As schools in Australia and across the globe temporarily shut doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers are left searching for effective and engaging ways to continuously provide student learning outside the four walls of the classroom.
The situation has pushed many educators to turn to remote teaching, which is rapidly becoming the “new normal” in the era of social-distancing and community quarantine. But this sudden shift from traditional classrooms to virtual learning has plunged many teachers into uncharted waters.
For one, technology, which plays a key role in facilitating online classrooms, has raised many challenges. Issues of equity such as the lack of access of some students to the Internet and personal learning devices are some of the difficulties that have pushed teachers to adapt and be more creative in their teaching strategies.
To find out more about how to adapt your classroom, The Educator will be hosting Tech Run - COVID-19 and K-12 Education on 28 April.
The importance of adaptability among teachers
In their working lives, teachers often face challenging and uncertain situations that require careful navigation and adaptability. These may include adjusting the pace of lessons to better engage students, minimising frustration when results are not according to plan, and even during interactions with colleagues and parents.
The ability to adapt plays a significant role in helping teachers meet the demands of their work. This is particularly important in these trying times when the coronavirus outbreak has led to unprecedented disruptions not just in education but also in almost all aspects of human life.
Teaching in a virtual environment
For many educators, the transition from teaching in a physical classroom to a fully virtual environment is a new experience and poses several challenges.
Apart from connectivity and technological access, social interaction can be limited. Distractions at home that students would have never encountered in school may also lessen engagement and affect their ability to retain concepts.
As such, teachers are employing creative measures to make online classes an engaging experience not just for their students but also themselves. Here are 10 things teachers are doing to successfully make the adjustment to remote teaching.
They’re familiarising themselves with technology.
In today’s digital age, educational tools and platforms that facilitate communication between teachers and students abound. The key for many teachers is to choose a platform that is familiar to them and their students. Knowing the capabilities and limitations of the tools in use allows efficient use of time and seamless exchange of information.
They’re setting realistic goals.
Teachers are learning to manage their expectations on how much lessons they can cover. They understand that several factors, including physical separation and other distractions at home, can get in the way of getting to the “finish line” they had in mind for their classes – and it’s alright.
They’re more attentive to their students’ needs.
The number one barrier teachers are facing is the lack of connectivity less advantaged students have at home. Some teachers address this by shipping books and other materials to those who don’t have wireless access and calling them to go over questions and concerns.
They’re creating a positive learning environment outside the classroom.
Despite the absence of physical presence, teachers are creating opportunities to encourage student collaboration and discourse. Discussion boards, which provide a great venue for idea sharing, are commonly utilised while designing assignments using shareable online documents allow students to collaborate in small groups.
They’re keeping engagement up.
Jennifer Dewar, senior education consultant at D2L, told the Educator: “The most important element of successful remote learning – or any learning for that matter – is the level of student engagement.”
Just as in any classroom setting, teachers need to grab students’ attention and keep them engaged. To do this, many teachers are segmenting lectures in short sequences and asking quick questions to check comprehension. Injecting humour and creativity to lessons can also help.
They’re taking advantage of available resources.
The type of learning materials is another way to keep students engaged. Several educators are taking advantage of the resources they have by blending traditional learning approaches with newer, more collaborative audio and visual tools. A combination of spurts of discussions, group work, video and audio clips and hands-on exercises are ingredients for a lively online classroom.
They’re keeping parents involved.
Parents play a crucial role on a students’ remote learning success. Teachers are establishing open lines of communication with parents to help keep their children on track.
“Now more than ever, we find ourselves in a situation where teachers and parents need to work closely together as an educational team. This is why it’s so important that teachers and parents continue to effectively engage with each other about student learning,” said Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) CEO Mark Grant in an interview with The Educator.
“Maintaining strong communication with parents and carers to create a suitable home learning environment, and to create a supportive online community of learners, will be a key focus for teachers in setting up successful online and distance learning.”
They’re collaborating more with other teachers.
Teachers are aware that they are not in this alone. Many are coming up with creative approaches to learning by sharing ideas and talking to other teachers. Through collaboration, teachers can also identify what is working and what isn’t. Some teachers even co-host lessons, which is particularly effective with larger groups.
They’ve learned to bridge physical isolation.
The social-distancing measures in place can lead to a feeling of isolation, especially if one is living alone. Teachers are satisfying their need for social interaction by talking not just to their students but also their colleagues. The online platforms they use for teaching can also be tools to organise virtual happy hours, team gaming and virtual Netflix movie sessions to bridge the physical isolation.
They’re putting more time on reflection.
Having more time in their hands than usual, teachers are able to put more time reflecting on lessons. They are able to assess more deeply what worked and what did not, giving them time to adapt their future lessons.