As a middle school math teacher and assistant head of school, my world has changed — much like yours has over the past several months. We’re exhausted and have been working harder than ever before to switch everything online. You may have just been surviving. Now’s the chance to make a couple tweaks to help your online teaching be more effective.

Focus on the big questions

When you start creating an online course, you begin by answering a few big questions for yourself, your students, and families.

  1. How often do we meet? Consistency is key, so establish patterns, set synchronous meeting times, and due dates.
  2. How are we holding students accountable? Choose a few ways to keep students responsible for their learning, and be clear about how they’ll be graded. Continue assigning student leader roles. Whereas you used to pick a student to be the class line leader, now you may need to assign roles like online attendance taker, or online discussion leader. A science teacher I know is doing an eLearning experiment log. Students complete a science experiment at home and submit pictures and observations via a group chat, email, or school forum.
  3. How much adult supervision will this require? Carefully consider what you’re asking of parents and caretakers. Check in with them periodically to see how they’re adjusting.
  4. What platforms are being used? Try not to introduce brand new technology right now. And stick with one or two platforms max at your school. This is especially important for families who have students in multiple grades. A common platform makes it easier on caretakers.

Formatting lessons online

For the rest of this school year, our teaching does not need to be geared towards standardized testing. It just needs to be relevant and accessible. Here are a few ideas for how to structure and deliver your lessons.

Here’s a great resource I found on Twitter from another teacher. You can adapt these 5 steps to structure your online instruction time.

  1. Hook the group
  2. I do, we do, you do
  3. Assignment check and review
  4. Present, pause, discuss (repeat)
  5. Quick assessment and focused instruction

Effective online teaching chart that illustrates the ideas of "#1 Hook the Group", "#2 I do, We do, you do," #3 Assignment Check & Review," "#4 Present, Pause, Discuss (Repeat)," and "#5 Quick Assessment & Focused Instruction."

Don’t be afraid to take advantage of premade lessons and free online classes. There’s no time to reinvent the wheel right now. Here are a number of resources that I’ve either used personally or have been recommended to me by other educators:

Make lessons fun and engaging

School is more than academics for students. They’re stuck at home and are lacking the social connection they once had with you and their peers. Here are a few ideas to incorporate social activities in your online meetings:

  • Have a fun theme for each meeting. Crazy hat day, favorite sports team apparel day, formal pajama day (think: business top, pajama bottom).
  • Host a photography contest. Let kids submit their photos to be shared in an online album, then vote on the favorites.
  • Do video story time. Either you or a student chooses a book or poem to read aloud to the class.
  • Have a good news segment. Like the popular John Krasinski “good news” videos, have kids share positive things in their lives, or share world news that isn’t all gloom and doom (like Carbon emissions being down, for example).
  • Give an interview assignment. Have students Interview a grandparent over Zoom/phone about their favorite book or happy memory.

You’ve already succeeded in the first big jump into online teaching — congratulations! If you still feel yourself barely surviving the transition, hopefully these tips can make the rest of the school year just a little smoother.

We’re in this together!