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Advice on Transitioning to Remote Classroom

  • Joanna
  • April 6, 2020

I’m pretty tech-savvy, and I love a challenge, AND I’ve taught online for 8 years, so I didn’t think the switch from B&M to online would bother me. I was pretty excited. But WOW. What a learning curve! What I wish I knew:

GIVE YOURSELF GRACE: You are going to hate life for a couple weeks. Just embrace it. Learn from it. You are going to have awesome ideas that will flop. You are going to assign things you wish you didn’t. (Pro-tip: don’t assign anything you can’t respond to in less than 15 seconds per student right now!! If you don’t provide feedback/respond quickly, they won’t do the next thing you assign.)

GIVE STUDENTS GRACE: Some of our students have become de facto parents overnight to children whose parents still have to work. Some of them are now thrust into an unsafe home environment 24/7. Many won’t have the materials/time/support we take for granted.

Be a source of routine:
Contact your students every day, at the same time. If you have an online platform of some kind (Google Classroom, Canvas, whatever) post something (not an assignment! Just a contact!) every day, say… before 9 am. Establish yourself as someone students can depend on. They need this right now!

Use as many avenues as you can. Some like email. Some like the platform. Some like hangouts. Use every tool available to you to make contact. Your job at this point is to let them know that they still exist in your brain and you still care about them. BUT. Don’t “vomit all over Classroom” as my students say. Don’t spam them. ONCE A DAY.

If you have Google, set up a Hangout chat for each class period. Students can ask questions and get them answered in real time. It’s awesome to see them helping each other!

Keep your expectations SUPER LOW at first:
It’s super easy, after doing this for a few weeks, to feel like you are posting things into a void. Many students aren’t responding to emails/Hangout chats/assignments. BUT THEY ARE WATCHING. I promise. Don’t give up.

Many students won’t begin to fully engage until the end of week 3. We zoomed in a panel of students at the end of week 3, and it turns out MOST of them were sitting back, watching and waiting. Is this something my teachers are serious about? Will they keep it up? What happens if I don’t “show up”? Will they even notice?

Your students DO notice. They want you to reach out, even if they aren’t responding. This isn’t a reciprocal relationship; you are the adult. They are children. They are feeling shell-shocked. Silence from them is pretty normal at this point. Our week 4 is “Spring Break” and data from our student surveys overwhelmingly says, “Teachers! Please keep posting things! Just don’t assign anything we have to actually do. Let us know that you are alive, well, and thinking of us.”

Make it simple:
Right now, it’s about connection. Ignore curriculum for the first week or two. Reports from international schools who have been at this for months say introducing curriculum week 3 or 4 is feasible.

For now, once a week you can introduce them to Flipgrid, Padlet, or some other tool, but don’t overload them. Pick ONE a week. Your daily post/contact should be something simple and engaging. (I suggest at least two days post a “Question of the Day” students can respond to like: introduce us to someone sharing quarantine with you, show us what’s under your bed right now, if you could have one person from any point in history join you in quarantine, who would it be and why?)

Use video:
Students want to see your face and hear your voice. Keep it real. Don’t make yourself crazy with edits.

  • Start with your thesis (what’s the main message you want them to hear? Say it right away!!)
  • Keep it to 3 minutes or less if possible
  • Don’t apologize for your hair, your clothes, your house. Just be you. Be real. Be a learner with them.

When you DO start posting new learning:

  • Never give more than 2 assignments a week. Make them meaty. Give your students a problem to solve or a project to work on that will take them a few days.
  • If you can get your district behind you, agree that ELA will post one day, Social Studies another, Math another, Science and electives on their own days. Students like the routine. They get overwhelmed if every teacher posts a project on the same day.
  • Be predictable: I assign one reading and one writing assignment every Monday, and it’s due the next Sunday. Tuesdays and Thursdays I do a Question of the Day (one is a flipgrid they can respond to with video, and one is a typed answer). Wednesdays I give them an optional video or resource to help with the Monday assignment. Friday I post a recap of the week and a forcast for the next week, plus a helpful tip of some kind. Saturday I post a 3 minute video talking to them about some of our common struggles, or things I’ve had a lot of emails about.
  • Allow choice!! Assign a problem, but allow students to demonstrate learning in their own ways. Write an essay, make a video, create a piece of art, interview your family members, make a TikTok.
  • Keep in mind essential-essential learning goals. Go deep, not wide: This will save you. I teach AP English Language and Composition. In a B&M classroom, I feel obligated to prepare every kid for the test. Right now, that’s not realistic. My job is to keep them writing and reading and communicating with others. If I assign every kid to write an argumentative essay, I have to grade 167 essays, and I need to get it back quick, or they won’t do the next thing I assign. If I INSTEAD assign every kid to make an argument either with video, writing, OR in response to a provided AP argumentative test prompt, I only have to give detailed, AP-level feedback to the students who are actually going to read that feedback. The rest of the class will make videos that I can watch while cooking dinner and make me laugh so hard I cry into my soup, or write heartwrenching blog posts that make me cry real tears and are riveting, start to finish. That’s real communication, and it’s human, and it’s what they need in their lives right now.