tools in this online world. Therefore, I began to think of the class as one of multiple 5-7 minute segments, where each segment required some sort of student interaction to keep them focused and engaged. Some of these interactions include:

  • Using the Yes and No buttons in Zoom to answer a question
  • Enabling the Chat feature for similar responses
  • Cold calling on students in the class
  • Viewing all students at the same time and have them nod an answer
  • Using the Zoom breakout feature for small group conversations and then joining the groups for 30-45 seconds for monitoring and encouragement

CHECK-IN, CHECK-IN, CHECK-IN

Students are craving the relational elements of learning more than ever. I encourage each of us to find ways to check in with them and their families as much as possible. Not only can we serve them better educationally in this way but we can be prepared to better meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our community. Ask students how they are doing. Let them talk. Call and email parents to find out how things are working for them. Provide opportunities for students to express needs in written form. Adapt as needed. Keep doing all these things as often as possible to grow, learn, adjust, and serve.

BE READY FOR THE GRIND

This week was very similar to the first week of a new school year. There was palpable excitement about this step. The engagement was extremely high (our school even had a day of 100% online participation of our students!). The newness and freshness were enjoyable.

Like a regular school year, that newness wears off, and no matter how many ways we seek to make learning and exploration enjoyable, a grind sets in, not only for students and for us as well. Now, this is not necessarily something I learned this week but rather something that I am sensing. The grind of our daily patterns will kick in again for us and for our students and we need to prepare for this now. In fact, the grind might feel a lot different in the coming weeks due to the physical isolation we are experiencing.

I am not sharing a specific way to manage the grind. Just prepare for it. The grind WILL happen. And surprise, whimsy, fun, and exploration are our best ways to tackle the grind.

 

How about you? What did you learn this week that would benefit others? Share your ideas as a comment to this post. Let’s continue to learn from each other!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

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