Online Teaching: What I've Learned in my First 6 Weeks - Part 1: Synchronous and Asynchronous Days

Hi friends,

Now that I have finished my first six weeks of Back-to-School season while teaching 100% remotely, I want to share some of the best practices I've discovered.  Now, to be fair, the quarantine crisis-teaching we all participated in the spring exactly that...a crisis.  But, taking what I learned then, doing LOTS of summer research, and applying it to my first six weeks, I think I have some good ideas to help you along your journey.

In addition to my position teaching high school English, I am also a Lesson Design Coach, a district position that allows me to help teachers on our staff.  I presented this as Professional Development right before we started back, but after working through some kinks, I think that I have better information to share with you now.

Because there's so much info that your brain could explode.  I decided to break this into three posts of easily-digestible tips and tricks.  Be on the lookout for parts 2 and 3.

Before we get started though, here are some keys:

1. Create Norms: Clarify your expectations with students.  In person, I like to create norms with my students, but when we're working behind screens, it's a little more challenging; that doesn't mean it can't be done!  Ask them what they think we, as a class, should commit to.  I'm very aware that my students are in their private space and that I am a guest in their home--although some teachers require cameras turned on, I don't.  I also don't monitor dress codes (as long as they're covered), eating breakfast, or some of the other in-class policies that might be in effect in regular "classroom" learning.  Decide what's important to you and your students and go from there.

2.  Establish Routines:  Let students know what to expect each day from your class.  Remote or hybrid learning requires a much more organized schedule for students, so let's be sure to help them get there.  In my classes, students know that all of our class content is posted in a weekly folder.  Within the weekly folder are daily folders.  Inside each daily folder is a To-Do List, and then the links or assignments that they will need to complete that day.  Beyond that, I try to create routines for each day of the week.  On Fridays, for instance, students always do a timed writing assignment.  They know that it will be on Fridays and they can prepare all week.

3.  Be Explicit:  Now, more than ever, we need to be clear with our communication and directions.  Videos that provide a weekly overview are awesome!  Pictures are more powerful than words, so create tutorials.  Because students don't have immediate face-to-face access to us the way they would during a regular school week, it is up to us to ease their confusion.

4.  Stay Consistent:  Zoom fatigue is real, for both students and teachers.  Because of that, it's best to plan at least one week ahead to give you a little break.  Get into a habit of having your weekly assignments scheduled on Sunday afternoons (schedule the post times!) so that you can take a break.  With your established routines, planning gets easier because you know the schedule you're working toward.

Things to Consider:
Good online teaching needs a balance of Synchronous and Asynchronous teaching to work well.   Each type of teaching has different requirements; teachers--we have to adjust our mindset—we cannot structure our courses the way we would for in-person school!

How to Teach Synchronously:
  • Create highly interactive, student-focused lessons.
  • Lessons should build community and require live instruction and engagement.
  • If it can be done via a video or an independent reading, do it on an Asynchronous Day.
  • Do not lecture all Synchronous period!
Examples of what to include:
  • Labs
  • Socratic Seminar
  • Fishbowl Discussions
  • Debates
  • Informational Scavenger Hunts
  • Jigsaw Strategies
  • Think-Pair-Share
  • Student Demos/ Presentations (share their work and let them talk it through)
  • Competitive Games
  • Group annotations, math problems, lab reports, etc.

How to Teach Asynchronously:
  • Provide independent and/or direct instruction (via video lecture, etc.)
  • Open discussion boards for students to interact with others
  • Offer opportunities for collaborative work with shared files
  • Do not give extra work because students are not “in class”

Examples of what to include: 
  • Video lecture with note-taking
  • EdPuzzle, Quizlet, Neapod, Peardeck, or other app
  • Current events using television or internet
  • Questions/Problems from the textbook
  • Shared Google docs/slides with classmates
  • Reading/Writing independent activities
  • Conference with teacher by appt.
  • Paper and pencil activities
  • Reading real books
  • Screen fatigue is real!

Ideas to try:
Begin EVERY single class with an agenda.  Even better, share the daily agenda at the beginning of the week so that students can mentally prepare for what their week will look like.  Would you like to use my templates?  If so, you can grab a set HERE or HERE.  Don't forget to make a copy into your Drive so that you can edit them!

I know that teaching in this global pandemic is CRAZY!  We're stressed, we're tired, and as always, we're trying to do what's best for our students.

I hope that this gives you a few ideas!  Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 coming soon.  Until then, hang in there friends!!