Teaching Online During Lockdown

Tips and Strategies for Success

We are certainly living in interesting times with COVID-19 shaking up 2020. If you are suddenly required to teach online, here are some tips and strategies to make it a little easier. With students being required to learn from home, it is important to remember that we are not requiring parents to be teachers. You are the educational expert and while parents may play a role in encouraging their child to take part in online lessons and to do the work you have set, it is not the parents’ role to instantly understand physics or be the physical education teacher. The pressure of achievement and handing work in needs to be eased and a focus on ensuring you are giving meaningful work is important. If students do it – great. If they don’t – that should be fine, too. Many families are navigating huge emotions of having lost their jobs or doing their job from home, whilst parenting, home schooling, wondering how to get groceries and still doing the laundry and cooking healthy meals.

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The Challenges
The biggest challenge for many students will be the multitude of distractions they have at home. Social media, Netflix, TV, online games, YouTube, Tik Tok, cat videos, the fridge and so on. In fact, these may also be big distractions for you suddenly working from home, too!

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Sugata Mitra, best known for his “Hole in the Wall,” experiment and TED talks. He has a wonderful quote which I have never forgotten: Every classroom should have a Play Station or an X-Box in the corner and teachers need to be better than that!

This is possibly more relevant in today’s time as ever before. The essence of his quote is that we, as teachers, need to be providing education that is meaningful, purposeful and creates the challenge to level up and progress in small bite size pieces – ultimately using gamification strategies. See more about this at https://www.iste.org/explore/In-the-classroom/5-ways-to-gamify-your-classroom. The bottom line is that our lessons need to be more exciting than the technology they have access to.

The second challenge often talked about in online learning is attention span. I have heard the statistics about how children and adults have the attention span of a goldfish. I’m not sure if this is really true as I watch children totally focused for hours on their online games, playing sports, reading a book or singing to their
favourite music. I do not believe it is a challenge with attention span. I think it is about engagement.

The neuroscience is clear that the brain copes better with shorter sessions rather than long learning times. Dr John Medina, in his celebrated, 12 Brain Rules book, suggests taking small brain breaks often. Great junior school teachers know this. When they see students fidgeting, chatting or moving more than they usually do, they may ask them to stand up and turn around three times and sit down. This is known as a mini brain break. Teaching online will be the same. If you are providing videos for students to watch, make them between one and three minutes long. If you are teaching online classes, keep them to the point, and if needed, ask students to stand up and take a 30 second stretch and wiggle break. Older students who are working from home in a self- directed or study mode, may find the app iStudyAlarm useful. This is a free app timer which times their learning sessions for 20 minutes. It then gives them a three minute revision time and then a five minute break. I find most teenage students can focus for 20 minutes and enjoy the shorter sessions.

Online lessons will be typically shorter than face-to-face classroom lessons. This is often because you are not needing to do as much classroom management, handing out books, waiting for students to get ready or packing up. If you have daily routines in your lessons, stick to those as much as possible. Routines create calm and can maintain order. The brain loves certainty, so routine can reduce stress and anxiety.

A great lesson, whether face-to-face or online, has a beginning, middle and end. This is probably more important online. At the beginning, tell them what they are going to learn, hook them with a provocation, story or engage with novelty. The middle of the lesson is where you teach the key points of your content. Practice using the skills or knowledge and show exemplars and examples. At the end, summarise, check students’ understanding, answer questions and give their next steps.

Checking understanding and learning can be as simple as asking students to write the three main points on a piece of paper and then have them show you on the video screen. Maybe you ask questions to check understanding, perhaps you create a poll or a quizlet. There are many options online.

Give Students a Reason to Need your Content

Create an overarching task, project or work plan which involves you ‘feeding’ information to your learners so they can successfully complete the task. This may be an assignment that needs to be completed or a genius hour, passion project which students will work on at home.

Maintaining Relationships
If you are teaching in the morning, use your afternoons to schedule weekly one-on-one 15 minute meetings with your students to ‘check in.’ Firstly, check in on how they are doing personally. Being in lockdown with their parents and siblings, and away from their peer group may be a challenge for many. Remember, you are a key link to their ‘outside world.’ They know and trust you. Secondly, discuss how their learning is going. Answer their questions, give them some positive reinforcement and ask what they think their next learning steps are. Ensure you are the voice of calm and hope.

Run Mini Workshops
Once you have spoken to your students, you will start getting a bigger picture of what their next learning steps are. Schedule and host online workshops that students can log into. For example, how to summarise readings from a book, fractions, demonstrating an art technique, a particular social studies lesson, graphing hints
and tips, etc. The possibilities are endless. Remember to invite students to join and not to make it compulsory.

Set Task Sheets
A simple idea from Ian Lillico is to set a ‘homework grid.’ This might be a 4×4 grid with tasks for students to complete over a week. Ensure you have a balance of academic, social and family tasks on your grid. Here is an example below. You can download this at www.spectrumeducation.com/free-stuff/

Make the Learning Visual
Did you know the average adult brain has about 100 billion cells? Neuroscience tells us that eleven million of these are sensory neurons, which are designed to bring in information to your brain through your senses. A staggering ten million of these are for your eyes! From your five senses, the brain picks up more from your eyes than all your other senses combined. This has big implications for how we teach, on and off line. Visual stimulus is extremely important. This includes the use of colour, video and images. (It is one of the key reasons Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube are so popular with youth.)

If you are presenting online, please avoid the ‘death by powerpoint’ slides that so many of us have witnessed. Small print and masses of writing is certainly going to switch most young minds off. Instead use strong visual pictures, key words, large font (50+ or more) and make your slides colourful.

Stand Up
Stand up when you present online as this will allow you to have more energy, easier access to your props and allow for more expressive hand gestures. All important when students do not get the full body experience of being in a classroom.

Last of all, remember you do not have to be an expert at this! Things go wrong, videos don’t play. Internet connectivity is often unstable. You will make bloopers. Students will know this is all new and challenging for you. Be a role model for learning. Laugh at yourself, and… Take 2…Take 9…Take 17… Persist, have fun, be creative, learn, grow and stretch yourself!

Be Aware of Your Voice
Teaching online is sometimes like a theatre production. Your voice is what will be transmitted through the Internet or videos. Use expressive tones, vary your pace and differ your volume with a whisper, singing and telling stories. If you have a loud booming voice, soften and slow down online. If you have a high pitch voice, lower your tone. Talk in a conversational way rather than an instructional lecture tone. If you find it is harder to do this when you cannot see your students, place a photo of a person or group of students just beyond your camera lens and talk to that.

Keep Students Active
This quote from Dr Rich Allen says it all. “If the bum is numb, the brain is the same.” Keep your students active rather than having them sit in front of a screen for long periods of time. If in your classroom you use brain breaks, do this online as well. Hold a dance party! Give students a task and let them do it. Avoid long lengthy explanations. If required, have the instructions prewritten for students to refer to rather than reading through them all in a video.

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Karen Tui Boyes

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for LifeLong Learning. A multi-award-winning speaker, educator and businesswoman, she is an expert in effective teaching, learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. Karen is the CEO of Spectrum Education, Principal of Spectrum Online Academy and the author of 10 books. She loves empowering teachers, parents and students and is the wife to one and the mother of two young adults.
Karen was named the GIFEW Evolutionary Woman of the Year 2022.