Teaching Online During Lockdown – tips and strategies for success

We are certainly living in interesting times with COVID 19 shaking up 2020. If you are suddenly required to teach online here are some tips and strategies to make it a little easier.

With students suddenly being required to learn from home it is important to remember that we are not requiring parent to be teachers. You are the educational expert and while parents may play a role in encouraging their child to take part in online lessons and to do the work you have set, it is not the parents role to suddenly understand physics or be the physical education teacher. The pressure of achievement and handing work in needs to be eased and a focus on ensuring you are giving meaningful work is important. If they do it – great. If they don’t that should be fine too. Many families are navigating huge emotions of having lost their jobs or doing their job from home, whilst parenting, home schooling, wondering how to get groceries and still doing the laundry and cooking healthy meals.

The Challenges
The biggest challenge for many students will be the multitude of distractions they have at home.  Social media, Netflix, TV, online games, YouTube, Tic Toc, cat videos, the fridge and so on. In fact, these may also be big distractions for you suddenly working from home too!

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Sugata Mitra, best known for his “Hole in the Wall” experiment and TED talks. He has a wonderful quote which I have never forgotten.

Every classroom should have a Play Station or an X-Box in the corner and teachers need to be better than that! Sugata Mitra

This is possibly more relevant in todays time as ever before. The essence of his quote is that we as teachers need to be providing education that is meaningful, purposeful and creates the challenge to level up and progress in small bite size pieces – ultimately using gamification strategies. See more about this here. The bottom line is our lessons need to be more exciting than the technology they have access to.

The second challenge often talked about in online learning is attention span. I have heard the statistics about how children and adults have the attention span of a goldfish. I’m not sure if this is really true as I watch children totally focused for hours on their online games, playing sport, reading a book or singing to their favourite music. I do not believe it is a challenge with attention span, I think it is about engagement.

The neuroscience is clear that the brain copes better with shorter sessions more often rather than long learning times. Dr John Medina in his celebrated 12 Brain Rules book suggests taking small brain breaks often. Great junior school teachers know this. When they see students fidgeting, chatting or moving more than they usually do they may ask them to stand up and turn around 3 times and sit down. This is known as a mini brain break. Teaching online will be the same. If you are providing videos for students to watch, make then 1-3 minutes long. If you are teaching online classes, keep them to the point, and if needed ask students to stand up and take a 30 second stretch and wiggle break. Older students who are working from home in a self-directed or study mode, may find the app iStudyAlarm useful. This is a free app timer which times their learning sessions for 20 minutes and then gives them a 3 minute revision time and times their 5 minute break. I find most teenage students can focus for 20 minutes and enjoy the shorter sessions.

Online lessons will be typically shorter than face to face classroom lessons. This is often because you are not needing to do as much classroom management, handing out books, waiting for students to get ready or packing up.

If you have daily routines in your lessons, stick to those as much as possible. Routines create calm and can maintain order. The brain loves certainty, and this can reduce stress and anxiety.

A great lesson, whether face to face or online has a beginning, middle and end. This is probably more important online. At the beginning, tell them what they are going to learn, hook them with a provocation, story or engage with novelty. The middle of the lesson is where you teach the key points of your content, practice using the skills or knowledge and show exemplars and examples. At the end; summarise, check students understanding, answer questions and give their next steps.

Checking understanding and learning can be as simple as asking students to write the 3 main points on a piece of paper and then they show you on the video screen. Maybe you ask questions to check understanding, perhaps you create a poll or a quizlet. There are many options online.

Give students a reason to need your content
Create an over arching task, project or work plan which involves you ‘feeding’ information to your learners so they can successfully complete the task. This may be an assignment that needs to be completed or a genius hour, passion project which students will work on at home.

Maintaining Relationships
If you are teaching in the morning, use your afternoons to schedule weekly one on one 15 minute meetings with your students to ‘check in.’ Firstly, check in on how they are doing personally. Being in lockdown with their parents and siblings, and away from their peer group may be a challenge for many. Remember you are a key link to their ‘outside world.’ They know and trust you. Secondly, discuss how their learning is going. Answer their questions, give them some positive reinforcement and ask what they think their next learning steps are. Ensure you are the voice of calm and hope.

