Virtual Learning – Students Tell Us What Works

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we made the move all of our classes online in mid-March — and we’ve been learning as we go. Our teachers had little time to plan for this new virtual learning reality — the only real preparation they had was spending one day at school, learning how to use Google Hangouts, Meet, and Zoom. We set up schedules for them that mimicked a shortened school day, beginning at 9:00 instead of 7:30, so that our students would be able to sleep in a little.

We decided not to go with completely asynchronous learning, which would allow students to complete assignments whenever they want, because we felt that many of our students would need a routine to help them through the next weeks. Generally, our teachers use a workshop format for teaching — giving a 15-minute mini-lesson, followed by 45 minutes of work time and a wrap-up. Most teachers kept to this format, using Zoom for mini-lessons, Google Classroom to post work, and Google Hangouts for one-on-one conferencing. 

After two weeks of virtual learning, we surveyed students to see what they felt worked and what didn’t.  This is a summary of what our 5th – 12th graders had to say:

On the most effective online teaching strategies

  • Give students an agenda at the beginning of class; it helps them know what’s expected.
  • Start the class with a small group share — students miss each other and want time to talk. 
  • Zoom works best as a tool — it doesn’t lag and has features that help in group meetings, such as:
    • Teachers can mute all students so people can hear whoever is speaking
    • Students can give a thumbs up or thumbs down depending on their understanding of a teacher’s explanation
    • Students can raise their hands to speak, so the teacher unmutes them — and everyone gets a chance to contribute
  • Start with a short Zoom meeting to give instructions or a mini-lesson. 
  • Put all assignments and lessons on Google Classroom so that students who can’t hear or miss the class can find the work.
  • After giving instructions, let students work independently, but meet with them on Google Hangouts for one-on-one instruction.
  • Use Zoom Breakout rooms for working in groups. When teachers drop into the breakout rooms to help small groups, it’s much more effective than a wider group chat. 
  • Use the screen-sharing feature to give lessons — this helps a lot because they can see the lesson, almost like a classroom whiteboard.
  • Give due dates for work and let students work at their own pace to meet them. (However, all students agreed: due dates are necessary or they procrastinate too much.)
  • At the end of class, have a short 10-minute meeting to recap and allow students ask questions.
  • Change it up a bit or it gets boring: presenting a lesson to the class is great, but other times, mix it up by using Zoom breakout rooms, class discussions, student presentations, or learning games like Kahoot.
  • Give lots of feedback. Students feel that this step is even more important now as “feedback is crucial for online learning.” 
  • Keep assignments shorter because students are having difficulty concentrating. Overall students say that homework seems to take longer now. 
  • Use core practice (relaxation and breathing techniques). Students mention that this is helpful for getting them calmed down and ready for class.

What is their overall feeling about online learning?

  • Students miss their friends and the social aspect of school.
  • Many feel it’s hard to learn without a teacher’s actual presence.
  • Students appreciate being able to work at their own pace.
  • Many love that they are more independent and are taking charge of their own learning!

Students talk about getting headaches if they’re on the computer too much, so they ask to have non-digital assignments as well. Some students love online learning and others hate it, but overall students tend to prefer a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning. They seem to appreciate having a schedule with whole groups meetings. They also like to work on assignments independently, knowing they can reach out and ask for help when they need it.

But the biggest takeaway is that, just like in the physical classroom, the most important thing about virtual learning is the relationship between teachers, students, and classmates. Here’s what students said:

  • “I really enjoy the group conversations that make you feel like you’re part of an actual in-class discussion.”
  • “I like it when teachers give time for students to talk about current news and our feelings.”
  • “Discussions and separating into groups makes it feel like you are sitting in class with your table.”
  • “Just be patient with the students — it’s a scary time for all of us, this is a matter of getting used to this new dynamic. Thanks for taking into consideration how we feel during this unexpected event.”
  • “Teachers should try to keep up the good spirit and look fresh because I think that helps many of us to actually feel better, or more enthusiastic. I think it helps to see that teachers are actually enthusiastic and that they are okay.”

