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Top Tips for Teaching in a Virtual Classroom

It’s no secret that the current pandemic is challenging all of us to be more creative and innovative as educators. For the time being, the traditional classroom has become a thing of the past and the virtual classroom is here — perhaps before you felt ready for it to become your everyday. This has left many of us teachers scrambling to figure out how to adjust our curriculum to this new virtual reality.

Not only are we trying to keep our students engaged with learning, we also need to do our part to look out for their emotional wellbeing and keep our classroom community alive, which means we need to get creative with how we’re developing and delivering education. The major lesson we’ve learned is that this process won’t be perfect, and that’s absolutely ok. It needs to be messy now while we navigate these new waters, so we can help students maintain and possibly level up their proficiency during this time.

We’ve found that a hybrid model of teaching, where some of the class time is synchronous, and the rest is asynchronous is most effective. Our Director of Academic Affairs, World Language Methodology & Spanish Instructor, Dr. Michael Orlando, Ed.D., spends between 30-60 minutes of his time each week working directly with his high-school students via video conferencing, and the rest of the time he assigns them work to complete asynchronously. He finds the balance works well, especially if he gives up some of the control and designs activities that really put the onus on his students to be responsible for their own learning. It’s also important to design learning tasks and deliverables around the three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal, presentational. This ensures that students are being engaged in different ways, feeling cognitively stimulated, and continuing to develop language skills. In this virtual environment, it’s impossible to achieve the same breadth and depth as in a traditional classroom, and you really have to make the most of that limited time you have face-to-face with students, then find a way to engage students outside of that time.

"I like to design a typical remote learning week keeping the 3 modes of communication in mind. Engaging the students in these kinds of tasks is something they are already familiar with and works quite well with our learning management system. To start, I create some kind of interpretive listening, reading, or viewing task on a particular topic, that is tied to a thematic unit and tied to some cultural aspect. This activity will begin to engage the students in the communicative modes and will help drive the rest of the learning in a given week via the interpersonal and presentational modes. This engages students in all 3 modes of communication, so they’re still progressing in their learning.” 

Below, we’ll share some of the tools we’re using that have been really helpful in our transition to online teaching. We hope they’ll be helpful to you as well!

Our Favorite Virtual Education Tools

For those using asynchronous learning, students still want to see you and to be engaged with each other virtually. Two great tools for this are FlipGrid and Screencastify.  

FlipGrid is a tool that tries to replicate classroom interactivity, and it’s a fantastic way to support engagement and collaboration for your students. In FlipGrid, students can submit videos that respond to a variety of prompts. Students can do interpretive listening and reading tasks and respond, and they can even respond to each other's videos with a question or clarification in asynchronous interpersonal conversations. Best of all, it is free! Users can make videos of up to 10 minutes.

Screencastify allows students to make screencasts with their webcam (or not, if that’s preferable). It is a free Chrome extension that allows you to record up to 5 minutes free, upload the video right to Youtube, autosave to Google Drive, use annotation tools, edit the video, and more. It’s a great tool for students to use to complete assignments. Adobe Spark is another tool that allows students to create shareable videos quickly and easily. 

For synchronous Learning, Zoom breakout rooms are a great option to allow students to work in smaller groups. It allows you to break up a call—or virtual classroom—into assigned breakout groups, and then bring all of your students back together as necessary. While students are in their breakout groups, the teacher can hop from room to room, checking in to see how discussions are going and answering any questions. Google Meet is another similar option that students can access directly from Google Classroom, which facilitates real-time meetings and allows participants to share video, desktop, and presentations.

Peardeck with Google Slides is a great way to give synchronous feedback to students. Within Google Slides, you can include texts, videos, listening activities, etc., and then ask questions using Peardeck, which include not only choice and writing but also drawing and draggable answers. There is also an asynchronous version so that students can work through the slide deck at their own pace. 

Are there any tools you’ve been using that have been popular with your students, or that you feel has made your life as a virtual educator easier? We’d love to hear about them!

Ongoing Support and Resources

We at Idioma Education know this time has been—and will continue to be— an unfamiliar challenge for most educators. As teachers ourselves, we can relate to the feeling of being out of place, but the thing to remember is— we’re all in this together! As an organization, our priority has always been to support teachers however they need it, so we’re committed to being a resource in whatever way feels right in these coming months. As an online learning resource, we’re already well versed in this virtual world. During this time of great adjustment and reconsideration, we would love to help support you in your remote teaching and learning endeavors, either as a student yourself in one of our courses, or by reaching out for advice and strategies for engaging your students in a virtual classroom.

We offer online courses as well as discussion forums and consulting, to make sure every resource possible is available to you during this time and beyond. Our online courses each provide different ideas and approaches for how to teach on an online platform, which we hope will be useful to those still familiarizing themselves with remote teaching. Our courses span many different languages and topic areas, and many are self-paced which means you can start them when it fits your schedule, and finish them in your own time. Our online courses are designed and facilitated by practicing educators and subject matter experts focused on integrating activities and lesson ideas that can be immediately applied to your own curriculum—A great way to fill the endless hours at home!

We hope you’re staying connected and well during these times, and we encourage you to reach out to your network, including our team here at Idioma Education for all the reassurance and support you need! Best wishes of much success in your virtual teaching journey.

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