Teaching online isn’t easy and it is something that we didn’t cover in teacher training. Having now done it for a number of months I wanted to share some Tips for Teaching Online.
There are obviously a number of different platforms out there that we can use – Teams, Google, Zoom etc. I am going to try and steer clear of specifics because I think in essence the content of our online lesson will be the same. I use Teams and love it, so if you have any team specific questions then please do email me and I would be more than happy to help – firstname.lastname@example.org
Last year I wrote several blogs regarding online teaching and resources. Do check those out for ideas on Teaching during Covid and also Composing at Home. I hope that they might still be relevant and helpful.
Tip One – Consistency
Whatever you plan to do online, keep it consistent. That not only includes the timing but also the style of context & approach. Students need consistency, especially when they are stuck at home. Work out the timings and make sure you stick to them. The reason I say this is because sometimes lessons will work better at different times when not in school.
Consistency in approach works along the lines of a normal lesson where students have to line up or stand behind chairs before the lesson starts. Have a way of running the lesson online that works. For me, I like to start with some music playing that they can listen to as they log in. I always start on time, but I am acutely aware that some students are “coming” from another lesson and so it is good to have that starter listening happening.
Tip Two – Help them to be ready
It is a really good idea to let students know what they will need in front of them for the lesson. I encourage mine to have paper, pen, anthology and a glass of water. Help them to get ready to learn and allow them the time to do this. Don’t assume that they will remember what they need, especially if the lesson it at 9am and they may have just fallen out of bed – sorry for the stereotyping there!
It is also a good idea to schedule all the lessons in using the online platform. I know that on Teams this then gives the students a reminder of when the lesson is starting and what it is about.
Tip Three – Engage them from the start
This is one of my key Tips for Teaching Online. Depending on the size of the class, aim to engage with students from the start. If they have a mic then ask them to speak. If not then use the chat function. It is important to know that they are there and also know that they are engaged in the lesson. This might be a question about the music that was playing at the start:
- How did that music make you feel?
- What stood out to you the most?
- What could this music be used for?
Any questions will work, but it is good to keep them consistent every lesson so that they start to think as soon as the music is playing.
Tip Four – Avoid Hands up function
Admittedly the hands out feature in most online platforms is really useful. However i find, like in a classroom, that some students never put up their virtual hand. Therefore I just work down the list of participants and ask them a question. This means that all students are engaged and contributing.
Tip Five – Use Online Content
Getting students to watch a video or read a resource is a great way of breaking down the lesson. It is hard to talk for too long and so giving them something to do is crucial. Whilst you have to simply hope they will do it, I find that most do. Pick videos and resources that are engaging and make sure you have specific questions ready.
Tip Six – Wellbeing Check
We need to “Walk the Walk” when it comes to wellbeing. Every lesson I like to just check that students are all okay. Asking a few questions at the end is really helpful and just lets them know that you are there and can help if they need it. Obviously this is an added extra, but it is something I think it important.
Tip Seven – No Camera on
I don’t’ have my camera on when I teach at home. It feels safer and more sensible. But it also allows the added excitement of flipping it on at the end of the lesson to wave goodbye. I just found that students didn’t need to see me in order to learn from me! And also I don’t need to see them.
The issue of course is that you have no idea if they are engaging?
I find that I ensure they are engaging (or try at least) through questioning. Not being able to see them is a disadvantage, but if you frame and pose questions then they should all listen in and make sure they are involved. And you can then quickly identify the students that maybe need some extra nudging or support.
Tip Eight – Record the lesson
I see a lot of benefit in recording the lesson as students may not be able to engage live and you may as well not let your hard work go to waste. Allowing them to watch the lesson later if not present is really helpful, but shouldn’t replace them turning up of course!
It is quite a good idea to put questions in the chat as that can help when recording lessons. It means students can maybe follow things more clearly. I appreciate there are safeguarding issues at play here, so that is why we have to follow school and professional guidelines. I do not suggest sharing videos outside of the school platform and they don’t need to stay available for longer than a day or so.
Tip Nine – Give Tasks, Stay Present
One thing I realised is that setting students work during a live lesson and then letting them get on is really useful. But I think that staying present in the lesson is a really good approach. If it is a GCSE class and you set some extended writing, then do it at the start and then stay online. This way they can ask questions and you can also keep reminding them about time and what they should be going. You may want to break it down further into chunks. I think that this approach helps students to stay focussed and avoid work piling up.
Tip Ten – Keep lessons Engaging
Chances are that students use their devices to watch Netflix, play games or keep in touch on social media. When they then log in to your lesson you are competing with the latest thing they watched. I am talking about their mindset when they sit down at home with device in hand ready to learn. We need to be aware that students do need engaging lessons in order to learn and want to come back for more.
There are several ways to keep the live learning alive. Using videos, music and resources will help. But I also turned to Microsoft Forms for quizzes and Kahoot to end the week with a fun quiz. I would often share my screen so that they could see me interacting with Cubase, Sibelius or Soundtrap. The more we can “entertain” them, the more they will engage and hopefully learn.
I know that using the word entertain will go down like a lead-balloon with some teachers, but I do think that live lessons online need to be a little bit exciting. The very fact that we are able to teach online is amazing i think. And it doesn’t take much to just add an extra little something to a lesson that will spark some fun and entertainment. It doesn’t need to be much and it could be something like a piece of music that you have enjoyed and you ask for opinions.
Tip Eleven – Pace
The pace of our online lessons needs to be very different from the classroom pace. If lessons in a classroom are an hour, then maybe make the online lesson 50 minutes. Trying to replicate the real-life scenario is often hard and doesn’t work. Imagine when in school the time taken to enter a classroom and then clear up at the end. Don’t push yourself to fill an hour, and think about pacing the lesson our differently. Students will be our of routine at home and we need to help them to adjust and work with that difficult scenario.
Tip Twelve – Leave them on a Cliffhanger
Just like those Netflix series that we all watch, end your lessons on a cliffhanger so that they are excited for the next one! This is good practise in the classroom, but you might be able to make it more of a thing within an online lesson. I think the basic principle is to maybe leave them with some thoughts for next time and something to do just in case they can’t make the lesson. It is so easy to share a video to watch or a link to some reading.
Tips for Teaching Online
Teaching online isn’t easy, but it can be really useful and rewarding. If we can make sure we are doing our best, then the students will benefit and appreciate it. We haven’t had too much time to adapt, but we have had long enough now to at least make it work. We won’t get it right straight away and it won’t always be natural. But if we are aware that it is different for us and them, then we can go some way to continually improve what we offer.
I hope that these Tips for Teaching Online have been helpful or at least got you thinking. Please do get in touch if you have any thoughts, comments or questions. As a teaching community we need to stick together and do what we can to help each other out. I don’t have all the answers and find teaching at home really hard and draining at times. Being in my classroom is my preference, but I also know that at times I will need to deliver content online. I just try and do my best and keep smiling! I would also love to hear about any Tips for Teaching Online that you might have – comment below!
Happy New Year to you all! Have a great term!