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.