Will it be more of the Same or Something New?
Teachers around the world made a highly impressive transition on extremely short notice to remote learning over the past few months. And most of the time, this occurred with practically no guidance or support. Consequently, while the transition was indeed laudable, it wasn’t always so smooth.
Some schools lacked a more sophisticated understanding of the wealth of possibilities afforded by remote learning, essentially replacing face-to-face learning with an online platform. This may have involved scanning reading material or worksheets for the students to access, with the expectation that the students would respond in the “traditional manner”- on paper.
This is the lowest degree of technology integration, according to Reuben Puentedura’s SAMR model. Technology is not merely about finding digital substitutes for the “old,” but innovation as well. In fact, it is nothing less than a redefinition of learning.
As we look to resume online learning in the new school year, we have an excellent opportunity to transform the experience for both teachers and students in critical ways by adhering to six practical, proven online learning practices.
1. Make the Content Accessible
Creating accessible content doesn’t only mean to share the correct link to the content. It requires the conscious reduction of barriers to comprehension. Only when those barriers are removed can you be sure that access is inclusive regarding those whose native tongue isn’t English or those who are affected by disabilities.
Accessible content means that you must create content, or source other content, ensuring its accessibility. This means that the content must be able to be read by a screen reader, translated, or completed online. And it may require learning how to create content that has alternative text, proper heading structure, meaningful hyperlinks, closed captioning for videos, and adequate color contrast.
2. Build and Strengthen Bonds
All teachers know the importance of developing meaningful relationships with their students. With remote learning, this skill is even more critical. Be imaginative in finding tools and techniques that will strengthen the bond with your students, such as:
Create a short, personal video for each of your students.
Enjoy emojis and GIFs with your students to show that you are with them.
Find ways to express your approval when a student does good work.
Use a tool such as Mentimeter to facilitate real-time input from students.
Schedule a weekly time to connect with your students and chat with them.
3. Don’t Try so Hard
One of the significant advantages of online learning is that tons of high-quality materials are already out there, and many are free, so you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There is no reason for teachers to feel pressured into a curriculum writer’s role; this work has already been taken care of by other professionals.
It behooves you as a teacher to become familiar with existing resources. This is not just a matter of making it easier for you. When you utilize curriculums that have already been created, you have more time to focus on your primary role — being a teacher: helping students learn, fostering connections, building relationships, and ensuring that your students’ social-emotional needs are met.
Two excellent resources to find such content are:
Wide Open School from Common Sense: Wide Open School is a free collection of the best online learning experiences for pre-kindergarten – grade 12, curated by the editors at Common Sense.
@SchoolAnytime from Teaching Matters: These are multi-day student projects that teachers can customize for K – 8 students learning online.
4. Stimulate Dynamic Interaction
Technology can be an excellent way for students and teachers to connect and have fun.
Begin the class with some uplifting, positive music (piped in remotely).
Allow students time to socialize by starting class early.
Mix in funny content here and there to keep things on the lighter side.
Create breakout rooms online to encourage student interaction and collaboration.
5. Integrate Expertise
Take advantage of the remote venue to invite guests and speakers who probably wouldn’t consider making a trip to your classroom. Or tap the expertise in one of your students’ families. You could even consider “bringing in” the author of the book the children are reading.
6. Foster Responsible Digital Citizens
The students must become responsible digital citizens. This is a teacher’s responsibility, and it includes both instruction and discussion. Even though this should have been in place before the pandemic, things need to be refreshed.
Students need to be made aware of their digital footprint, how to communicate online effectively, the tools available to them in digital spaces, and how to deal with those situations when they feel uncomfortable or unsafe online.
Here are a few quality resources that are available to support this: