What's the Plus?
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What's the Plus?

Here’s What We’ve Learned from Working with Hundreds of Teachers Online

By Jaime Dusinberre, Josh Kaufmann, and Mark Sass

Remote learning may come easily to some of us and it might be completely foreign to others. At Teach Plus, we have been using virtual training tools for years. They didn’t come easily to us either, not at first, but we’ve now gotten the hang of (most) of it. To help with the transition, we’ve put together a few tips for your online teaching. We mostly use Zoom (which you can now access for free) for our trainings, but the tips below can be used with any online platform. Above all else, students need to feel connected to their teachers and we encourage you to utilize whatever platform available to continue the close professional relationships you have built throughout the year.

1. Plan backwards and consider how these virtual tools can enhance your delivery.

As you do with any other curriculum, set your goals up front: figure out what you want your students to know and be able to do, how you will know they’ve gotten it, and what you will do if they haven’t.

With your goals set, plan your content based on what can be accomplished “online” (synchronously) and what can be done “off-line” (asynchronously). For example, your students can do their reading and draft written responses, practice solving the equations, watch a video, consult a primary source, or plan for their contributions to Socratic Seminar “off-line.” This saves the time you are together online, in Zoom, or another virtual environment, for discussion, debate, addressing common misconceptions and further sharing their thinking with each other. Decide on the learning activities that make the most sense and then determine how the online tools will enhance your delivery.

2. Build your online community.

Just like you would start the year with the getting-to-know-you activities in your brick-and-mortar classroom, consider using similar activities online. Develop with your students (remember your students live online; take advantage of this) the rituals and routines of your “new” classroom space. You might want to include the following:

  • Being “present” means that students join with their webcams on and their microphones on mute, unless they’re speaking.
  • Wear earbuds, AirPods, or headphones to minimize noise and cut down on feedback.
  • Be mindful of your background; find a place to join that limits interruptions.
  • If you need to take a break, flag it in the chat box and turn your camera off, rather than giving unintentional tours of your home (or bathroom) to others.

Establish your due dates and office hours. Let your students know when you will be online and available each day. This allows them to know when to expect your feedback. Additionally, plan for one-on-one check-ins with students outside of the virtual meetings. Establish time to have ‘live’ interactions with your individual students, via an online meeting or by phone.

3. Adapt your instructional moves to the online environment.

The virtual classroom is like a freshly painted classroom with waxed floors, clean marker boards, and brand-new student desks. The possibilities are endless. As you consider providing instruction in this new space, get to know the features of the environment so you can adapt your instructional moves. For example,

  • Use the gallery view feature of Zoom (the “Brady Bunch” view) so that you can see the faces of up to 25 students all at once. You’ll have a face-to-face view to gauge their level of interest and understanding.
  • Use visual and online tools to create easy checks for understanding. Zoom (and many other programs) have an online polling feature, but another way to quickly assess student understanding is the “Fist to Five” method: Ask students to self-assess their understanding on a scale of 0 (a fist) to 5 (an open hand).
  • Use Zoom’s “Breakout Room” feature to create connectedness if you have a large group. Begin with a “bell ringer” activity and use that time to break your class into smaller Zoom rooms of 4–5 students. This allows students to connect with each other and to foster verbal communication skills. You can then bring them back when ready by closing the rooms.
  • “Breakout Rooms” also create opportunities for think-pair-share or turn-and-talk activities, as well as allow you to differentiate your instruction.
  • Rather than charting responses, create a shared document that can be updated in real time. You can provide students with their own space in the document, using “bookmarks” at the top. This reduces the frustration of typing over one another.

4. Take advantage of unique opportunities―things you can do online that you can’t do in the classroom.

  • While everyone else is working offline, have virtual one-on-one conversations with students to build relationships, provide feedback on their learning, and check in on their social and emotional needs.
  • During online sessions, use the chat box to your advantage. It allows you to check for understanding and see what your students are thinking (imagine thought bubbles) rather than having to rely solely on their body language, as in the classroom.
  • Record your lesson to your device or to the cloud and make it available to students who may have missed it.
  • Creatively control the discussion using the chat box. Students can signal that they want to add to the conversation by typing “next” into the chat box rather than raising their hands. Additionally, you can privately chat your outgoing students to ask that they let other students speak, or privately encourage a quiet student to participate.
(left to right) Jaime Dusinberre, Josh Kaufmann, Mark Sass

Jaime Dusinberre is National Director of Program Design and Innovation at Teach Plus.

Josh Kaufmann is Senior Executive Director of Teach Plus Illinois.

Mark Sass teaches high school history at Legacy High School in the Adams 12 Five Star School District and is Teach Plus Colorado State Director.

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We empower teachers to make an impact in the classroom and beyond.

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