By: Nick Milano, Learning Coach
Last March flipped our lives upside-down and challenged teachers in ways never before anticipated. With many educators scrambling to take their classes online, it has proven essential that we know how to best structure our teaching to adapt to the challenges of distance learning. We can’t say with certainty that once teachers return to the classroom that everything will be back to normal. Now that distance learning has proven itself to be a viable option, we may see an increase in online programs at K-12 schools as well as an alternative to snow days. This can be seen as a daunting challenge for many teachers, but it provides a unique opportunity to learn a new way to support our students.
As you’re taking your classes online, keep in mind the purpose and intention behind teaching in the first place: to help students learn and grow as citizens. While distance learning may appear very different from in-class instruction, teachers can take the same approach as they normally would when crafting units and lessons. Focus on the skills your students will need to learn and stick to these while building your instruction. This should feel very similar to what you’ve been doing for your students all along; start with the end in mind! Next, start to think about the culture and norms of your classroom – they should be the same as if you were in a physical classroom. Though expectations and consequences will look different in an online environment, students should have the same understanding of behavioral expectations and consequences regardless of where they are learning. Providing this structure and sense of normalcy might be the only place students may be seeing any consistency during a chaotic time.
With your intentions and lesson objectives set, it is now time to face what appears to be the most daunting task – designing your instructional activities. To start, think of what you would like to do for your lesson. Imagine if technology were not an issue, what types of things would your students be doing? Online learning expert Michael Flynn says “Often people will make the mistake of looking at online learning from the perspective of what’s available in terms of technology and then figuring out how to use that as a teacher.” Once you have a clear picture of what you’d like to do, work to find websites that will facilitate your vision. Resources are included at the end of this article based on different types of activities as a starting point for you. Keep in mind when planning that simplicity is ideal; the more complicated the assignment, the more technical, comprehension, and application difficulties for students. Try to keep students on one website as opposed to running all over the internet and juggling multiple logins for different programs.
Next, break your lesson down into as many small ‘bricks’ as you can. Examine these bricks and see which pieces are similar and how they work together. You should be free to move these bricks around and group them however may be best for your class. It may be helpful to plan out a week at a time to do this, as it gives greater flexibility and allows for your students to work at their own pace.
Finally, you need to figure out what your students need to be successful with your distance learning lesson. If your students need technical training on the websites and programs used for your lesson, be sure to frontload them with tutorials and instructional videos on how to login and do whatever task is required of them. Should your class engage in partner work and discussion based activities, ensure that you’ve set clear behavioral expectations with them and keep an eye on interactions when possible. Do your students need support with academic content? Be ready to give assistance and explanations as appropriate and, to the best of your ability, equip parents at home to provide support.
Distance learning doesn’t have to be scary, but it does require a few tweaks in the way you plan out your units. If you struggle with utilizing technology, there is a lot of help available. Reach out to your school’s IT department. Search online for what you are struggling with, search YouTube for tutorials on Google Classroom, SeeSaw, Socratic, etc… I’ve included a list of websites linked to instructional activities below; this is a great starting point if you don’t know many online resources.
Building Blocks of an Online Lesson adapted from Caitlin Tucker
For more information on these resources below, contact Dominic at firstname.lastname@example.orgTaking your class online