Online Teaching: Some things I’ve learned…

As we head into our fifth week of online learning, I thought I’d share some of the things that are working for my class and me. Whilst I have read a lot of articles and blog posts about this area, attended webinars, and recently started reading Doug Lemov’s Teaching in the Online Classroom, this blog post is specific to my own context and doesn’t include links to research or pedagogical theory. There is definitely a need for that (and much of what I am doing is informed by what I have read), but I believe there is also a place for sharing examples for readers to try out or research for themselves.

Note – I refer to this period of lockdown as “online teaching and learning” rather than “remote teaching” after this tweet by SJ White, which really struck a chord with me:

My Context

We have been fortunate that our Local Authority was already using Google for Education and our school had focussed on developing learners’ digital skills prior to the first lockdown. This meant that the children were pretty good at using Google Classroom and some of the other Google tools before they found themselves really relying on them. I teach Primary 6 (10 year olds) who are generally quite independent learners. As with any class, however, there is a mixture of those receiving support from guardians, those supporting younger siblings, and others who are sharing devices. I am also fortunate to have a stage partner so we do a lot of shared planning across both classes.

Connection and Support

Each morning, the children complete a registration question and Google Form Check-In before joining our whole class, Google Meet. This meeting is a chance for the class to meet together, we say our morning prayer together, I share any updates for the day and we usually play a game… Charades, Scavenger Hunt, and Cities & Countries are their current favourites! (There are some great ideas in this eBook.) Aside from Health & Wellbeing and Listening & Talking, the focus isn’t on academics, rather it is on keeping connected. I stay on the Google Meet until break time for any children to stay behind to ask questions about the day’s learning. I am also available on a Google Meet between 11am and 12pm each day for the learners to drop-in and ask any questions they may have. Each afternoon, I host group chats on Google Meet where the children can meet and play games or just chat about whatever they feel like talking to their friends about. These whole class Meets and group chats are the highlights of my day, the closest I can get to providing the interactions the children are missing out on when learning from home. 

Lesson Formats

There are generally four learning blocks each day, shared in a daily plan which includes timings roughly linked to the school day. It is so important to remember that we cannot, and in my opinion should not be trying to, replicate a “normal” school day. However, some children appreciate the structure and others prefer to work through all their learning tasks in the morning then have the afternoons to themselves. For others, it is a case of when devices are available and, therefore, we are flexible in when tasks are handed in. I only set due dates on the registration question but not on the assignments as I know some learners become distressed when the see “Missing” in red writing, if they have been unable to complete something by the due date.

To prevent the children from becoming overwhelmed with too many assignments in Google Classroom, we tend to only post one or two assignments each day (usually literacy and numeracy), with the other tasks shared as links in the daily plan. To allow the children to access their learning at a time that is suitable for them and their families’ circumstances, most lessons consist of a pre-recorded video followed by a task for the children to complete. As I mentioned, if the children have questions or need support, they can drop into a Google Meet and ask.

These are some of the digital tools I have found helpful:

  • Screencastify – Used for pre-recording lessons. The free account is limited to 5 minutes which has actually been helpful in causing me to think about my own instruction and teacher talk time. This time around, I’ve moved to recording several shorter videos to explain different concepts, rather than making one longer video for the lesson. This has been helpful for maths, specifically, as the videos can be used for review at a later date.
  • Google Docs – Most written tasks have been completed using Google Docs, generally with a template created in Drive and then a copy made for each student when the assignment is posted.
  • Google Forms – As well as the check-in forms, we also use Google Forms for other lessons throughout the week, specifically spelling tests and some numeracy lessons.
  • Google Slides – My stage partner and I have used this more for the other curricular areas (ie. not so much literacy and numeracy) as we can link it directly to the daily plan. Each child chooses one slide to edit, either writing directly into the slide, or inserting a photograph of their work. It’s fab for the children to see each other’s work too.
  • Google Jamboard – I’ve found this a really great way of creating digital worksheets, by creating a template on a slide, downloading as an image then setting the background. It’s also been a helpful digital whiteboard for recording lesson videos and the learners have enjoyed using it for playing Pictionary when presenting their screen in group chat Google Meets.
  • Padlet – Whilst Jamboard can obviously be used as a collaborative tool, I prefer asking the children to share their ideas on Padlet simply because it is less likely to get lost accidentally! We have used Padlet for our R.E. lessons where the children watch a colleague telling them a Godly Play story and write their answers to wondering questions on Padlet. I’ve also used this in book clubs with adults and really like that there are different formats. The free account only allows you to have 3 padlets so you need to save it (I usually save it as a PDF) and then reuse it.

