As millions of teachers across the nation transitioned to online instruction, many for the very first time, Graduation Alliance hosted a series of webinars to help educators use their expertise, empathy and creativity to provide the flexibility, accountability and support students will need to succeed during this challenging time. We wanted to share with you some of the many questions we received from educators during the webinars.
How should educators schedule their day?
The first thing to recognize is that students who are moving online simply won’t keep 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. school hours. Generally, they’ll work a little here and a little there — and many will work deep into the night. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be checking your email at 2 a.m. (although if you’ve always secretly wanted to keep “Batman hours,” now is your chance) but it does mean that you shouldn’t expect a flood of questions or work from your students early in the day. Use this time to prep a few days ahead and to send out correspondence to your students — as individualized as you can. Especially at first, online learning can feel impersonal. The more you can do early on to let your students know that one-on-one relationships won’t suffer under the new paradigm, the better. You really want to continuously be building those relationships and fostering a sense of belonging in the class ‘learning community.’You’ve probably been asked to schedule some “office hours” when your students (and their parents) can reach out and get a quick reply from you. That’s great. Make sure to schedule some prep time, too. Just as “prep periods” are vital for grading and curriculum development in a traditional classroom, you’re going to need this time (and, in fact, likely a little more of it) as an online teacher, too. And, since it’s best if you can count on some prep time in which you won’t be distracted by other teaching duties, mornings are a good time for this, because most of your students won’t be getting up as early as they do in typical circumstances.
Now, back to that 2 a.m. thing. Really, unless you’re seriously a night owl, don’t work in the wee hours of the night. But, if it is possible given your own circumstances, strongly consider separating out your work day with lengthy breaks, thus ensuring that you’re more likely to be able to respond to students’ needs closer to when they have them. For instance, an eight-hour day might look something like this:
7 a.m. – 9 a.m.: Prep and grading
9 a.m. – noon: Break
noon – 3 p.m.: Office hours, individual student meetings
3 p.m. – 5 p.m.: Break
5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.: Record lecture and class announcements
6:30 – 8:30 p.m.: Break
8:30 p.m – 10 p.m.: Prep, grading, student correspondence
This sort of schedule isn’t going to work for everyone, and there is no perfect way to do this. Build a schedule that seems like it will work for you, your family, and your students, and adjust as you learn more about what works for you.
What are tips for increasing student engagement online?
Students want to be seen. (In fact, we cannot say that enough: Students want to be seen!)But “seen” in a virtual space doesn’t necessarily mean “video.” What it means is that they don’t feel forgotten. When they’re late on an assignment, a quick text message says “I’m paying attention” better than a zero on the grade sheet. When they make a good point in a class discussion, dropping them a quick email, after their post appears, is a great way to say “I am listening to what you are saying.”
We know teachers who have scheduled five-minute individual one-on-one check-ins with their students each week. That’s obviously very time consuming and it’s not for the faint of heart, but it is another way to let students know you care about them individually.
What are some ideas for remote learning for at-risk teens?
There’s no nice way to put this: If you were already having trouble keeping at-risk students focused, the rapid transition to online learning isn’t going to be easy.Good online learners, after all, are those who can execute lots of self discipline, maintain focus and muster intrinsic motivation. And while not every student comes to be at-risk in the same way, let’s be honest: These are not skills that are generally associated with these learners.
Is all lost? No. In fact, this big shift presents a big opportunity — a chance for them to start anew for you to try some outside of the box stuff that, in more normal times, you might be discouraged from trying.
First, let’s have a conversation about, well, conversations. We’re already experiencing a major global paradigm shift — and your students recognize that fact. This presents an amazing opportunity to have that “Hollywood movie pep talk” with your student without it seeming disingenuous or melodramatic.
It might go something like this: “Kara, you’ve always said that school didn’t feel right for you — that you could do the work fast and were bored by all the sitting around. Well, here you go. You sort of got your wish. So this is a big opportunity to demonstrate if you really can do the things you said you could. And you know what? I know you can, but the question is will you?”
Or, you know, something like that. You know you. You know them. And you have an idea of what they need to hear. The key right now is to throw out a little bit of the inhibition that says “no, they’ll think that’s stupid.” Against the momentousness of this moment in history, you’re going to be able to get away with a little more “go get ‘em.”
