A useful question to ask your students about online learning

Teaching in Melbourne, I am about to start my second round of online classes. I am taking some time to remind myself of the lessons I learnt from my and other people's experience in lockdown 1.0. Some of the best student feedback that I received from the last period was due to a question that was suggested by my school's principal:
How did I, as a teacher, help you learn during the lockdown?


My take aways from Lockdown 1.0:

Show them that you care

As students trickled in at the beginning of each session, I made sure I had a word with each one of them. It may have been a simple "Welcome, Sarah. I you're having a good day" or "Is there one enjoyable activity you're able to do now which you couldn't do at school?"
The students seemed to appreciate this and it was one way I could maintain a positive relationship with them.

Keep the workload manageable

Early on, I was encouraged by my head of faculty to cover the essentials of each topic only. The principal reminded us that all work being done by the students was now "homework", so don't set them even more. The students clearly appreciated this:
You never loaded us with a lot of homework given the circumstances and the fact that it was a bit tough to learn maths from a computer screen.

Check for understanding, often

As teachers, we are used to "reading the room". This is harder to do online, especially with students turning off their cameras. I found that regular checks were useful for me and appreciated by -most, not all- students:
  1. Multiple choice quizzes
  2. Asking questions, even very simple ones, of every student, every lesson. This is just to make sure they're "following".
  3. Ask student to submit a scan of one problem from their problem set on Google Classroom.
As a rule of thumb, I aim to have some written feedback for each students once a week. This is posted on the school's LMS so that the parents can see it too.

Follow up on submissions

Given that looking at submissions was my only way of seeing what students could or could not do, I needed to follow up on non-submissions. It is easy for a student to "dodge" submitting something when you're not there to look at their work. As a Year 10 student wrote me,
If you didn't care about (ensuring work was handed in) I probably would've forgotten about it.


Keep all instructions in one shared document

This is something that I didn't do in the first lockdown and which cost me and some students time and effort! Some students do not organise their electronic files very well. This should have been obvious but I trusted in what I thought were clever tricks I had used to help the student keep their files organised.
This time, this is what I intend to do:
  • Have one Google Doc with all the instructions required throughout a topic. 
  • Add to the document as necessary. 
  • Keep a link to this document at the top of Google Classroom, with the link to the Zoom session
Thanks to my colleague, Tracey Gannon, for this tip.

Email them on the morning of each class

Before I shutdown each evening, I schedule an email to my classes for the next day. The email either reminds them of the time we will start our Zoom sessions, which is usually a little later than the actual session as a way of forcing myself to "keep it short", or to remind them that we won't be going online but such and such work needs to be completed.

Dismiss them but stay on the line

Students found it helpful that:
  • They didn't have to stay online until the last question was answered
  • They could stay on the line until they were sure they understood what to do
Even when you're not teaching them synchronously, it is helpful that they know you'll answer an email question either with a reply or with an invitation to "jump on Zoom for an explanation".

Post a video

I always posted recordings, trimmed at the beginning and end, on Google Classroom. You don't want these to be long. The students really appreciated this.
Another type of video is a pre-recorded demo of a key skill. This needs to be short, to the point and cover one concept only.

Encourage, don't assume, independence

Depending on the class and how young the students are, I didn't always feel that they were ready to choose to work offline very often. I felt that I needed to train them for this and I could do it more often as the lockdown period went on. I wouldn't keep them online until the last problem was completed either.

Stay positive for their sake and for your own!

Everyone is a bit stressed and out of their routines. To say "be patient" may sound condescending, so I won't say it :) I will, however, encourage you to celebrate the smallest wins. Recognise every bit of progress made. 

One for the children (the ones in my house)

On the off chance that one of my children comes across this, I want them to see these comments from two Year 7 students:

You made it more enjoyable by telling jokes and singing amazing songs.
Also ur singing was immmmmaculate.

Final word - A question to ask your students

Once you have taught a few online lessons, I encourage you to ask your students this question, courtesy of my principal, Dr Michelle Cotter (I have changed the tense):
What am I, as your teacher, doing that is helping you learn during this lockdown?
You'll be surprised what you'll learn.

Comments

Jac said…
Thanks Ziad! Some great tips & timely reminders!

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