The coronavirus pandemic has prompted educators around the world to step up their commitment to students, seeking new ways to provide online instruction and support. From universities to yoga studios, educational institutions are increasingly turning to free virtual classrooms for online teaching and learning. This move to remote learning requires remarkable agility from administrators and leaders, who in many cases are scrambling to train a large group of teachers very quickly for the transition.
Checking students’ understanding throughout a lesson or unit, often called “formative assessment,” is an essential part of a teacher’s work. Without these checks, a lesson risks being too easy or too difficult, and thus a waste of time. As teachers, we want to deliver the right level of challenge to each of our students, and this requires that we both diagnose their starting points and assess their levels of understanding throughout the lesson. It’s easy to lose people if we make assumptions about our students’ level of understanding.
So your classroom is moving online. For many instructors, this shift poses technological and pedagogical challenges, but for K-12 instructors, it also poses behavioral challenges. As a former middle school teacher, I’d imagine that upper elementary, middle, and high school teachers are having visions of Zoom bombing, inappropriate camera usage, private chat gone awry, and annotation tools used like spray paint. Even though it’s already springtime, starting online school may feel like going back to September: students will need to learn a whole new set of routines and norms.
Here at Manhattan Prep, we’ve been offering online classes for more than a decade and have a deep bench of experience and ability when it comes to teaching online. Several of our instructors teach solely online and love it.
My problem? I’m not one of them.
Until last month, I taught almost exclusively in-person. That’s partly because there’s a strong market for in-person classes where I live, and partly because I prefer it to teaching online. I like being able to connect with students in-person and see students get to know and work with one another. There’s a rhythm to teaching in-person; a way of reading the room and facilitating a dynamic discussion that can feel like conducting an orchestra when it goes well. And I rely heavily on the ability to walk around the classroom, see a student’s work, and provide quick, individual feedback.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten the chance to talk with a diverse group of educators as they work to adapt rapidly to our new world of online instruction. I’ve found myself both daunted by the challenges that teachers at all levels are facing and impressed by the commitment and resilience in the face of such a sudden and enormous change.
If you’ve recently started teaching online, you may have discovered that, like so many activities in the time of coronavirus, it can be a lonely experience. Virtual classrooms have the potential to foster strong interpersonal connections, but it doesn’t feel that way when you’re looking at a sea of black screens generated by off-camera, off-mic participants logged in as “iPhone 2.” In the past few weeks, I’ve interacted with instructors of all varieties who are looking for the “secret sauce” of student engagement in the online classroom.