Next, we need to talk about touchpoints. You’ve just lost a lot of opportunities to connect with your at-risk students and you’re going to need to reclaim as many of those moments as possible. If you have any qualms about letting students have your mobile phone number, now might be a good time to order a “burner” phone (or, alternatively, there are inexpensive apps that will allow you to procure a second number that you can use from your primary phone) because text messages and phone calls are two of your best tools for staying connected.
Make sure to not spend the entirety of every conversation talking only about school work — but keep a running journal of the things that you talk to your at-risk students about. There’s nothing that screams “you couldn’t care less!” than a teacher who asks the same seemingly thoughtful question, over and over again, and forgets the answer. Building on conversations, over time, is a good way to build the sort of relationships that keep students engaged.
There’s a lot more to say on this subject, of course. We’ll touch on it more as the days and weeks go by.
How do I keep in contact with more than 150 students?
One of the most important things you can do as an online teacher is ensure that each of your students feels a regular and reliable point of connection with you. And email… man, that’s just not going to do it.It might sound crazy, given how much they seem to tune out during class, but your students are going to want to hear your voice — and not just in video lectures. They want, need and deserve real interaction. That means phone calls or video chats.
At some point, though, the math gets really hard.
Let’s say you’ve got 150 students. If your goal is to have a regular 5-minute check in with each one of them, each week, you’re going to need about two and a half hours each day just to make student calls. That’s a lot.
So, let’s talk about some other options.
Small group conference calls or Zoom chats are a really good way to make the math work in your favor. Let’s say you schedule a weekly 20-minute chat with groups of six students. Now you’re down to a commitment of about an hour and a half each day.
However you make this happen, you’re going to need some scheduling help. Perhaps the best way to win this battle is to create a simple Google spreadsheet with available individual or group times, share the link with your students, and have them put their names on it. We’re also big fans of You Can Book Me, which allows you to schedule open blocks of time each day for meetings with students, who can then put themselves right onto your schedule.
You got this!
For further reading and exploration check out this free eBook on online k12 and blended learning: https://edtechbooks.org/k12blended K-12 Blended Teaching
A Guide to Personalized Learning and Online Integration
Charles R. Graham, Jered Borup, Cecil R. Short, & Leanna Archambault
How do I engage with students who don’t have emails?
While email has been adopted as the dominant educational communication medium, it’s not always a reliable way to get in contact with your students.It’s vital to be flexible in how you communicate with students, which is why it’s important to have lessons available on many platforms.
That should start with email. But the next step should be a simple, easy-to-update webpage (Blogger is almost foolproof) with separate URLs for each lesson. This allows you to include a hyperlink in text messages.
By some estimates, 95 percent of high school students have access to a smartphone. That’s not 100 percent. So what do you do for students you cannot contact via email or phone? It’s time to get creative.
Who did your student sit next to in class and hang out with in the hallways? Enlist friends to help you get in contact. If that doesn’t work, give that emergency contact list some attention. We LOVE aunties and grandmothers — they always deliver!
How can educators get email info for parents and engage with them?
As is the case in a traditional learning environment, parents can play an essential role in their student’s success, but not every parent is willing (or able) to help in the same way.That doesn’t mean, however, that if you’re unable to contact a parent via email that parent doesn’t want to hear from you or work with you on behalf of their child. Email is only one of many mediums for connecting with parents — and it’s a medium fraught with challenges. Not everybody checks their email regularly. Some spam filters are more sensitive than others. And an overload of school emails can make even the most attentive parents decide to hit “mark unread” and come back to your email later — only to soon forget about it.
Work with your students and office staff to “fill your rolodex” (yes, we know this dates us) with multiple modes of contact. Emails, yes, but also mobile numbers (with preference, if known, for texts or calls.) You could consider setting up a class Facebook, Instagram or Twitter page — some parents prefer and will be more responsive to direct messages through social media. And, of course, you should also work with your students and office staff to get a handle on the languages parents speak. Google translate isn’t perfect, but taking the time to translate a message into Farsi, Kurdish, Portuguese or whatever language your parents speak is a kind gesture that will often generate good will and engagement.
What tools are available to use for online teaching?