Run mini workshops
Once you have spoken to your students, you will start getting a bigger picture of what their next learning steps are. Schedule and host online workshops that students can log into. For example, how to summarise readings from a book, fractions, demonstrating an art technique, a particular social studies lesson, graphing hints and tips, etc. The possibilities are endless. Remember to invite students to join and not to make it compulsory.

Set task sheets
A simple idea from Ian Lillico is to set a ‘homework grid.’ This might be a 4×4 grid with tasks for students to complete over a week. Ensure you have a balance of academic, social and family tasks on your grid. Here is an example below. You can download this at  www.spectrumeducation.com/free-stuff/


Make the learning visual

Did you know the average adult human brain has about 100 billion cells! Neuroscience tells us that eleven million of these are sensory neurons, which are designed to bring in information to your brain through your senses. A staggering ten million of these are for your eyes! From your five senses the brain picks up more from your eyes than all your other senses combined. This has big implications for how we teach, on and off line. Visual stimulus is extremely important. This includes the use of colour, video and images. (It is one of the key reasons Snapchat, Instagram and YouTube are so popular with youth.)

If you are presenting online, please avoid the ‘death by power point’ slides that so many of us have witnessed. Small print and masses of writing is certainly going to switch most young minds off. Instead use strong visual pictures, key words, large font (50+ of more) and make your slides colourful.

Be aware of your voice
Teaching online is sometimes like a theatre production. Your voice is what will be transmitted through the internet or videos. Use expressive tones, vary your pace (speed) and differ your volume with a whisper, singing and telling stories. If you have a loud booming voice, soften and slow down online. If you have a high pitch voice, lower your tone. Talk in a conversational way rather than an instructional lecture tone. If you find it is harder to do this when you cannot see your students, place a photo of a person or group of students just beyond your camera lens and talk to that.

Keep students active
This quote from Dr Rich Allen says it all. ‘If the bum is numb, the brain is the same.’ Keep your students active rather than having them sit in front of a screen for long periods of time. If in your classroom you use brain breaks, do this online. Hold a dance party! Give students a task and let them do it. Avoid long lengthy explanations. If required have the instructions pre written for students to refer to.

Stand up
Stand up when you present online as this will allow you to have more energy, easier access to your props and allow for more expressive hand gestures. All important when students do not get the full body experience of being in a classroom.

Last of all, remember you do not have to be an expert at this. Things go wrong, videos don’t play. Internet connectivity is often unstable. You will make bloopers. Students will know this is all new and challenging for you. Be a role model for learning. Laugh at yourself and… Take 2… … … Take 17… Persist, have fun, be creative, learn, grow and stretch yourself.

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Published on Sunday, April 12th, 2020, under Learning, Teacher Effectiveness, Technology and the brain

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

7 Responses to “Teaching Online During Lockdown – tips and strategies for success”

  1. Keith Mason says:

    Karen always gets it spot on! This article is an excellent, timely piece that will potentially impact thousands! All aspects of Karen’s work brighten up the educational field and offer insights for educators and their students.

  2. Karen Boyes says:

    Thanks Keith – hope you are safe and well 🙂

  3. jeanne Lomax says:

    This is fantastic and sooooo practical, as always Karen. Thank you. I will send it to all our staff at St Bernards College

  4. Toni McKee says:

    Karen,I am really enjoying your posts regarding distance learning.
    I received this link via my son’s teacher in Yr12 but I am going to take on board a lot of your suggestions, especially that of’marking’ work. I try to implement the C3B4ME but my students are quite low achievers and don’t spot errors other than not being able to read things!
    I like the idea of spotting 3 errors without actually marking as such. Great idea. Been sort of doing this on lockdown as I can’t mark, but make hints and suggest reviewing their work.

  5. LectureRoom says:

    This is a fantastic and practical blog. Every teacher should read this blog before starting an online teaching class. Highly recommended.. Thanks Karen.

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