Are you struggling to get your head around the brave new world of remote teaching? It can be immensely frustrating, especially after years of honing your skills in the classroom.
Even though switching to remote teaching can seem daunting at first, rest assured that it relies on techniques you’ve already mastered: proper planning, clarity, checking for understanding, prompt feedback, and being able to adapt on the fly when the aforementioned proper planning falls apart.
But, as all teachers know, knowing what you need to do is very different from knowing how you need to do it. Many of your normal instincts and lesson plans require tweaking to work in a remote environment. You’ll have to find alternative ways to relay information you’re used to just saying out loud or writing on the board.
Don’t worry though, you already learned how to be a great teacher. Now you just need to re-learn how to be a great remote teacher.
Let’s dive into some practical remote teaching tips that will help you help your students access everything they need and develop good learning habits at home.
1. Simplicity is Key
“The biggest challenge of remote teaching is that you aren’t in the room to answer the endless stream of questions kids have any time you give them instructions. They can’t just turn and ask the other students around them for help.
Keeping your lesson plans simple goes a long way towards making things easier for you and your students.”
—Max Daly, 6th Grade Language Arts Teacher
With students all doing their learning from home, the majority of work time is inevitably going to be self-driven. Especially for younger kids, that means the simpler the lesson plan, the more likely they are to finish assignments and keep moving forward.
Try to design remote teaching experiences that give very clear instructions and rely on only one or two documents for students to keep track of. When possible, also try to provide resources like PDFs or slideshows that students can print out or access digitally at all times.
The downside to keeping things simple for students is that it requires even more work on the teacher’s end. Making sure lessons are both concise and engaging takes time, refinement, and a hearty sprinkle of pizazz. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other teachers and see what tips and tricks they can share.
2. Consolidate Your Digital Tools
In that same spirit of simplicity, it’s crucial to keep your remote teaching tools centralized so students aren’t constantly switching from one application to the next. This can be done with a district-provided remote teaching platform like Google Classrooms or Blackboard, or it can even be a class website you whip up yourself!
If you’re on a budget aren’t sure where to start, Google Sites as a simple, easy-to-set-up platform to host all your remote teaching materials.
What’s important is that you provide a single platform your students can visit 24/7 to view assignments, check their grades, take quizzes, etc.
Now, we know every education tool provider under the sun is offering free trials and discounts right now… We also know it can be mighty tempting to try them all out and test the advantages and disadvantages of each. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible move for your students and can quickly make them confused about where to access information and how to stay up-to-date on your class.
It may be difficult to stick with just one platform, especially if you discover something else that strikes your fancy, but students need to feel comfortable going to the same place to access the same tools every day. The longer you teach your students remotely, the more important it is to maintain a stable classroom routine.
Not sure which remote teaching platform is right for you and your students? Check out our full guide to see which one earns top marks.
One final note on picking the right digital tools: if attendance was a challenge for your class before, going remote is only going to make things more difficult. To help keep students from falling out of the loop, make sure that all lectures and assignments are clearly labeled online.
Also, if possible, try to announce virtual office hours on your platform so students who need extra help/time on assignments know exactly when and where to come to you.
3. Encourage Participation During Presentations
In the classroom, your students are used to asking questions, having important information repeated, and being quizzed for understanding. The good news is they can do all that during remote teaching too! Just… remotely.
Whether students engage directly with the presentation or answer questions afterward, make sure you’re not just lecturing to your webcam for hours on end.
Pose questions to your students. Even if you’re not actually grading or collecting the answers, this will give students a good idea of how well they’re understanding the material. If you’re using an application like Google Slides, consider adding triggers so the class can vote for answers.
If you reference a resource during a presentation, add the link for your students so they can follow it directly afterwards. Beyond providing more information on a topic, this can be a nice way to add breaks to your class and give students time to work off-camera.
Once a presentation is over, have students respond to them either in writing or by recording their own review video. It’s up to you whether you want to provide a prompt or leave feedback open-ended.
Finally, try to introduce opportunities for students to teach each other. Most students benefit from multiple explanations, and when they’re asked to explore a topic themselves, they may come up with examples that make more sense to their peers than yours do. Plus, with their entire education now happening through a screen. They’ll also enjoy interacting with each other in a slightly different way.
4. Prioritize Student-Driven Assignments
We already talked about keeping instructions simple, but that philosophy can only get your class so far. Some subjects simply can’t be whittled down to a single set of directions. It’s only a matter of time before more students than you can handle demand personal attention.
Don’t hit that panic button yet, new remote teachers! You just need to get creative, and give those kids a bit of busywork.