Despite what a lot of people seem to think, online learning isn’t about the bells and whistles. For most teachers, all you need is a single platform learning management system, like Canvas or Blackboard.We’ve heard from a lot of people who don’t have an LMS or whose platforms have been overrun and are running really slow right now. Be flexible and inventive. We know teachers who have taught entire courses using Facebook to post assignments, host discussions, upload video and receive student papers. Another good and very flexible platform is Blogger. It’s not fancy, but it’s easy to learn and simple to publish on, and the “comments” feature can be used for student discussions.
Zoom is getting a lot of attention right now for its capacity to create synchronous virtual classrooms. We do like it, but you’ll likely notice that trying to keep a virtual class engaged all at once is 10 times harder than trying to keep a traditional class engaged (which, as you know, is already really, really hard!)
Want to get a little fancy? We’re big fans of Sal Kahn’s screen capture lectures. Here’s a piece on what you’ll need and how to use them. But, really, honestly, truly, we cannot say this enough: Pretty tools are less important than personal time. The best tools for keeping students engaged are your inbox, phone and an instant messenger app.
In addition here is a list of resources to check out. Please note all resources have free versions or are running a free access promotion. Every tool listed below can be used on a cell phone or tablet, except for Popplet which is tablet only.
What should I do about screen capture lectures and docu-cameras?
There are easier — and cheaper — ways.Got an iPad? Super. All you need to give Sal a run for his money is a screen recording app and a drawing app.No iPad? No worries. If you’ve got Microsoft Word, you can use your mouse or trackpad for touch drawing on top of documents. Just open a doc, go to “draw,” pick a “pen” and give it a whirl. If you have a trackpad, try the “draw with trackpad” option — some people find it more intuitive. Struggling with precision? It’s helpful to have a stylus that works on a trackpad (be warned: not all do, so you may be stuck using your finger.)
Many steps easier: Go “old fashioned” by making a docu-camera with two tall books of equal height, two rulers and your phone. Just set the books on end, 11 inches apart, and open them just a bit for stability. Then place the rulers parallel across the top of the books, and set your phone on top. Put a sheet of paper under the phone, hit “record” and you’re underway. It’s best to do this at a desk by a window for the best light — if you’re getting shadows, you might need an adjustable desk lamp (like the Pixar lamp).
Remember, though: Your students don’t just like to see your hands, or even snazzy Khan Academy-style tutorials. Consider recording a very short video of yourself before and after each lesson — it will help them feel a little more connected to you and the material.
Should I use Zoom?
A teacher we deeply respect recently heard from a parent who was concerned about “a lack of Zooming.”“Ms. Jones is doing Zoom every day in my other daughter’s class so that the students can see one another,” the parent said. “I’d really like to see you do that in your class, too. The students really need social interaction.”
Now, let’s be clear: A lot of teachers are going WAY above and beyond right now — not just converting classes online but also doing extra things to make students feel connected to school and one another in this challenging time. But social interaction isn’t a teacher’s responsibility — educational interaction is.
Zoom can be used for curriculum delivery. It’s a great way to present live lectures and offer opportunities for students to ask questions that can benefit the entire group. The videos from these sessions can be recorded and stored so that students who were not able to join live can benefit, too.
For larger group discussions, though, Zoom can be challenging. Discussions that might work in a traditional class setting can be a lot harder to manage, especially because many of the body language clues and classroom management techniques teachers use in in-person settings simply don’t translate very well.
That doesn’t mean Zoom is pointless for large group discussions. We just like it a lot better for shorter sessions with smaller groups. In our experience, you’ll get a lot more from six eight-minute sessions with groups of five students than one 50-minute session with thirty students.
Students can also get together for “discuss and report back” activities in which they meet to work out a problem via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or a good old-fashioned conference call, then work together on a paper via collaboration apps like Google Docs.
Whatever you’re doing right now, know this: We know you’re doing your best. Not every tool is right for every teacher, and while parents can be very, um, parenty sometimes, your job isn’t to keep up with Ms. Jones — it’s to do what is best for your students’ educational continuity.
Zoom is confusing me! What should I do?
We share your pain! And that’s why we want to introduce you to a guy who is keeping us sane right now, Sethi De Clercq:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9guqRELB4dg
Tech tools are like any other kind of tool — it takes time to learn and a lot more time to master.
Nobody expects someone who is using a chainsaw for the first time to be able to do this:
Really, all we expect of someone using a chainsaw for the first time is that they don’t injure themselves or anyone else!
