Virtual Classroom? 5 Best Practice Takeaways

Virtual Classroom? 5 Best Practice Takeaways

When the idea of a virtual classroom first became a very real possibility, teachers everywhere began to panic (I mean prepare)! Teachers are so resilient, determined and most of all reflective, so let's discuss the 5 best practice takeaways for virtual classrooms to be better prepared for an uncertain new school year in the fall.

1) Your Face Matters

First, traditional schooling has been ingrained in our students for years. Think of our seniors! The change that distance learning presented was radical. The first major takeaway is that students need to see and hear you! Normal conversations about life, laughing, and asking about a student’s day keeps scholars grounded. It gives an opportunity to build and maintain a human connection; something we have all learned is an absolute necessity after being thrown into an unexpected quarantine. When students are able to connect through that computer, their work ethic, their productivity, and most of all their desire to learn with you, increases tenfold. Who knew this would be such an essential takeaway? But, teachers matter, a lot, in our scholars’ lives.

2) Try Something Old, New, and Borrowed

The virtual classroom is, in a way, a new marriage that is the beginning of a whole new way of teaching, but don't forget to rely on good old Google Classroom, Canvas, or Schoology. They are great mainstays. Remember, virtual learning requires a new way of delivering instruction, so try something new. Start by taking PD on new technology. Check out a webinar, courses through school districts, and even join some Facebook groups about technology. Most importantly, borrow! Ask your colleagues what is working and of course read the blogs!

3) Explicitly Teach Real Life Skills

Ever receive a student email with the entire content of the email in the subject line? Students now need explicit instruction on communicating virtually! Students also have to learn how to be organized and utilize time management. Think about the last time you took six classes at once! Start by creating a schedule with them. In school students are told to be in certain classes at specific times, often with reminder bells! Use a planner or calendar. Google Calendar saves me with its alerts, but students need the explicit learning experience to be successful in the virtual classroom.

4) Less is More

Whoa. One of my very first realizations from digital learning was everyone was overwhelmed by the workload, teachers and students alike. Yes, we can fit it all in during a regular week of traditional school, but this is nothing like that! Less is definitely more. Want to save your sanity as well as the sanity of your students? Begin by taking a look at a normal (in school) unit and pare it down to just the essentials for virtual learning. Keep in mind the amount of time students are working on school work (all subjects) will not even be close to a whole school day. Become a minimalist. Think how collaboration may be different.The most loved project done in school, may not fit virtual learning. But, a version of that project will. Think differently and acknowledge the road blocks. What parts of the project are most vital to understanding the standard or content you were delivering? Virtual learning could be an exciting opportunity and challenge for all involved!

5) Share. Teamwork. Share Some More.

Getting through virtual learning should be no different than regular teaching. Keep in touch with colleagues. Share resources. Have conversations about what worked with students and ask for help when you are struggling! We are in this together as educators and we cannot go through it alone! Take a minute. Think about what are your best practice takeaways you learned from having a virtual classroom. It's time to make a plan! What takeaways are you going to prepare for in your next virtual classroom?

Top 5 Tools to Help Differentiate Online Learning

Top 5 Tools to Help Differentiate Online Learning 

Differentiation, although not a new academic term, it most definitely continues to be a top buzz word in the world of education. Differentiation in a nutshell is a teaching strategy where a teacher changes up the instruction to meet the needs of different learners.  Differentiation can take on many forms in the regular classroom setting as well as in the virtual world. Here are 5 tools to help you differentiate your instruction in your online classroom. 

The Power of PowerPoint
Tried and true, PowerPoint is the go-to presentation tool for many teachers and it is the perfect tool for differentiation in the virtual world.  One of the easiest ways to differentiate in PowerPoint is to use hyperlinks. You can jump from one slide to another slide with one click regardless of slide order. You can also hyperlink to a video, a file, or a website. If you have a student that needs extended help, you can hyperlink to a tutorial video or another slide within the PowerPoint specifically designed for small group instruction or extended help.  

Branch out
Google Forms is another great resource to differentiate within the classroom as well as in the virtual world. With forms you can “branch” to specific sections. If a student answers a question incorrectly, branching can take them to another section where they can get a mini lesson to remediate the question and then go back and try again. 

For a video tutorial on Branching go here: How to Branch in Google Forms

Choice Boards
Choice boards are a great way to differentiate your instruction and can be used for any subject.
Providing student choice allows them to take ownership of their learning. Whatever virtual platform you are using, you can introduce your students to the options in a variety of ways. You can create a choice board using Microsoft word, google docs, PowerPoint, to name a few. A choice board can be compared to a tic-tac-toe board. Each square can be its own individual assignment, or the assignments can be used to build on one another. In addition, you can hit all learning styles while creating various levels of rigor.  And bonus! A choice board can double as a learning contract!

Create and Write
The 21st century student is typically tech savvy, visual, and will avoid writing activities because they simply “don’t like to write” or prefer writing text messages versus essays. However, a great
differentiation strategy is to create then write.  Have students complete a quick sketch (give them between 2 and 3 minutes) they can draw whatever they want.

Here are some examples: 
·         Favorite room in the house
·         Family
·         Cat
·         Neighborhood
·         Heart
·         Dog
·         Favorite food 

After time is up, they will write about their drawing. The rules are, there are no rules, just write,
whatever comes to mind, it doesn’t have to be complete sentences, don’t worry about punctuation, just write. Give them about 3 minutes.  This activity takes away the fear of writing and the fear of being “wrong” because there are no rules. Just write. 

There are tons of online educational games out there but Quizizz is one to reckon with when it comes to differentiation! Students can engage in the activity at their own pace as well as get instant feedback. It’s user friendly and mobile friendly which is perfect for learning anywhere at any time (Hello distance learning!)

For teachers it’s great because it collects data and provides a way to assess your students as to where they are at in their learning. There are millions of teacher made Quizizz to choose from or you can create your own. The possibilities are endless! 

Quizizz recently updated their platform going beyond multiple-choice questions and engaging learners critical thinking skills with a wider range of question types. As if that wasn’t enough, Quizizz has accessibility features including multiple languages, zoom and read aloud options. Did I mention it’s FREE!?!?! Check it out here:

Thanks to these 5 options, differentiation with distance learning and virtual classrooms just got easier! 


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