Designing Awesome Virtual Learning Experiences

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Many teachers have found out that we are doing distance learning for the remainder of the school year. There has also been some talk of doing something similar in the fall in a lot of districts. It’s been hard. Hard on the students, the teachers, and the parents.

And for those of us used to being in the classroom relishing the variety and unpredictability that the school day provides, the remote learning environment can seem like a foreign land. We get over a hundred assignments every day. And get very little feedback. Plus no contact with other humans.

Here are some suggestions for bridging the gap in instruction. We can make the most of the digital learning experience by doing a few simple things.

Stay in touch with your students.

One of the hardest things about remote learning is we don’t get to see our students. Not only do we miss their faces, but we don’t get feedback about how things are going.

If it’s possible, schedule some video conferences with your students just to check in. Five minutes is all it takes. And you can allow them to conference in groups if that’s more their speed. If that’s not possible, send a note to them just to check in. Make sure you know you are concerned about them and wish them well.

For more ideas, read this post about more ways to stay in touch with students.

Let them know in advance what they have to do.

One of the biggest problems my students have had is when they don’t know what they are doing until the day they start working. That’s because I lot of us were only releasing work the day that it was due. Therefore, students didn’t know if they were waking up to do one hour or three hours of work.

As a result I now post a video and an agenda on Sunday that tells them what they have to do for the week so they can plan ahead.

Use video and audio.

Record videos of yourself explaining a lesson, or going over a chapter of a book. Load them into Google Docs and provide a link that way. Screencastify is a great to record your screen for lessons.

Audio is also a great tool for leaving comments. And if not talking about the voice transcription tools (although I like those too for leaving comments) but actually recording your voice. I get tired of typing all day, so recording my voice for essays is a nice break. Plus, once you get the hang of it it’s faster and friendlier.

Be flexible.

If it’s possible with your students, give them a selection of things to do for the week and let them choose when they do them. I create five tasks and they can do them in any order. Student like the ability to choose when they’ll do things in case they have a big test or some family responsibilities they need to work around.

Use rubrics.

You aren’t around to provide them guidance for assignments, and rubrics will help them know what to do. It’s worth spending the time to design thorough rubrics that tell students exactly what they need to do to earn all the points. Tell them they need to use three sentences. Or three direct quotes. If you add descriptors for each category, it will help them know what they need to do. Read more on how to design rubrics.

Have them hand in assignments using a variety of methods.

In the virtual learning world, not everything has to be a worksheet. Have students submit videos. They can talk about a book they are reading or explain a concept. Or have them draw pictures, like sketchnotes or a sociogram. Not only will they like the variety, but you will too when you sit down to grade everything.

Give them a break.

You might have to collect something everyday, but it doesn’t have to be something rigorous all the time. Have them take a picture of themselves reading their novel. Ask them who their favorite character is (or if you’re up for a more off-the-wall question, ask them to say what condiment a character would be.)

You can also ask students to do fun assignments that have nothing to do with your class, but give them a break. Like make a meal for the family and post a picture. Or do your own laundry.

Don’t forget that you can always give things a complete/incomplete as well. It’s a good option for these quick assignments that don’t require a lot of work.

And most importantly: Be compassionate.

You really don’t know what’s going on with students right now. They might not be completing their work because they’re lazy, but it’s just as likely that they are struggling with depression, or anxiety, or difficult family situations. Your student may have to take care of their younger siblings while their parents are at work, and can’t get to their own schoolwork until 8 at night. It’s hard to do your best work under those circumstances.

Be flexible with due dates and always assume that kids are struggling with something if they aren’t turning in work. Make sure you contact the student or the parents and find out.

Have fun!

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We need to keep our classes lighthearted and one way to do that is through comics! If you teach ELA I have a series of comics that tackle serious language arts concepts in a lighthearted way your students will love. I have a series of lessons done as comics that address various ELA topics like grammar, poetry, editing, and Shakespeare, all of which are well suited to a remote learning environment. All the fun is there for you, and your kids will love studying any of these topics because they’ll get a new comic every day! Please check out my resources and let the learning begin! Click on Robert Frost below to get a free lesson!

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If you need more resources ….

Here are some more blog posts on remote learning:

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