With many teachers around the country at both the K-12 and higher-ed levels teaching remotely—either entirely or through some hybrid approach—many are struggling with a wide range of issues, from managing new technology to keeping students engaged. All within an environment where personal safety is top of mind for both teachers and students. Remote teaching is definitely different and a new experience for most of us. But it comes with some unique opportunities to engage with students in meaningful and creative ways.
Here are our “Top 10” remote teaching tips, including recommendations from a number of remote education experts.
1. Encourage parents to provide a dedicated place to learn.
It’s been said that “it takes a village to teach our children,” and that’s certainly true in the COVID-19 environment we now find ourselves in. Parents are important partners during these times of remote learning. That starts with identifying, and dedicating, a specific place for kids to learn. “Kids’ success with remote learning starts at home with the parents,” says “It’s important for all kids to have an environment at home that is conducive to remote learning, such as finding the perfect quiet space,” says Diana Singer, president and founder of Diana Singer Education. “I always recommend parents purchase a desk to set up in the child’s room, so they have their own private space. This will allow for a greater chance of them maintaining focus, as they’re in a quiet environment free of distractions.”
2. Get there early and engage!
Dennis Yim, director of live, online courses for Kaplan, suggests signing in to your class about 15 minutes before it’s scheduled to start. Open up the room and start chatting with your students,” he suggests. Ask for camera and/or mic tests if students will be using these. “You don’t have to come on camera or mic yourself,” he says. “You want to be early to your own party.” He suggests engaging in a little small talk; for instance, “What room are your learning in?” Or, put up a slide or poll: “When you hear the words [words of your choice relevant to your course], what comes to mind?” That, he says, can be a great both to engage and to gather useful insights about your students’ prior knowledge.
3. Keep remote teaching personal, especially in the beginning.
Don’t jump into lessons, or syllabus review, right away. Take some time when you first meet online with your students to get personal. Share your hobbies and interests, along with information about your family, favorite books and movies, and other relevant personal information. Ask them to do the same.
4. Make it fun.
“Short, impromptu scavenger hunts in the middle of a remote lesson are fun for primary grades,” says Debbie Lopez, community outreach director with Zivadream, an education advocacy, and test prep review website. “It reinforces the learning, gets them out of their chairs, and gives them a brief physical break from the computer screen. Plus, it’s fun!,” she says. For example, she suggests: In the middle of reviewing the letter of the week, stop and tell your students that you are challenging them to take five minutes (or whatever time works best for your kids) and find something in their environment that begins with that letter and bring it back to the group. Allow them to present their items by name, and discuss if it begins with the week’s letter sound. The same idea can be used with numbers, colors, sizes, shapes, etc. “Once they get the hang of it, you can build on it by asking them to find an item with both a certain letter and a specific color or shape. You’ll be amazed at how they will react to this challenge!”
5. Connect students to people and places they might not otherwise have seen.
Call upon guest speakers to share information or to do demonstrations. Engage students in the process by telling them, in advance, what materials they’ll need to participate. Take advantage of augmented virtual classroom design options to give students the ability to become immersed in a setting or situation. Lopez suggests inviting secret guests to attend your virtual classes. “It can be someone they know, or you can introduce them to someone new from their community—grocer, firefighter, librarian, barista, farmer, dentist, or school principal, office administrator, health assistant or lunch lady,” she recommends. “The time spent with the guest can include a presentation from the speaker, an interview, or a Q&A type format. Before introducing the secret guest, consider playing a game of 20 questions with the class to see if they can identify the speaker, she suggests.
6. Take advantage of supplementary resources that are widely available,
suggests Arash Fayz, cofounder and executive director of LA Tutors 123, a test preparation, academic consultation, and private tutoring company. “Middle school students may not need games or finger painting breaks as much as younger students, but they still need visuals or diversions to keep them engaged,” says Fayz. He suggests Hiphughes (videos covering history topics) and Radio Ambulante (podcasts to help with studying Spanish) as a couple of examples. In addition, Khan Academy offers video tutorials for a variety of subjects at all grade levels, including college level.
7. Drive them outdoors!
Specific remote learning activities may vary based on physical locations and climate, but teachers can take advantage of nature and outdoor learning to help students get engaged, even during winter months.
8. Make them move.
Jacquelyn Oldham, director of curriculum and development for The Little Gym, an internationally recognized gymnastics program, offers these ideas:
- Dance Party. Freeze Dance, or any other form of dancing, can be turned into game time. “Turn up the jams, get moving, and have fun showing off your favorite dance moves and maybe even learning new ones,” she suggests.
- Indoor Obstacle Course. Have students grab pillows, blankets, hula-hoops, chairs, and any other household items you can find to create a challenging and fun obstacle course activity.
- Hot Lava. Ask students to fill a balloon with air and try to keep it off the ground for as long as they can. Challenge them to see how long they can keep the ball in the air without touching the ground or “hot lava.”
- Animal Yoga. Encourage students to get moving and stretch their bodies into funky positions with Animal Yoga. Include poses like monkey, jaguar, turtle, and sloth, for instance.
9. Minimize screen time.
For student learners, especially those of younger ages, too much screen time can become overwhelming—and boring. But remote learning doesn’t have to require the same amount of uninterrupted engagement time as in-class learning does. Consider giving students a break, and send them off to do independent work on their own, reconvening at a later time.
10. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Remote teaching and learning are new for many. Don’t expect that every session will go 100% as planned, and don’t worry if you need to shift courses multiple times—give yourself and your students a break. This is an ongoing learning experience for all of us.