Distance Learning and Virtual Teaching Tips

You may have begun the year fully virtual or just now switching to Distance Learning due to the rising cases of covid-19. Either way, many teachers are looking at ways to engage their students through online learning during this unprecedented time in education. 

I recently met with a diverse group of high school and middle school social studies teachers (on Zoom, of course) to talk about what's working and what's not as far as virtual learning. 

Included here is a list of our best advice to those of you who are teaching virtually. There's obviously various learning platforms and forms this can take (synchronous or asynchronous). However, these tips should be helpful no matter how your school is conducting things. 

1) Over explain everything!

No matter how simple or obvious you think a topic or assignment might be, explain it as simply as you can and then explain it again. 

Provide written instructions that students can see on screen while you explain things and then make sure they're available after.  With my Google resources for World History, I break up digital packets to assign just one page at a time. Then, I go through the directions, demonstrate the tools needed, and show a sample version.

It's also great if you can remain online and available for questions for a while after students begin an assignment. Often, they won't think of a question until after they begin. 

2) Simplify everything!

A good rule of thumb is to take what you used to do in one lesson and make it two lessons.

Of course, you likely can't make it through your curriculum taking twice as long for everything. That's why you need to simply and trim the fat from all your lessons. 

As history teachers, we naturally want to explain everything, give details, context, backstory, etc. Sadly, this just isn't possible with Distance Learning. It's best for you and the students to make everything as simple as possible.

What does this look like? Well, let's say you're going over the M.A.I.N. causes of WWI. Instead of fully explaining each and connecting to previous units on imperialism and nationalism, just list them, give a short explanation, and move on.

My US History Google Classroom resources focus on the essential learning students need to know based on a variety of state and national standards. The unit guide packets in particular are perfect for helping students to focus on what's most important for each unit.

For submitting work, use Google Forms as much as possible. It makes it so much easier to keep track of and grade. With all my curriculum units, I have Google Forms assessments for each unit that can be graded automatically so you and students know immediately how they did! 

3) Make Live Classes Engaging

Stand up and move around. Express yourself. Use big gestures and lots of energy. You will look alive and stand out. 

In every way try to make class joyful and energetic. Nearly every student, teacher, and parent is tired, stressed, burned out, etc. Every little bit of enthusiasm you can muster makes a big difference. 

I use a lot of flipped classroom video lessons with students. However, before each one I engage kids with some small talk and try to connect their lives to the content we're covering. 

If it's hard for you to do, use memes, funny videos,  jokes of the day, silly gifs, etc every day. Kids will look forward to it!

4) Dual Monitors Are a Lifesaver!

This is a technical one but will make your life so much easier when you're teaching online. It can be multiple laptops, a desktop, extra iPad, Chromebook, phone, etc.

This way, you can have the Meet or Zoom on one screen to see your students and run your Google Slides. Your other device can be used to check students in and if there's an issue with one, you have a backup. It's also helpful that you can see the student view on one of them. 

5) Give Yourself & Your Students Grace

Your students are going to be lethargic and disengaged. They miss their friends, in addition to missing theater, sports, clubs, dances, movies, extended family, and everything else. 

It's been really hard for them. Be forgiving. Check on how they're doing emotionally as much as you can. Breakout rooms are another great way to help kids connect with their peers in a "safer" environment. 

Another easy trick to check-in on kids is to use an attendance Google Form with a scale for how they're feeling (fantastic, good, just ok, meh, bad, need to talk). You can also add an open-ended question on anything you should know. Most students won't use it, but some might and it can be very helpful. 

Also, try to share some good news every day, This can be specifically or for kids or just in general. When you're kids are working hard, definitely acknowledge it. 

If you think you might need all of the resources mentioned here, you can join Students of History. When you sign up, you'll get immediate access to ALL these digital notebooks, video lessons with guided notes, digital unit guide packets PLUS tons more engaging US History activities that work seamlessly for Distance Learning!

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