As teachers in all different circumstances head back to school, there are so many questions around how to be an effective virtual teacher. Many of us are headed into an area we have never stepped foot in before. Some teachers are fully virtual this year, while some are split virtual and face to face. However, the majority of us have to figure out how to manage this new "norm" and effectively teach. I have put together these seven tips to help you be the best virtual teacher you can be!
#1 Understanding Student Access
First, it is extremely important that you understand what access your students have to technology and what their home circumstances are regarding digital learning. One way to get a good idea of your students' situation is to have them or their parents (depending on their age) fill out a Student Information Form. I have found the easiest way to is to use Google Forms because it is an easy platform to send out no matter what device a student is using.
Technology is not the only barrier many of our students will face. We also need to think about where they will be completing their work, who will be helping them, and other people they will be with during "school hours". It is important to record any of your live lessons so students who cannot attend can watch them later and not be frustrated or behind due to situations out of their control. Questions you may want to ask include:
What type of device will you be using for school work (tablet, computer, laptop, or phone)?
Where will you be working during "school hours" (home, daycare, a camp, a family members, etc)?
Who will you be with while working (a babysitter, older sibling, younger siblings, grandparents, parents, etc.)?
Will you be responsible for any younger siblings or family members during "school hours"? (This could be helping siblings with their school work, babysitting really young family members)
Are there any other things that would cause you to miss class and have to catch up later?
#2 Plan Ahead
We cannot ask students to be successful with technology unless we have done the work ourselves. Prior to assigning and introducing new apps for students, it is vitally important that you, the teacher, are proficient on those apps. Spend time with the platform and apps that you plan to use with your students. You should be very comfortable with the apps prior to having your students try them out. This way you are able to trouble shoot any questions students or parents could have. This also allows you to know how long assignments and tasks are going to take your students to complete based on the app features and if they will need to use multiple apps to complete a task.
#3 Be Consistent
Consistency is also key to this new way of teaching. In the physical classroom, it was very easy to teach students new apps and technology skills. However, it is going to be very different and a lot more difficult to introduce new tech skills from a distance. I suggest at the start of the year (during pre-planning), you plan the platform and apps you would like to use to make teaching possible. Whichever ones you pick, stick with those for a long time, if not for the whole year. Doing this allows your students to develop efficiency with those skills before having to learn something new. Within those apps there will be many skills that will be needed as well. The best way to help your students navigate the apps is to screen record and teach them everything they would need to know how to do within the app. Make sure to introduce apps one at a time.
Another way to make virtual learning easier for yourself and your students is to stick with one style. When you decide how to choose a platform and a style for uploading your assignments, it is important that you stick with that style so students can get the hang of it and make that process super easy for them. The more consistent you are, the less technology issues your students will encounter.
#4 Over Communicate
This is a very rough time for students, parents, and teachers. Everyone is trying to navigate this new norm and the best way to make it as easy as possible is communication. In the classroom, we are there to answer student questions all day. For virtual learning, I suggest over communicating to make sure the students and parents know exactly what the expectations are and to keep you all on the same page. Some ideas to effectively communicate:
Have set office/email hours and make parents aware of those hours
Stress that students ask questions during class time (live or through email)
Use tools like ClassDojo or Remind for parents to contact your quicker if responding to email is not your strong suit.
Learning platforms, such as PadLet, allow students to comment and ask questions in real time. PadLet allows students to also respond to to their peers, which encourages class community.
Send out "progress reports" or a checklist for the week detailing the tasks assigned.
#5 Keep it Simple
Simplicity is going to keep you sane during these changing times. It is also going to assist your students in helping them be successful. Your videos (if recording) and your live sessions should be relatively short to keep your students' attention. If you are recording videos for your mini lessons, I suggest a max of 9 minutes, but 6 minutes is really best to hold your students attention. Keep your teaching to the point in a way that students will be engaged. Same thing with assignments - keep your assignments to the priority skills your students need. If you have multiple skills you want to include, break them apart into manageable parts and think whether or not all students need to complete them or should the assignment be used as an extension. Don't try to over complicate assignments with multiple steps that will make your students struggle with the technology. I always remind myself of the term KISS - Keep It Simple Stupid. :)
#6 Use What You Have
Although we are navigating new waters, we don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel. There are several activities that I do with paper in class that I could video and have my students work on in their notebooks (depending on their age). You can also convert any PowerPoints you have into Google Slides to make them interactive by adding text boxes and other features. TeachersPayTeachers has also added a Digital Activity tool and teachers can buy resources (or check out their old purchases for updates) that can be transferred into a digital activity. If you are a math teacher and use several manipulates, there are many websites full of digital manipulatives for students to use to solve their math problems.
Asking parents and students for feedback can greatly help with improving your virtual teaching skills. If you feel confident about the apps you have been using, but students are struggling at home to make them work, then you might not be effectively teaching. You want your students to be engaged on the content, not focusing on the technology and how to make the apps work. Welcoming feedback and student questioning helps you effectively teach and make sure what you are doing is working for everyone. Of course there are going to be struggles at the beginning and parents might not understand some things, but stopping after a few weeks into using apps would be the perfect time to ask for feedback from students and parents. Asking for this feedback makes parents and students feel like part of your team, which, in turn, helps with relationships and open communication.
I hope these tips help you kick off your virtual year in a wonderful way! Do you have any other virtual teaching tips you would love to share with others? I would love to hear thoughts!