Hopefully we’ll be back in the classroom soon. But, in the meantime, I’m incredibly proud of how hard teachers have worked to meet their students’ needs and help them feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Students seem to agree that their teachers care for them and are doing the very best they can in a tough situation.


  1. Soy madre TCFL y estoy muy orgullosa, bien impresionada por la forma como han manejado esta situación inesperada. Veo a mi hija enfocada, siguiendo la dinámica de su aprendizaje, haciendo historias de las cosas que pasan en el grupo, siguiendo horarios, en fin, me parece que el cambio ha sido muy bien llevado tanto por profesores, alumnos y por supuesto la institución. Gracias a todos y mis respetos. Reciban un abrazo en la distancia.

  2. ¡Gracias por tomar el tiempo de leer y escribir tus comentarios, Katherine! También estoy muy orgullosa de nuestros maestros y estudiantes. Todos han aceptado el desafío y lo han aprovechado al máximo. ¡Ustedes nos hacen mucha falta!

  3. Excellent recap, thanks Carla, this is really useful.

  4. Thanks Carla for taking the time of doing this survey. The information it provides for us teachers is incredibly valuable. Not only we get to hear from students what’s working and what’s not, but we also get a confidence boost that encourages us to continue giving our personal best.
    I think the way kids have responded to the new “normal” also has a lot to do with the TCFL philosophy. Had the students not been autonomous and committed learners, the results would’ve been different.
    The resilience, motivation and self-discipline of most students, and the conjoined effort from teachers and staff, are part of the reasons why we’re so proud to be part of this amazing community.

    • I have to agree Lorena – for years our teachers have worked hard to give our kids the critical thinking skills and the growth mindset they need to make this leap. Amazing teachers, amazing students. I am so proud of all of you.

  5. Tal cual como dice Katherine, mi hijo está involucrado, lo escucho interactuando con sus compañeros como si estuviese en el aula, siendo retado y sin lugar a dudas usando parte de este tiempo largo en aprender y tener un sentido de logro, tan necesario para la salud mental de todos. Profundamente agradecida del esfuerzo.

  6. Only genuine and dedicated teachers can make this happen, I am so happy my kids are part of this wonderful community. I wish every school could implement this way of teaching around the world for times like this. Thanks to all teachers of TCFL for making such an extraordinary effort. We love you all!!!

    • I agree Dian! Teachers, students and parents are all working hard together. We all miss you and can’t wait to see everyone again!

  7. Yolanda Vizcaino April 17, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    Desde el primer dia estoy gratamente sorprendida por la receptividad y responsabilidad mostrada por las chicas y más aún por el alto sentido del deber mostrado por los profesores. Con esto, ambos grupos han demostrado que siguen de buen animo los lineamientos de Carla, Ylonka y Shiselle.
    Mi agradecimiento y mi respeto, al conjunto formado por estudiantes, profesores y directoras.

  8. Martha Contreras April 17, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Me siento muy orgullosa del colegio por su acertada respuesta para posibilitar la continuidad de las clases. En este extraño momento que estamos viviendo todos, la madurez y el discernimiento se imponen, lo cual ha sido inculcado a nuestros hijos durante todos estos años y así han respondido, adaptándose a lo que tienen por el momento para resolver. Mi hijo ha asumido con responsabilidad este reto, aunque dice que quiere que todo esto pase, para volver al colegio y estar con sus amigos. Estamos felices. Nuestro reconocimiento y agradecimiento al colegio en sus directivos Carla, Ylonka y Shiselle y profesores por su proactividad y entereza para hacer esto posible y a los chicos por su paciencia y madurez ante esta circunstancia. Muchas gracias! Son también héroes de esta historia, una vez que todo esto pase Bravo!!

  9. When teachers shift from “coverage” to deep engagement around authentic tasks learning is deeper and more lasting. Nothing as been more “real” than this terrible virus and its impact on our world. I congratulate everyone at TCFL for the excellent work in moving learning online. Stay strong!

    • Thank you Dereck! We appreciate all your help in getting us our Zoom accounts – they have been a crucial piece of this!

    • Thank you Dereck for all of your help! I agree 100% — engagement and authenticity will be our driving forces through all of this. Stay safe!

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