Feedback

There are a number of different ways we are currently giving feedback to our learners:

  • Mote – This has been such a game changer during this period of remote learning. With just one click, you can record yourself giving verbal feedback within Google Classroom comments but also commenting directly within Docs / Slides. Depending on the task, I sometimes give individual feedback but it is also possible to record a Mote when returning assignments to several children at a time. Even a little thing like “returning” their registration question with a short voice note saying “Thanks P6, I hope you all have a lovely day!” helps us all feel connected in these times.
  • Rubrics – P6 were used to rubrics before lockdown as we used them when marking their homework on Google Classroom. I tend to use this for things like taught writing, where they have several success criteria. The children complete a traffic-lighted self check within the document and then we return the assignment with the rubric completed (and sometimes an individual comment).
  • Comments – It’s great to be able to see the learners working within Google tools and give them in-the-moment feedback. They are used to this from when we completed taught-writing in the classroom but it’s really powerful for the children to be able to action feedback straight-away.
  • Peer-feedback – for creative activities, the children have enjoyed commenting on their classmates’ work and we have been working on providing kind, specific, and helpful feedback. It’s always a #ProudTeacherMoment to see them encouraging each other.
  • Whole class feedback videos – if there are common misconceptions, this is a great way to give feedback to groups of learners and go over things again for them.

Wellbeing / Workload

Much like in-person teaching, there are ebbs and flows of workload. The week before last, I felt like I never stopped. This week, I feel like I’ve had a much better work-life balance. These are some of the things that have helped:

  • Taking breaks when the children do. – At break time, I get up from my computer, make a cup of tea and sit in a different seat to read a book. I set an alarm on my phone for just before I need to be back on the Google Meet and this allows me to fully focus on what I am reading. At lunch time, I try to go for a walk but I’m not always great at that! There really is no excuse since there is a park just outside my house but still… I’ll definitely need to try again this week.
  • Keeping the same structure each week. – As far as possible, it is really helpful to stick to the timetable, both for stability for the learners but also reducing workload for us. I can “make a copy” of last Tuesday’s daily plan then just update the links to the new lessons and edit the learning intentions / success criteria.
  • Sharing the load. – As I mentioned earlier, I am fortunate to have a stage partner to share some of the planning with. Whilst I know not everyone has this, there are still many resources available that we can utilise. Now more than ever, there really is no time (never mind need!) to reinvent the wheel!
  • Reusing Google Classroom posts. – I’ve only recently started doing this. When you are spending so much time on the computer, any shortcuts can help. (Did you know you can use “Ctrl + D” to duplicate something instead of copying and pasting??)
  • Google Tasks – I have started using this again following the Kanban approach. I have four lists of tasks: Do Today, In Progress, Online Learning, and Other Tasks. The idea is that the Do Today list is cleared at the end of each day, which encourages me to be realistic in prioritising tasks for the day. There are a number of apps out there, but I love Google Tasks for this because it is accessible on the right hand pane of many Google tools. I can also add in hyperlinks directly which I think is such a timesaver. I started using this approach after attending an Osiris training session.
  • Scheduling posts in advance and switching off at a reasonable time. As my headteacher recently told us, “if you are currently giving 200%, no one is going to complain when you dial it back to 100%.” (I actually think she might have put it a bit better than that, but you get the idea!

Seven Sparks

Things that have sparked joy / my interest / an idea, this week:

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