There is no substitute for teaching face-to-face. 

Remote teaching can be effective, when designed for an online platform from the beginning, using frameworks intended to support digital learning. 

But we didn’t get a chance to do this!

We were yanked into a space that some of us didn’t choose, and where we might feel we don’t even belong. We are stuck.

Many of us consider our new remote learning environments a type of teaching purgatory where the skills we have developed for years (decades!) are of little use. Some might wish we could just not teach instead of teach like this. 

But here we are. And if we are asked to reach our learners in a new way, maybe these ideas will help: 

Consider how to maintain a culture for learning in an online space. 

A favorite part of face-to-face teaching is connecting with our humans. At this point in the year, we are transparent and silly, pushing and pulling learners into instruction, taking risks, making jokes. 

We are near each other. 

We can still do this when we teach from home: give students a tour of their new “classroom” and ask them to share images or short videos of their learning environments. Just like knowing what kind of desks or tables are in your brick and mortar classroom, we can learn about our students by seeing their fish tank, their siblings or parents, the cat who walks across the computer.  

Lean on what you know. 

You don’t need to understand all the mobile apps and teaching platforms to teach remote; you just need to know your students, and you definitely know them by now. You understand what makes them laugh, the inside jokes and stories from months of learning together. You know about their pets, their parents, their weekend shenanigans. You know where they find themselves challenged and how to help them feel success. 

When I moved my courses online last week, I asked my students about their access to the internet, their ability to work on a device, and their preference for synchronous or asynchronous learning. I asked them to share other concerns and many noted that changes such as moving home, caring for others, or working in a new space changed their schedule. A short Google survey will help you understand how this situation has changed their learning potential. 

Teach by skill, not by content. Narrow the focus.

Look at your standards and outcomes that are remaining for the semester. Rank them in the order of priority based on student need, by what they can do with little support, by what they most need for next year. Look at the grade band of content knowledge and skills. What is essential? Can you group standards by the skill instead of the content? Is there a theme that holds shorter groups of ideas together? Are there ways to collapse content on itself so that it is rich and deep, but focused? 

Slash the rest. Really. Trauma removes our ability to focus, and our students do not have the same capacity to learn right now. 

My co-teacher and I found it helpful to not look at the remaining assignments. Instead, we reduced five weeks of the syllabus down to TWO essential skills and practices that we then rewrote into self-paced, inquiry-based assignments (more about that below). 

Consider the inquiry method.

Teaching is magic. Our students miss the magic show, and we miss planning the performance. Thinking of our standards through an essential question, inquiry, or a problem for students to solve will feel like an escape room or an engaging challenge. 

Teaching is magic. Our students miss the magic show, and we miss planning the performance.

The teacher prep program at the university where I work prides itself on holding an inquiry stance for our students. We want them to wonder, to ask questions about what they see and notice. Rather than make a statement about their students or a situation, we prod them to become curious. We can deliver content to our students, or we can create relevant questions that send them on a search for answers, all while building disciplinary skills. 

It helps me to remember: I am not teaching for complete understanding. I am pre-teaching and exposing students to ideas, creating a holding place to return when we are all together. 

Trust the future. 

There is continuity in our discontinuity. 

We are all in this together, and when we come together for face-to-face instruction again soon, we will collaborate with our students’ former instructors to identify gaps. We will reteach in an exquisite spiral curriculum. We will demonstrate grace to the new students arriving in our classes. We will know much about them already, and we will practice grace. 

Published On: March 25th, 2020 / Categories: Blog /