Whether you’re looking to be more tech-savvy in your regular classroom because your students love to explore technology or you’re scrambling to navigate the virtual world because of a sudden need to teach remotely, there are many ways you can add digital learning to your repertoire. This blog post will give you tips on how to really be successful with online teaching. You can use this for students who are homebound, traveling abroad for a family event, for centers, or to make yourself more marketable. (The more tricks in your bag, the better, right?)
First, the basics:
Overcome Mental Blocks
You don’t have to be a digital god or goddess to use tech. There are dozens of websites for various subjects that will help you offer immersive, interactive options or simple online worksheets. Don’t feel like you must master the webcam and screen-sharing instantly. There are blogs from other teachers, online support groups for cyber teachers, and IT coordinators at most schools if you need specific help. In short, you can do this. You’re going to be fine.
Think Short-Term at First
Think about planning a one-week unit before you think about digitizing your whole curriculum. Break your instruction into small chunks, one class at a time and string them together with a common theme. A stand-alone assignment or a small unit that ties to your overarching theme is fine as long as you feel it is meaningful and in your comfort zone. Once you complete the one-week unit, look back and reflect. What was successful and what was stressful? Take the best practices and use them for the lesson plans for next week. Be easy on yourself. Learn as you go.
Flexibility is a Must
Be aware that what your students’ digital work could take more or less time than it would if you had directly instructed it in your classroom. This might be especially true if your students are working from home. Maybe they’ll have parental support, perhaps they’ll be flying solo. One student might thrive in a quieter atmosphere of home, while others thrive on social learning and have a hard time forcing themselves to stay on task. Make your expectations realistic and flexible. Communicate to parents about what you NEED to have completed vs. what you WANT to have completed. You may want to offer choices for how the assignment is assessed and offer extra credit if multiple options are selected by the student. For example, after reading an online assignment, students have the option to complete the required short quiz, or/and write and illustrate ten key facts from the text. One student might breeze through the short quiz while it will take another half an hour. The backup assignment for fast-finishers will stimulate their brains and extend the time they spend on academics, something that can be a big concern when students aren’t in the school building itself.
This leads me to discuss differentiation. If you have been following me, you know that I am a big supporter of differentation. Online learning is no different than teaching in the classroom. Students need to have access to materials on their level and learning styles. These DIFFERENTIATION BLOGPOSTS will explain differentiation and give you ideas to use with your students.
And Now… Options for your digital bag of tricks.
Start off simple- offer a virtual tour for your students. Many famous museums have virtual tour options. Take the tour yourself first and share a digital scavenger hunt list with your students. Have them choose one exhibit they love and write a paragraph about its history, origins, or a personal reflection. Tie in literature to the event by uploading a chapter, poem, or short story that ties into the exhibit. Cross-curricular learning, anyone? If you’re not able to upload a chapter or story, check out awesome sites that are free for educators like Readworks.org and Commonlit.org. I also have free resources located HERE.
WebQuests are guided trips through websites, usually with a packet or activity set to complete. For example, if you want your students to learn about a particular figure, you might direct them to five or ten different websites that contain information about the person. For each website, give your students a task, which can be as simple as finding a favorite image, fact, or meaningful quote or as complex as determining the purpose of text features, analyzing information, or writing a summary. At the end of the webquest, students turn in their work either digitally or in hard copy, however you choose. You can make a WebQuest yourself with a little effort, but you can also find WebQuests ready-made at sites like Teach-nology, WebQuest.org, and TeachersPayTeachers. I have a fun Chocolate Webquest in my TPT store as well.
Some students need that audio-visual component, chunked lessons, and lots of guidance. Video learning may be the perfect tool for you. Lots of educational websites offer short videos with quizzes embedded in them or following them. You can preview the videos and make your own quiz. You could make use of sites like Discovery Education or Youtube and share links with your students, ask them to watch segments and then answer questions you’ve devised, or respond in another way, like an opinion essay, a slide presentation, or poster. Another wonderful site that many teachers love is Edpuzzle.com. It’s free to use and lets you cut, copy, and edit videos to insert your own questions, as well as find videos others have already edited with questions. The answers can be open-ended or multiple choice and you can insert as many or as little as you choose. You can use sites like Nearpod to record videos of your own that are included in slides you create or use one of their many lessons already created. I created a Series of Step-by-Step Writing Videos to teach students how to write a sentence, paragraph, and essay.
Educational Apps and Websites
Digital learning isn’t meant to replace direct instruction, it’s meant to add to it, support it, and enrich it. Sometimes, thanks to video learning, you can directly instruct your students in a virtual way. In many cases, your students just need to be reviewing and practicing a concept. There are dozens of educational games, apps, and websites where students can practice reading, math, science, and history skills. Many of them are free or offer district-wide and school-wide licenses. Readworks, NewsELA, Funbrain, Khan Academy, Freckle, and RAZKids are sites with varying price points, many having free programs. Some of them might be worth looking into if you plan to make digital learning part of your daily curriculum.
Wish you could be there with your kids, but for one reason or another, you can’t be? There are several reliable digital screen sharing services including Zoom Meetings, Google Hangouts, GotoMeeting, and others. Set up a time with your students and your families where you’ll be live-teaching or there to answer questions about the work you assigned. Think of it as digital office hours. Some of your students may not be able to come to those sessions for various reasons, so be prepared to support them in other ways or videotape the session to post afterwards. Depending on your population, attending these live sessions could be a bonus, bot not count toward a grade. Even the best-laid plans go wrong with technology at times!
For many learners, either those who are independent or those who have good support at home, they may not need much to thrive in a remote setting. Using a digital classroom site like Schoology or Google Classroom can let you post assignments and resources for students. You can offer feedback and comments to students individually as well as create and share whole class announcements. I love this youtube video this teacher created for her students on HOW TO LEARN IN AN ONLINE CLASSROOM. There are many quality resources on TeachersPayTeachers that offer formats to use for online learning. Powerpoints, PDFs, videos, and Google Docs and Slides can be easily implemented into your digital classroom.
Scaffolding is another important strategy for teaching. Students need that Step-by-Step instruction especially if they are learning remotely. Scaffolding also means to offer support. Throughout the lessons, provide a way for students to respond if they need help. You can offer a survey or an exit ticket. That way you can communicate and help them along their learning process. These SCAFFOLDING BLOGPOSTS will guide you to provide the right instruction for your group of students.
Brave New World?
Realities shift constantly for teachers, but we shift with them. Our priorities never change– we’re there for the students. We do our best for them, learn from them, and for them. Everything you learn ultimately helps you become a better teacher, capable of reaching more students with more variety. Digital learning might seem like a brave new world for you- but isn’t that the heart of teaching? Every new student is a new world for us. Teachers open new worlds for students all the time.
Take a deep breath. You got this. You always have.
Related Blog Post: How to Support Digital Learning with Quality Resources
Related Post: How to Make the Most Useful Workspace for Homeschool