With nationwide mandated school closures and other social distancing measures, hybrid and remote learning emerged as the only feasible option to save education from perdition. But, the transition of teaching and learning from a traditional setting to an online environment wasn’t easy for anyone.
It still isn’t, especially for teachers.
From setting up online apps on phones or laptops to troubleshooting technology glitches, remote teaching has its own share of challenges. The good news is it has been over a year since remote and hybrid learning has become the new normal. And by now, teachers have figured out key lessons to make the best of this dire situation. Here are eight of those lessons that make online learning as effective as the traditional learning system.
Create a strong sense of community among students
Your students are most likely to feel isolated when they are not sitting in the classroom with their friends. And they can neither focus nor engage in lessons with this sense of isolation. So, you need to build a strong sense of community among your students to make them feel connected with one another irrespective of their physical locations.
You can use breakout rooms or discussion boards to encourage class discussions even when the students are miles apart from each other. Make your students share their work with the class using Google Apps or videos. Begin the class with a warm-up session where you initiate conversations by asking everyone how they are, what they had for breakfast or what questions they have regarding the last lesson.
It may sound like you are in a modern séance, but you must make sure all the students can see and hear each other well. Position your cameras and microphones accurately so that your class is entirely engaged.
Try a new approach to teaching
I had read somewhere that engagement is a precondition for learning. Your students cannot learn anything online unless they are engaged with the material.
Let’s say you want to teach your students about poetry. Think of something related to the same and is also available online. Sumner Bender, a theatre teacher at Spring Hill High School, for example, encouraged students to learn the art of slam poetry. She chose this specific genre because it is widely available on various social media platforms. Also, this kind of poetry helps your students process the isolation and grief involved this year.
Remember, your students spend most of their time online, especially on social media. So, you need to design the lesson plans keeping their accessibility in mind.
Provide regular support and feedback to students
It is normal for students to feel less supported during their remote learning sessions. Thus, it is important that you give them clear and explicit directions. They shouldn’t feel accessing their teachers is now impossible because of the new learning environment.
So, provide substantive feedback to keep your students engaged and fully aware of their academic progress. It’s different when you are teaching your students to face to face. You can see if they find it hard to understand a topic. You can at least talk to them if you see their grades deteriorate. But, in remote learning, they might not get the support they need all the time. That’s why you need to communicate with them frequently.
Customize a daily plan as class begins
You should be realistic when it comes to designing lesson plans for each day in an online classroom. Let’s say you could cover ten chapters in a week in a traditional classroom. But, you may not be able to do the same in a remote classroom setting. After all, you can’t really get rid of distractions when you are at home. Can you? How often have you struggled between taking care of your toddler and being the math problem solver for your students?
It is possible to deal with these problems. You need to customize your lesson plans as the new class begins each day. Be realistic while designing the lessons because you can’t bite off more than you can chew. Right?
Focus on structured and visible interaction
Have you seen how politicians are invited to speak at a news portal, but they just end up screaming at one another? The viewers understand nothing since their voices overlap. The lack of a structured interaction can make your remote teaching sessions look like a zoo. Thus, you can try focusing on structured interactions such as cohorts of students or pre-set podcasts and fishbowl discussions.
You can set small groups within your class. Each group may consist of 4-5 students. Ask them to brainstorm some ideas related to your class topic and encourage others to comment on the ideas. Instruct the children to use technology to document and share their work or presentations, thereby making their thinking more visible to everyone in the class.
Teach with the simplest digital workspace
When I first stepped into the online teaching environment, I struggled hard with settling into my new at-home office. There was less space to roam and the lighting was different as well. I didn’t know how to operate half of the apps that I was asked to download. All in all, teaching was a rocky journey for me in the initial months of lockdown.
You must create a simple digital workspace for yourself first. The right setup will help you teach and your students learn hassle-free. Design your remote teaching setup based on your budget, comfort levels, preferences, and pedagogical goals. From gadget-heavy spaces to green screens, there are tons of ideas you can opt for to create a proper digital workspace.
Try out one-on-one conversations at least weekly
Initially, I had noticed none of the students asked any questions after I had finished a lesson with them. The same class, however, had plenty of queries in the traditional classroom setting. This shift to digital learning isn’t a new thing to you only. It is new to your students as well. They need time to adapt to this remote learning setting. Instead of ignoring their lack of queries, try conducting one-on-one conversations with them every week. Provide them with space where they can ask questions and share opinions without any fear of judgement.
There are different types of students in a classroom. Some are shy, while others may be extrovert. You should provide individualized attention to each student even when you are teaching them from a faraway location. That’s why it is important that you hold these one-on-one conversations to ensure that no student feels ignored or less valued.
Give some space to your students to talk
Education is important. But, it isn’t more important than the challenges caused by the pandemic. The world is falling apart, and it is normal for your students to feel stressed or anxious in these uncertain times. Sometimes, it is okay not to jump into lessons straight away. Talk to your students to see how they are coping with this uncertainty. See if they miss their friends and figure out a way you can make them feel less isolated.
I conduct a ‘Free To Talk’ session every Friday for two hours where my students can share the small things that probably bother them. It can be about living with a toxic parent or worrying about the future. I have realized talking about these small, yet significant things make students feel less lonely. They are more motivated to study when they feel there’s someone to listen to them.
The idea of remote learning hasn’t been easy for any of us. But, it isn’t a choice. Not anymore. It is one of the imperatives to continue education in this pandemic. Instead of cribbing about the present situation, let’s believe in a better, healthier mask-free world and try to make the best of this bad situation.