We have completed six Octomesters in our board, and we just embarked on Octomester seven. For some of our teachers this is their seventh class online, and for some it’s their first. But since we are now ALL online throughout Ontario I thought I’d take a few minutes to share what has been working for us.
A consistent structure in both instruction and in the provision of content via the Learning Management System has helped our students. KISS seems to work, with a simple presentation of content combined with a consistent agenda for each day allowing students to get into a “groove” and succeed. One of our teachers has music on for five minutes before class, has a “question of the day”, provides breakout rooms for discussion, and has one task to be submitted each day.
Posting using Multiple Modalities
Our teachers are packaging content in two different Learning Management Systems: D2L/Brightspace and Edsby. They are also providing both print and video content, and embedding videos using OBS Studios. Some students are connecting with their teachers via email, and others are participating in 1:1 work in MS Teams.
Teachers are making the “chunks” small, and easily managed on phones, tablets and computers. They are replicating the length of social media posts, and providing multiples that thread rather than posting a single, large document. Most Learning Management Systems allow for content to be hidden until needed, so our teachers are able to keep students from feeling overwhelmed.
Being Available Online
Our teachers are live in an MS Teams setting for more than just the mandatory 225 minutes (PPM 164). They are replicating their usual practices of “walking around the room” or “being available at the desk in the classroom” by being online in a Teams meeting, and welcoming students to 1:1 or small-group sessions throughout the day. They are doing less “direct instruction”, and more individual facilitation, and it is paying off.
Our teachers are providing both synchronous lessons, and asynchronous tutorials. They are providing voice and choice to their students. By personalizing methods of assessment they are meeting their students where they are.
Sharing a Master Agenda
While some are using a list, and others a calendar, our teachers are all creating a “one-stop shopping” page where all assignments, links to handouts, and dropbox are located. The LMS is also a huge help, housing all course content and videos of the daily meetings. Live links to content assist both students and their parents to navigate each day’s work.
Use of learning goals and success criteria has allowed students to self-assess, and to reach out when they require assistance. Because the octomester structure results in very long days, but fewer of them, our teachers have pared down their goals to as few as possible, and are focusing their work on essential learning.
Taking an Inquiry Approach
Several teachers have structured their courses around fun engaging inquiry questions, and supporting student-to-student interaction to complete their “quests”. They are taking advantage of the technology, and access to Internet resources, and exploring content beyond the textbook.
Communicating Regularly with Students and Parents
Weekly newsletters and emails to parents are helping them to support their children to be successful. Our teachers are providing tips and tricks to families, so that their teens are supported at home.
Our teachers are able to track who is attending meetings in person, and who view the videos later in the day. They can then follow up with students and their parents, and get them back on track quickly. One teacher has an attendance quiz each day, with one question: “Are you here today”? This populates a spreadsheet, and allows him to enter absences at the end of the day. Taking a look at statistics within the LMS is also helpful, and is allowing our teachers to reach out before students get too far behind.
Breakouts to Connect
Structures such as breakout rooms and shared documents have supported our students to connect. They have needed these in order to get to know each other, as many live up to 200 km from each other. Since the culture in our board is to have cameras off the breakouts provide a safe space for cameras and mic to be on and for students to interact. It is important to build rapport with our students, so our teachers make that priority.
Allowing for Fully Asynchronous
Several of our students are now working full-time jobs. They are managing to access class resources, and complete the day’s work when they are at home. By structuring courses to allow for fully-asynchronous participation, our students are able to continue their learning despite the need to work.
Where we have more than one class for a particular course our teachers are team teaching. Sometimes they create one LMS, and share instructing duties. In other cases they plan and create two or more LMS shells, and instruct only their class. In both, however, they benefit from their PLN, and are able support each other to be more creative.
Our teachers have been experimenting with standing desks, multiple monitors, and other tools to ensure that they aren’t in pain at the end of the day. Some are scheduling regular walk breaks into their day, getting outside for some sunshine and to stretch their legs.
Learn and Share
Our teachers are learning a great deal through this process, and are happy to share with their colleagues. If you are teaching online, please reach out to a peer and talk about what is working (and not working) for you.
Advice to Novice Online Teachers:
- Don’t stress out.
- This is pandemic teaching, not a normal teaching year.
- Be flexible.
- Be kind to yourself.
- Reach out if you are feeling burnout.
- Extend grace to your students and their families.
- You are doing great!