7 Things Teachers Did that Helped Students the Most with Online Learning, According to My 10th Graders
They want to feel connected, organized, and successful
As most of us face a partially or fully virtual start to the new school year, it might be beneficial to hear what students said they found most helpful for their own learning with online education. I teach 10th grade English in a public high school in Pennsylvania, and at the end of the school year this past spring, I asked my students to respond to the following question:
What did any teacher do that helped you with online learning?
Here’s what they said:
1. Teacher-Made Videos
Students liked having videos they could watch, and rewatch, on their own time. But not just any videos — videos made by their own teacher. This gave them the feeling that the material was directly related to their success in the class, as well as a sense of a personal connection with their teacher.
2. Live Virtual Meetings
Students liked having the opportunity to meet with their teachers live, in order to have the chance to ask questions “in person.” Some students preferred optional live meetings so that they didn’t have to meet if they didn’t have questions. (I realize live meetings will probably be mandatory in most schools; just know that students appreciate them, even if they act like they don’t.)
3. Small Groups During Live Meetings
Students really appreciated being able to work in small groups with their peers during online live sessions. (Zoom has this feature built in, and even though Google does not, there are many videos about how to do it anyway.) By far, students said this was their favorite aspect of online learning. And that’s not surprising — it was a chance for them to “see” each other and catch up in a way that I think is more real and meaningful than social media. Of course, it also helped them better understand the material as well.
4. Having All Work Posted at the Beginning of the Week
Students wanted to know the week’s work up front, and they didn’t like any late-week “surprises.” This helped them manage their time with all of their classes for the week. Even though I had some students completing work at the last minute, most of them spread the assignments out, and some did everything on Monday and Tuesday and then were done. Time management is probably the biggest challenge of online learning for most students, and letting them plan for a whole week helps keep them afloat.
5. Personal Teacher Comments on Work
Having direct, personal comments from teachers on work helps students under any circumstances, but it especially helps them now. I use a variety of methods, from typing out comments to writing on docs with a stylus to recording voice comments with Mote or Vocaroo. Students especially liked the voice comments, and I encouraged them to leave voice comments back.
6. Email Responsiveness
Students appreciated when teachers answered their questions relatively promptly. Of course, we all appreciate this, but in these times of uncertainty, it means that much more. Students can’t just pop in to our rooms to double-check something or ask for clarification. I tried to answer emails more quickly than I normally would have pre-pandemic, knowing that I wouldn’t “see” the students and that their stress was amplified in general.
7. Teacher Flexibility
Students emphasized this point. Some of them are caring for older relatives or younger siblings; some of them are working; some of them are just much more stressed, anxious, and forgetful than normal. We are in a crisis, and students still need understanding and leeway. I’m aware that some students may try to take advantage of the situation, but I believe in my heart that most are trying their best and want to do well in school. A little flexibility can go a long way.
We would all rather be back. But until that day comes, we must work with what we have. And it’s not all bad — this past spring, I found that I was giving more detailed feedback on assignments, knowing that I wouldn’t simply see the student the next day and talk to them then. This ultimately helped them more, and is one of the many tools I will take back with me into the “regular” world, whenever we get there. In the meantime, like all of us, I’ll be trying my best online.
(To see what the students thought was most effective in helping themselves with online learning, read here.)