The key to managing your remote teaching time (and more importantly your sanity), is to prioritize longer, student-driven projects. The idea of giving your students simple directions and then releasing them into the wild for extended stretches may seem, well, terrifying. But when you’re building and adapting a brand new curriculum on the fly, from far away, it can buy you valuable time to keep planning ahead.
It also gives both you and your students breaks from staring at your computers, which is always a plus.
Keep in mind, we’re not suggesting total autonomy for your students. Always make sure there are a clear set of deadlines that need to be met. Schedule opportunities for students to collaborate and discuss what they’re learning with each other. If you have the time, even pass along some easy games or other ways to get families and friends involved to really build that engagement.
5. Try to Give Each Student Personal Attention
Inevitably, what your students miss most is also going to be what’s hardest for you to replicate in a remote teaching environment: the personal bond you build with each of them in the classroom.
The little moments you share in the hallways, after class, or during breaks are irreplaceable. However, if you want to keep your students engaged, you’ll have to find up with new ways to add a personal touch to your lessons.
Creating a “class newsletter” you email out to your students weekly or monthly is one way you can have some fun outside of normal lectures. When time permits, also consider sending personalized video messages to provide feedback or ask how students are doing. Even a quick chat message is often enough to make students feel like you care about them beyond just your lesson plan.
However you choose to give personal attention to your students remotely, they will appreciate your effort.
6. Use Games and Contests to Increase Engagement
Teachers have been using games and contests to keep students engaged since the beginning of time, but depending on the age of your students, this can actually be the most important skill of all for remote lessons.
For instance, instead of just taking attendance at the start of a video call, send the link to a Google Form that asks a fun question like “What’s your favorite dinosaur?” for students to answer.
Games provide opportunities for kids to learn new skills and build social connections with other students. They also allow kids to try out ideas and use what they’ve been learning without the pressure of a normal classroom environment.
During contests, you can see how much students understand the material and adjust your future lessons accordingly. It’s also a great opportunity for students to work in a group and talk freely together.
Yes, creating playful experiences remotely is often more complicated (and takes far more planning) than regular lessons on reading, math, or writing. But when your students spend all day staring at a computer screen instead of interacting with their classmates, you’ll find it’s a necessary part of keeping them engaged.
7. Post Info in Multiple Places
One of the worst things that can happen to a remote student is for them to fall behind and start feeling like there’s no way to catch back up.
In the classroom, they can simply borrow someone’s notes or ask the teacher what they missed before class. At home, with no one else around, it's all too easy for kids to panic.
Whenever you give instructions for assignments and projects during a lecture, make sure they’re also viewable online and sent as an email or direct message. Different students have different schedules and access to technology, so try to put yourself in many sets of shoes and make sure you could access all the info you need in each.
After each presentation, make sure the slides are available online for any students who missed class or need a second look. Even better, record your presentations and post the videos so all students can benefit from your personal touches and questions from their classmates.
8. Show Your Face as Much as Possible
Talking into a webcam is a very different experience from standing in front of a classroom. Unsurprisingly, many teachers find it awkward and unpleasant, even those who have been giving lectures for decades.
If you find yourself reluctant to keep your camera on during class time, that’s fair, but you’re going to have to suck it up.
According to Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a family physician and youth development expert who has created an e-course for parents and educators to help them navigate virtual teaching:
"One of the things we're so worried about our kids missing out on is oxytocin. I know we don't think about it that way but that's the chemical we get when we get to be with or see or hear people that are important to us. The feeling of connectivity, that feeling of being okay is really benefited by seeing faces.”
9. Stay in touch with parents
With everyone learning from home, staying in regular communication with parents is critical for keeping up with how your students are really doing.
Depending on your time constraints, you could do this over email, text, or through your school’s remote teaching platform. Additionally, remind parents to keep tabs on your school’s website and social media accounts so they’re never out of the loop.
It can be overwhelming to suddenly have to homeschool a child. Let parents know you appreciate them helping out and making remote teaching easy peasy lemon squeezy (compared to how it could go).
10. Be Honest that You’re Learning Too
After years of honing your skills in many different classroom environments, you’re now being asked to step into a brand new environment with all new challenges. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your students or, if they’re too young, their parents.
More often than not, this will be the first remote learning experience for your students too. When you mess up (and rest assured you will), be honest that you’re along for the ride with them and still have a lot to learn.
Worst case scenario, they become frustrated that remote learning isn’t going as smoothly as they’re used to in a classroom. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do to fix that right now. So remind them you’re all in this together, and get back to the topic at hand.
For even more tips on how to become a remote teaching guru, give us a call at 303-GO-CLOUD or ask our communications experts at [email protected].