7 Easy and Effective Ideas to enhance Remote Learning Classrooms

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Jay Rehak, Writer/Editor

While I’ve been a traditional classroom teacher for thirty-five years, I’ve been teaching remotely for a mere eight months. Abruptly brought on as a result of the Covid-19 virus, this current “new normal”  has required me to adapt my lesson plans to better help my students stay “present” during classroom instruction. While I’ve done my best to keep students engaged, I recognize many have distractions inside their home environments that I can only imagine. So although each of my classes is intended to be meaningful, I am also mindful of the stresses students face and as a consequence, my lessons are an attempt at both teaching and soothing.

To that end, here are 7 ideas that I have used to help me keep students attending and actively participating in my high school English classes. I offer them as suggestions to my colleagues and look forward to hearing back from them with their thoughts and insights into remote learning.

1) Play a song garnered from YouTube at the beginning of class that students have listed on a shared Google Doc spreadsheet. Why do this? Because it sets a mood of collegiality. When students pick the music, and you play it (you share it on your Google Classroom screen) it shows a respect for the students you serve.   While some of the music may not be your jam, you may find that you enjoy some of it, and more importantly, students know that you’re not being judgmental. (I sometimes thank the students for introducing me to a song I didn’t know.) If a student “Rick Rolls” you with their favorite song, you can still play the song and tell students that you didn’t select it, one of their colleagues did. If it’s funny to them, that’s okay, no harm, no foul.

2) No matter how you take attendance, take a voice roll call in the class at some point, random best. This is done for a few reasons. One, it is important that students speak in class every day, and by speaking, students become more familiar to their teachers and their colleagues. Secondly, by making the roll call random, students will be required to attend to the classroom experience. Third, the classroom becomes less about the teacher’s voice, but more about everyone’s voice. Regardless of circumstance, all students are important to the chemistry of the class, and by “mandating” at least a short utterance of “here” or “present,” teachers ensure that all students are validated on a daily basis. This may seem insignificant, but without being prompted, some students can go days without having classmates hear their voices.

3) Dress professionally. Depending on your perspective, this may seem obvious or inconsequential. Research has demonstrated that, even as we teach remotely, our actions (verbal and non-verbal) are being scrutinized by younger people. Our tone, our demeanor, and the way we present ourselves give young people an indication of how older people act under stress, how older people perceive the importance of remote learning, and indeed, how older people feel about the future. Our body language and the way we dress are all visual clues and cues into our adult perspective on the overarching value of teaching in a pandemic. Our job is to project competency, confidence, and the importance of learning. Dressing for class suggests we, as educators, recognize the value of our shared remote experience.

4) Teach mini lessons that require people to respond in the chat or a poll. Do not underestimate the value of these seemingly “minor” instructional moments. They are often the most remembered element of a class. Make the lesson quick but effective and relevant to the larger classroom objective : Example: I discuss the word and idea, “Segue” and explain that most people in the world don’t know how to spell it, but now my students (you) do. I then explain that a “segue” is a transition, etc. and explain that when driving a car with manual transmission, it’s important to make a smooth transition from one gear to another, otherwise, the car and the passengers in the car are jolted.   A smooth transition or segue is important in speaking, writing and in video creation. We discuss the word and idea, and then I make everyone in class write, “segue” in the chat box. It proves to me they were listening or and it allows students to see the word repeatedly, thus embedding the idea into their minds (sort of like a repeated ad does on television) Students can’t help but remember that a “segue” is a transition. Then I segue into another lesson.

5) Ask students for their favorite educational websites and share them with the class, again, via the same shared Google Spreadsheet.

 

The goal is to make the class as interactive as possible, while providing students time to reflect and create. By giving students “leadership roles” in the creation and dissemination of classroom content, students are empowered and invested in the daily routines of the class.

Remember: no single one of us knows more than all of us collectively. Students have insights that add to the dynamics of the class. Whether it’s Khan Academy, WolframAlpha, Skillshare, Crashcourse, desmos, SCI, MathPapa, AtlasObscura or other dynamic educational websites, students should be aware of these 24/7 learning opportunities. Providing awareness of and appreciation for these educational websites will help students become lifelong independent learners, which, in the end, should be the educator’s primary goal.

6) Show up a few minutes early whenever possible and greet early participants with enthusiasm. Conversely, don’t be late in arriving at the remote learning class. Arriving late diminishes the value of remote learning and implies an indifference to the limited time we have with our students.

7) Make your background intentional. Everything the student sees matters and should in some way reinforce the message you are trying to transmit. In my case, I try to promote competence, collegiality and creativity. My goal is for students to understand that I know what I’m doing, I respect who they are, and I believe creativity is the greatest use of our talents and should be encouraged not only in ourselves but in others. Creative people need to support and encourage other creative people.  (See picture below)

In an ideal world, remote learning would not have been thrust on any of us, neither the instructor nor the learners. But because we are still in the throes of a pandemic, we need to be mindful of our task as the adult at the center of the remote learning experience. Our job is to provide a positive meaningful learning environment for all students, regardless of the location from where they are learning. Creating that environment with the students is the best way to ensure that meaningful learning continues despite the less than ideal situation we find ourselves in.