The 2020-2021 school year has been an experiment for sure, and whether you’re in person, all virtual, or a Frankenstein of both, you’re likely trying to keep your head bolted to your neck. Luckily, we’ve had no end to the amazing technology helping us along. However, as engagement and learning experiences have shifted, so have the ways we interact. Here are six things I do in my classrooms that have improved the student experience this past year.
Be available outside of class (reasonably, of course)
If one of my students is showing interest outside of class, I want to meet them with the same level of zeal. I check our online class chat as prep, which shows the students that go the extra mile that I’m there to work with them even when I don’t see them. And for the students that need a boost, I can review their work and get back to them before the next class, setting them up for better success for when we do meet next.
Make specific and meaningful comments on work
Awesome job and Keep it up are nice and all, but really just bookend the important stuff. When I call out specific aspects of a student’s project, I demonstrate that I can tell their work apart from their peers. When I make suggestions that inspire and guide, students are given a greater sense of direction. Commenting on a live document, referencing that individual line of code, or linking to additional resources, helps me to integrate this practice with technology and gos beyond the traditional red marker on paper.
The occasional email to students can go a long way in helping them succeed in class. I have an in-person class that will occasionally meet online during snow days. After some absences and class link confusion, I decided a quick email might do the trick, and like magic, they now all show up.
Encourage, but don’t enforce, varying types of virtual participation
I’ve had virtual classrooms with students ranging from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and the variety in types and amount of interaction has been just as wide. Your school requirements notwithstanding, I aim to be approachable when it comes to things like “cameras on” and verbal participation. Virtual hand-raise or Zoom chat might not just be easier for you to manage, but the preferred way to speak up from the student. But if an AFK turns into an MIA, I’ll call them out on it. There’s a balance of comfort and accountability that’s important to maintain.
Share screen collaboration
Some of my most successful periods this year have been when students share their screen, which I suppose is the new “standing in front of the class”. The level of individual engagement and class collaboration exceeds expectations when my students share what they’ve been working on. It’s even better when we do a bit of “bug hunting” and try to solve the coding mistake in a student’s project. In an in-person or hybrid class, I’ve had the same results when projecting student work for all to see.
Virtual backgrounds and other goofiness
Sometimes the right background, emoji, or filter sets the mood just right, especially on a Friday. Your mileage may vary, but you know your kids best, so consider bringing some levity to a virtual class when needed. Just ensure them that you’re here live and not a cat.
Since online space has become an educational platform, it’s imperative that we utilize its strengths to work for both teachers and students for continued success. If you have class tips and practices that best leverage tech, let’s keep the conversation going! I can be found on Twitter @rjkbsd and would love to hear from you.