As most teachers in the U.S., and many around the world, know, distance learning is “no ride in the park.”
And, even though I had a relatively successful experience with remote teaching in the spring, this fall is a decidedly difference experience, especially starting off the year with fewer relationships (however, I’m in a lot better shape than most of my colleagues – I’ve previously taught over half of my 150 students).
Here are four actions I’ve taken this week that seem to have had a positive impact on both students in my classes and on my own mental stability (we’ll have to see how well they hold up over the long term):
- Using the Remind platform to send positive texts to a couple of students in each of my classes everyday. I’ve used Remind over the years, primarily to communicate announcements to classes. I realized this year, though, how often in my physical classroom I make short positive and reinforcing comments to students, and how much more difficult it is to fit those into a virtual classroom (no kneeling down next to a student and quietly telling him how impressed I am with how he helped his classmate earlier in class). I’m able to fit some of those comments in but, with Remind, I’m able to send two-or-three texts a day to students in each of my classes noting something they did and how impressed I was with it or how much I appreciated it. Plus, with a text, students can quickly bring their phone over to a parent or guardian to show my remarks. It’s definitely been a winner!
- Creating additional extra credit activities that students can do if they finish early in breakout rooms. In the physical classroom, I can monitor multiple small groups at once and get a sense of when most are getting done with their assignment and, if some are done more quickly, easily add a fun, challenging or simple task OR I can see when most are done and call an end to the groups. It’s not so easy to do that in breakout rooms – no matter how quickly I move from room-to-room to check on what’s happening. And when students are done early, especially when they don’t know each other very well at the beginning of the year, a deadly silence can fall into the breakout room (believe me, I’ve parachuted into several of them!)Now, students have a list of questions they are supposed to ask each other (“What has been the high point of your life?” “What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve ever experienced and how did you get though it?”) and write down responses from others in their journal for extra credit. One week does not a year make, but that seems to have reduced the number silent breakout rooms. In the future, students will be working on much more ambitious collaborative projects, and finishing early definitely won’t be a problem but, for now, this new addition seems to be helping build relationships.
- Identifying students who seem to have leadership skills and asking them if they would be willing to become “peer tutors/teaching assistants.” I’ve always done this in the physical classroom – look for sparks of leadership in students and invite them to take more of a leadership role (“Whenever you’re in a small group, can you plan on taking the lead and try to identify one other person who can also help?” “If you get a feel that some folks don’t understand something but are too shy to ask, can you ask the question?”). Sometimes, I will visit a small group and just appoint someone as a leader to test out their leadership potential, and that will often result in others asking me if they could lead next time.In a virtual classroom, this level of leadership is even more critical for a successful classroom since I can’t be in all breakout rooms all the time, and can’t see what’s going on. So, I have asked a number of students, including some I already know and some who clearly showed sparks of leadership in the breakout rooms where I’ve visited, if they would be willing to take that role. They all seemed honored, and we’ll meet regularly as groups in each class to discuss how they are doing and what they could do differently better.
- For now, creating multiple short breakout rooms seem better than fewer longer ones. I’ve put a lot of effort into developing challenging and engaging breakout room activities. And I have been doing frequent polling about how students have felt about each of their breakout room experiences every day. There is no question that students have preferred frequent and shorter breakout rooms (in today’s classes, we did three 6 or 7 minute ones) than fewer and longer ones (last week I perhaps did one ten minute one in class). Yes, I’m aware that might be because students don’t know each other that well, or that, perhaps, my breakout activities suck. I think after awhile this preference will change. But, for next week, at least, I’ll go with frequent and shorter.
What’s been working for you?
I’m adding this post to HERE ARE DETAILED – & TENTATIVE – DISTANCE LEARNING PLANS FOR ALL MY FALL CLASSES.