Teachers, The Next Weeks of Online Learning Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Keep lessons short and communication open.

Teachers love their students deeply and want nothing more than for them to have a positive experience regardless of circumstance. So when thousands of  teachers heard that they had a mere 24 hours to move instruction online, they naturally started working harder to figure out logistics. But many of us are perfectionists, and this is one case where we shouldn’t be. As the country scrambles around for toilet paper, chicken breasts, and hand sanitizer, this is one area we should let go of a bit and perhaps strive for imperfect online learning. Why? 

1. One day, or week, isn’t enough time to plan an online course

So don’t try to. Teachers who virtually teach as a career spend months planning, examining resources, and recording videos. This is not the same thing, nor should it be, as we have very little time to prepare and we will be planning and teaching almost simultaneously as we all figure out what it will look like. Many districts are limiting online learning to review and extension work, rather than demanding new content be taught as thoroughly and efficiently as it is in a classroom. Don’t feel the need to overachieve beyond that requirement, as you, your family, and your students have other concerns to attend to.

2. Acknowledge the limitations of learning from home

Before you plan a 50-minute lecture on science theory, consider what it will be like for students to receive and learn in their environments at home. If a student has WIFI and if it’s fast enough, they may listen. If their parents aren’t panicking in the background about where to get food and childcare, they may listen. If they aren’t watching their three younger siblings, they may listen. If their parents are around and forcing them to do school work, they may listen. If they, or a family member, aren’t sick themselves, they may listen. If their anxiety is not through the roof, they may listen. This is a lot of if’s. Don’t make that 50-minute video if you don’t have to. Remember … imperfect online learning.

3. Consider assigning the simplest task: reading

When, in the history of being a student, have your kids had unlimited time to read? Consider minimizing your worksheets, packets, videos, and online lectures, and replace whatever you can with reading. Let them read for fun, for once, without the looming tests and curriculum schedule. Give them fascinating articles to read and host an online discussion board or chat time. Students without WIFI can still access books.

4. Ease up on rules

Limit tests that may time out with slow WIFI, extremely strict deadlines that may not make room for technology problems, and similar rules. Instead, encourage communication with you, and in some cases other classmates. This isn’t the time to be more by-the-book or to increase emphasis on grades. In a popular article circulating amongst teachers in the past week, Dr. Rebecca Barrett-Fox suggests everything be open book, open note, and re-doable for a bit. Teachers accounting for the challenge of adjusting to a potential pandemic shows compassion

5. It’s time for the mini-lesson to shine (again)

If you are still required to teach new content, communicate new concepts in small sections, videos, posts, or increments to allow students to learn in short spurts of time. That way, they can do ten minutes of work before helping their little sister. A five-minute video seems much more approachable than one that would have replaced a full class period. Also, consider allowing students to make their own videos and to post them, allowing for 30 mini lessons to be posted at once. This obviously would vary based on age and accessibility to technology.

6. Keep communication brief and clear

In speaking with your students’ families, be clear about your available times and office hours, as you too will be dealing with all of the stressors of Coronavirus, including teaching from home without childcare. Parents shouldn’t be expecting a permanently on-call teacher, so make sure they know when you are available and how to reach you. Reclarify the 24 hours response time you’ve always maintained on responding to parent emails (or whatever your boundary is).

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Feeling overwhelmed? Share your thoughts on imperfect online learning. Join fellow educators in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group to get support from others just like you. 

Teachers, The Next Weeks of Online Learning Don't Have to Be Perfect

Posted by Alexandra Frost

Alex is a freelance journalist and high school publications teacher in Cincinnati, OH. She has three young sons under age four and has been teaching high school for ten years. She encourages her students to develop communication skills, independence, and a passion for writing in their authentic writers' voices.

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