Starting back in a distance learning or partial virtual classroom is reality for many teachers. Having been thrown into the distance learning platform last March, I learned many things that I shouldn’t be doing and some that I should. Here are 3 tips that are essential for a successful return to the distance learning classroom.
1. Build Your Distance Learning Community
When you start your classroom meetings, keep the first 2-3 minutes similar each time. You could play music behind your voice. Pose an interesting question or prompt to engage students. Make sure to welcome each student by name. Remember that we are all feeling isolated. Always keep those social/emotional skills in mind. The more we as teachers make our virtual classroom welcoming, the more students will engage. Fun, easy ways to start your class time could include
- Use the Decide Now app. This fun app allows you to input all students’ names and sort them into classes. Then it creates a spinning wheel to randomly select students for a turn. This simple visual immediately quiets the class and creates anticipation. Use your phone or an iPad and hold it up to the camera for students to see. It’s also great to use for creating stories. You could have a wheel for charters, a wheel for setting, a wheel for antagonists, and one for conflict, etc.
- Would You Rather questions. I like to type these into the stream for two reasons: students become familiar with the “Stream” and “Would You Rather…” questions are engaging. I also use them as students enter the classroom because the answers aren’t long, and you can get many students to respond in a short amount of time. Also, students who might not have interacted much face-to-face can see that they may have some similarities, which breaks the ice. Here’s a link to free “Would You Rather…” questions for distance learning.
- Two Truths and a Lie. Students share three obscure facts about themselves, but one is a lie. They try to stump their classmates. I think giving kids a few days to think about their answers is warranted. When it’s share time, you can use several ways in which students vote on the lie: typing their answer into the chat, calling on each student, or by having student hold up fingers indicating which “fact” isn’t truthful. You can also have students create cards with the letters A, B, and C on them. They then hold up the correct answer. (These can be used throughout remote learning.) Pick 2-3 students each day to share out their facts. This could be done at the beginning of a meeting or at the end. It could also be used for brain breaks.
- 5-Word Story. The class will create a story. You say the first five words, and then in order, each student shares their five words that continue the story. Have student names projected so they can see the order in which they share. It could go something like this: One dark and stormy night…a dim light glimmered through…the thick, pea soup-fog… and so on. You could even use this as an end-of-the-week activity. After the first time successfully playing, ask for a volunteer to come up with next week’s story beginning.
- If you happen to be in a physical classroom, here’s a great blog post on 6-First Day of School Tips for powerful and easy ideas to set the tone for the entire year.
Discuss your distance learning classroom norms
Soon after the beginning activity, you’ll need to talk about agreed upon norms for the virtual classroom so that you create a safe learning environment in which all students feel that they can connect and then engage in learning and risk-taking. Some common norms include the following:
- Be on time with materials ready.
- Engage when a person is speaking. Look at the screen, nod, thumbs up to show agreement, and keep your mind present.
- Raise your hand when you want a turn to speak. Wait to be called.
- Keep your microphone muted until it’s time to speak.
- The chat is used only when the teacher asks for a comment or to comment or ask questions about the current topic.
- Try to make sure your device shows your face in the most flattering way. (Avoid having the class look up your nose because your screen is tilted or at the wrong angle.)
- Comments are clear and remain on topic.
- Think before you speak or type.
- If students don’t want the camera on to show the background of their living situation, encourage a virtual background so students can still be seen.
You and your students can brainstorm these or you can state them. It’s a good idea to regularly show the norms. Perhaps you display them during the “Wait Time” as class begins.
2. Review Digital Skills for Distance Learning
In order to get up and running as a distance learning classroom, there are essential digital tools for using the virtual classroom. You want this review/introduction to be engaging, so avoid doing the entire list review in one class setting. Instead, break it up over a period of days. Here’s a list of some of the essential skills
- How to open an assignment
- How to submit and assignment
- Where do you find teacher feedback
- How will you see your grade
- What is the stream
- How do you respond to the stream
- How do add a text box
- How to type in a text box
- How to highlight text
- Where to locate assignments
- When to expect assignments to be assigned
- When to turn in/submit an assignment
- How to access a video link
- What are video tutorials
- What does it mean to “submit” an assignment
- Where can you leave a note if you’d like to speak to the teacher
There are several ways to make this distance learning review fun.
- Post one skill at a time in the chat (so student become familiar with the chat…go over the “chat rules” before you start.) Give students 1-3 minutes to achieve this skill. When they have it, give a thumbs up. Pick one student to teach the skill.
- Have a student teach the skill to teach instead of you.
- Make it a Perseverance Challenge…You can learn 2-3 new things today. Create a check list for students.
- Discuss perseverance. Refer back to a physical challenge (plank, running the mile, hiking) and remind students that they’ve all persevered through something (whether physical, emotional, social).
- Create a Virtual Classroom Skills Menu with boxes (like Tic-Tac-Toe). Show student how to check off boxes as they master the skills.
3. Consistent and Simplified Communication with Students and Families During Distance Learning
Communicate With Students
- Use Google Forms to do quick a check-in on how they’re doing
- Create a consistent schedule of work. You can find consistent week-long reading comprehension resources here. Each resource has a week-long schedule with similar activities each week. They are high-interest reading and activities for grades 5-8 and focus on mummies, vampire bats, and Dracula.
- Consider color coding of subject areas or tests so students can learn that one color indicates a specific task.
- Respond to student work in a timely manner. Use comments.
- Keep track of your communication and who’s responding
- Hold consistent office hours and keep track of who attends
- Make phone calls each week
- Set up individual tutorial times with targeted students
- Post a fun daily question or prompt (early in the morning) in the stream to engage students
- Create a page of explicit instructions as a resource for students
Communicate With Families
- Use weekly communication from all the student’s teachers at one time. The fewer emails/communications families receive, the easier it is for them to access information.
- Use one platform. Hopefully, your district has streamlined communication with families to reduce the overwhelming amount of information.
- Make weekly phone calls to a specific number of families. I’ve found that Friday afternoon was a great time to connect with families.
- Consider offering Office Hours so families to ask questions.
- Create a teacher website for further links, information about yourself, and fun ideas.
- Remember to remain consistent in as many things as possible: homework schedule, communication, posting of assignments and grades, etc. I’ve also found it valuable to make assignments consistent for a long period of time. This reduces stress for everyone. Here’s an easy reading response unit created for distance learning. It comes with printable options as well.
What’s up next?
In my next blog post, I’ll be addressing 3 more essential tips for distance learning. Be on the look out for instructional design, small group strategies, and content instruction needs.
Check out this blog post on 4-Must Do Activities for the First Week of School. They’re all easy and require little effort on your part.