Making the Most of Online Learning

School has begun, and K-12 teachers across the country are getting really good at hosting Zoom discussions, using Google classroom, and finding creative ways to keep students focused even while they are learning remotely. It’s certainly not ideal, but for many teachers and parents online learning is the only option at the moment.

What can we do to make the most of it?

Online Teaching Tips for Great Instruction

Maximize the time you have with students on Zoom or other live interactions (even in small groups) by using that time to engage in discussion and for asking great questions. Don’t talk at the students—talk with them, making sure the conversation is productive by asking thoughtful questions.

A big part of teaching in student is classroom management: thinking about the habits students should practice to be effective in class. In person, teachers have procedures for students entering the classroom, turning in homework, asking to sharpen a pencil. You can have similar procedures for teaching online. What will the first 5 minutes of class be like? How should students ask questions or indicate that they need to stand up for a minute? Thinking through these details in advance—and then sticking to the plan—will help minimize the chaos and allow you and your students to get down to the important stuff.

If you are recording lessons in advance, do some of the things you would do in class normally: pause and allow the students some time to think and formulate an answer. This take practice and can feel a little awkward, but it will help students stay attentive through the whole lesson.

Remember, listening to a 20 or 30 minute lesson can be challenging, even for adults. Elementary students often will not have the stamina. Think of ways to break up the talking to add some variety. For example, you could give students a list of questions at the beginning of the lesson, and ask them to write down the answers on a sheet of paper as they hear them in your lesson. That’s a great way to gauge class participation.

For live lessons, students’ cameras should be on and you should be able to see them! It’s okay to set some clear expectations for students at home. They should be sitting in a chair similar to the chair they’d have at school—not on an armchair or sofa or on the floor. Work with parents to make sure have what they need to focus and listen attentively.

Can you teach science remotely? The ideal science lesson is connected to a science lab performed by students, but demonstrations can be helpful too. Science teachers, you can do the lab yourself as a demonstration, and give students a series of lab report questions to answer while you show them the experiment. Sometimes a mini-lab, performed by students at home with kitchen and other household materials, is possible.

What about mathematics? Remember: great math instruction isn’t about merely getting the correct answer. Students need to understand why that answer is the right one, and the concrete-pictorial-abstract approach of Singapore math is the best way to make sure that happens. Especially in the early grades, manipulatives like unit cubes, hundreds charts, plastic counters, geometric shapes, or fraction strips can help students see the concepts behind the math problems they’re completing. Teachers can put math manipulative kits together and send them home in plastic bags, or give willing parents some instructions for creating manipulatives at home.

Finally, use oral assessments for students learning over Zoom. They are quicker and more efficient than written tests, and they are more engaging, too. Asking a student to answer a few questions over the phone or via video chat allows teachers to focus on what’s most important, and a phone call creates a much-needed personal connection between teacher and student.

For more tips about teaching and learning online, check out these previous posts: How to Take Classical Education Online and Classical education…online?