That’s an extreme example, but the same rules apply. Take your time. Learn the basics. Turn to experts like De Clercq for help. And give yourself a break: If you’re like millions of other teachers right now, you’ve been thrown into this. It’s going to take time.
Don’t worry. You’re awesome. And your students are lucky to have you as their teacher!
How do I engage parents to teach them new technology that is being introduced to their child?
It’s hard enough to teach every student. Now we’ve got to teach their parents, too?Well, no and yes.
First of all, let’s recognize that your students are digital natives. That doesn’t make them experts in technology. What it does mean, however, is that they are likely to be just as capable as their parents, albeit in different ways, of adopting new platforms. In other words, in most cases parents don’t need to learn to use the tools their students are using. The students can learn by themselves.
Let’s also recognize that there are many parents who simply do not have the time to help their students adopt and manage tech. They’re essential workers, helping keep our nation afloat in this difficult time. They’ve lost a job and are out looking for work. They’re caring for multiple other children after losing daycare. Or, in far too many cases, they’re sick right now. Thus, we shouldn’t begin our teaching with the assumption that parents need to learn the tech that is being introduced to their children in order to help their children.
So, that’s the “no.” Now, let’s talk about the “yes.”
As just about every educator can attest, engaged parents can be force multipliers. And especially when we’re talking about at-promise students — those with hardships that are impeding their educational path — parents can make a big difference. When they’re able to be on board, we definitely want these folks on our team. And yes, in some cases, that means helping them navigate the tech.
Now, here’s the good news: Remember when we noted that students are often no more or less capable with tech than their parents, only differently so? The difference is that while today’s students are overwhelmingly likely to have grown up with digital technology all around them, their parents — who are Gen-Xers and older Millennials, generally met the digital world when it was a lot less friendly and intuitive. In other words, they’re used to a little struggle.
So how are you onboarding students to the digital tools they’re using? That strategy is likely to work with their parents, too!
But here’s the key: Check in with the parents who seem to have adopted the tools with no problem. Chances are that they actually did struggle with one thing or another but, using those generational adapt-and-overcome skills, didn’t end up needing your help to figure it out. But what were speed bumps for them might be stop signs for other parents, so knowing what these “early adopters” struggled with will help you identify the areas of new tool adoption that other parents will face.
A lot of my students can only access resources via cellphone. What are the best apps for them?
This is a really important question, and three points of context are vital here:
- Not every student has internet in their home, let alone high-speed bandwidth, and in these uncertain economic times, some students who are already on the margins are certain to lose this resource. (There’s a great discussion about the internet as a utility here, although that’s a different story altogether.)
- A lot of students have smartphones but no wireless service — meaning they’re reliant on finding free WiFi hotspots to use their phones. The number of students who cannot afford to pay a wireless bill is likely to increase in the weeks and months to come, too. Meanwhile, a lot of coffee shops and fast food restaurants that offer free WiFi are closed.
- Even students with smartphones and wireless service often have limited data plans. Video content and live streaming is going to eat away at that — and quick.
So what can you do to help your students?
- Centralize all lesson plans. Don’t make students jump from site-to-site to get the content they need. Build a simple site that serves as one-stop shopping.
- In addition to posting your lesson plans, email them to students as well.
- Remind students to download, copy, or screen grab the lessons so that they can access them offline, too.
- If you do assign videos, make transcripts of everything. This is not just a matter of preserving bandwidth, it helps with accessibility. (There are a lot of automated transcription apps that are cheap or free.)
- Don’t make streaming meetings (i.e. Zoom or Google Hangouts) mandatory.
- Make as many assignments as possible text-based. The more video and photos you require your students to submit, the more you’ll be cutting into their limited data.
- Forgive a bit of “text thumb,” but not too much. Yes, it’s harder for many people to compose on a phone than it is on a keyboard, but the ability to be attentive to detail, even when writing on a phone, is an increasingly important skill.
- Try to be realistic about deadlines. You don’t need to advertise to every student that you’re going to be flexible (that’s a recipe for disaster) but don’t give students reason to believe that it’s pointless to turn in late work.
INTERESTED IN LEARNING MORE?
Over the past 13 years, our team at Graduation Alliance has delivered online education and support services to some of the highest risk students in our country, serving more than 10,000 students last year alone. While we do not have all the answers for this particular crisis, we have a vast amount of experience and tools to assist school districts. If you’re interested in starting a conversation to see how we can help your school let us know.