Updated: Apr 23, 2021
As virtual facilitator and father of two, I followed the first two weeks of home schooling of my kids with much curiosity and attention. Here are some observations directed to teachers on how to make remote learning more enjoyable and effective for the children, the parents - and themselves.
Remote teaching and learning have a lot in common with what virtual facilitators and trainers do. So, here are four things I noticed:
Open the virtual classrooms / meetings 5-10 minutes before you start Imagine your class starts at 8.00 am. Would you keep the door to the (physical) classroom locked by key until 7.59 am or 8.00 am sharp? Probably not. Yet, this is what we are experiencing in virtual classrooms, every day. Why not let the kids enter a couple of minutes earlier, let them have a chat among themselves or with you as teacher. Then, at 8.00 am sharp you are all set to go! But, more importantly, the kids and you stay in touch beyond the classes themselves, which may help to stay emotionally connected. Life at school is more than classes, isn't it? By the way: This is something I notice with most of my clients as well. People join the meeting the moment it starts. When the meeting is done and they immediately move on to the next one. No chat, no private conversation, no small talk. Just 'efficiency'. But this practice is taking its social toll at a certain point. When I facilitate remote workshops, I usually open the 'doors' 30 minutes early and communicate this to the participants in advance. There are always a few, coming in early, enjoying to have a quick chat with other early birds. The same thing applies after the workshop: I leave the call open for another 15-30 minutes - and talk with those who are still there.
Keep it simple! Win the hearts and minds of the children and their parents by keeping it simple and making it easy to follow the classes. Let me explain: One of my children is in the 1st grade. The children have to use Moodle in combination with BigBlueButton for most classes and MS Teams for some classes. Some classes are integrated in the moodle calendar, others in the MS-Teams calendar. In addition, information is sent via the parents' email address, including some extra PDF-files. We have to do printouts every morning. The kids get written instructions for exercises they have to do alone by themselves, although they are just starting to learn reading and writing. The rhythm of the kids' schedules keep switching between two different types of weeks: Week A: 45' class, 45' break, 45' class, 45' break Week B: 45' break, 45' class, 45' break, 45' class. Are you starting to feel lost? Us too! Can you see a first grader, handle this? Sometimes, we as parents sit together trying to figure out our children's individual schedules - and set a bunch of alarms on our mobile phones to not miss out anything (yes, school FOMO...). With combined forces we eventually succeed... This is, of course, more a matter of the school's general remote learning policy and strategy, and less within the sphere of influence of individual teachers. But I still believe that every teacher or a group of teachers can do their part by: --> focussing on 1 main communication channel --> using only 1 program for video conferencing --> including all classes and schedules into 1 calendar / 1 application (ideally with a colour coding for the youngest) --> using audio recordings with learning instructions for the youngest learners
Use break outs and work in small groups Almost any conferencing platform used by schools, including BigBlueButton and MS Teams support the creation of breakout rooms. Yet, I have not seen any teacher of my children's school using this features. It is the best way of keeping concentration high and frustration low. Students can work in groups of 3 to 4 and mutually support each other. The teacher can make a round and visit one group after another and help them if needed. The proof that this works so well with students is, that older kids meet up with their friends on WhatsApp or Discord to do their homework together... And, I couldn't imagine any 6 or 8 hours workshop with clients, without using breakouts.
Microphones and head set Most teachers I have seen do not use them yet, although one of the easiest ways to create a better, more welcoming atmosphere is to plug in a head set or USB desk microphone. Integrated laptop microphones are omni-directional. This means, they pick up every sound source around them - no matter where it comes from. They are also quite far away from the mouth. This will result in much background noise and a less clear, less present and slightly echoing voice. Plus, many integrated mics simply do not sound well - no matter how quite the room or how well you position yourself to them. Use a head set or an inexpensive external mic and the sound of your voice will drastically improve and be much more natural. This way, your students will understand you better and much more enjoy listening to you.
There are definitely more things to say about virtual teaching, mostly regarding general policies and concepts, learning flow and, of course, hard- and software for teachers and students alike. But, as this is out of reach for individual teachers, I wanted to concentrate on things everybody can do. And, of course, the situation will be very different from one school to another. So either these tips might (hopefully) be helpful, or they might just bore you, as you have / your school has already invested more time and resources into the topic.
If you are a parent or teacher: What are your experiences with home schooling? Have you any other suggestions?
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