On March 13, 2020, most schools in Tennessee, like others around the world, were shut down because of COVID-19. Educators were left in limbo, unsure of what was going to happen next. For some, it was weeks before they were informed of what to do. Like one teacher said, “For me it was very frustrating not having clear directions on what we should be doing with our classes at first. Not just for teaching them, but even communicating with their families. I was worried about how my students were doing and the conditions they were going through” (Teacher 1, personal communication, 2020).
Teachers were left to fend for themselves during an unprecedented pandemic—without direction from administrators—and with many eyes looking to them for answers. No clear guidelines or expectations were given for teachers and families for several weeks.
Two to three weeks following school closings, teachers were informed that instruction would be moving to online distance learning. Many teachers were in shock. This was unchartered territory. Both teachers and families were facing the reality that students would be learning at home together. While families are central to the education of their children (Burgess & Sievertsen, 2020), the question now was, how many of these parents or families have the skills and time to teach their children? How many of them have the technology at home, or even know how to use the technology, to successfully support their children? There were clear frustrations on the part of teachers with the rapid decision to transition to online learning. Were school administrators assuming that everyone involved had adequate Internet service and/or technology to support online initiatives, or that parents knew how to use the Google tools?
Like one teacher from Michigan said, “I feel like we were thrown into online teaching. We did get some quick basic training sessions on Google Classroom and Google Meets; basically, we had to learn by trial and error, just spending time on each” (Teacher 2, personal communication, 2020).
Recommendations for Teachers
1. Be flexible with instruction times.
Providing clearly written directions and video instructions within an online classroom is imperative for students’ and parents’ understanding of materials. Having these accessible will aid in student comprehension.
2. A popular platform for many teachers and students is Google Classroom.
If this is what you’re using, list everything by week using topics, and include a “Resource Tools” topic at the top. The resource tools should include, but not be limited to, how to use Kami (online document annotation and markup tool), how to take a screenshot, and how to print assignments.
3. Stay in regular communication with your students and their parents via email.
Email communication should be brief and include regular times for Zoom meetings by topic and days of the week. By establishing regular Zoom meeting times, students will become accustomed to a “class schedule” at home. When you schedule meetings, designate specific times for teaching concepts and having other meetings be strictly for question-and-answer sessions. Don’t require all students to attend the Q&As—just the students who have questions and need assistance or further clarification. Of course, all students should be required to attend Zoom meetings when you’re teaching new content. A suggested schedule might be meeting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In the morning on these days, hold required 1-hour Zoom meetings with students, during which you will teach content. Offer a 1-hour open Zoom meeting in the afternoons of the same days for students to attend on an as-needed basis. When you prepare for your meetings, write down a list of things you want to accomplish in your time with the students and always have a backup plan in case technology does not work.
4. Keep your Zoom meetings as interactive as possible.
Show students how to use the microphone and video functions as well as the hand-raise and chat functions. During your first class meeting, set expectations for using these tools, as well as for behavior and dress code. Continue to reinforce these expectations as needed and communicate them to students and parents via email as well.
5. Lastly, make the most of your Zoom sessions by incorporating different types of media.
Show videos—these can be teaching videos found online or ones you’ve prerecorded for classroom use such as read-alouds, science experiments, or direction videos. Students also enjoy playing games online to build community. These could be team-building activities that you would typically use as icebreakers. The goal is to make the online classroom as personal and engaging as possible.
By Queen Ogbomo and Stephanie Wendt
Dr. Ogbomo is an Associate Professor at Tennessee Technological University. She teaches social studies, mathematics, and science methods courses. She maintains an active research agenda in minority and multicultural education, mathematics and literature connection, science and literacy, STEM education best practices, and online learning.
Dr. Wendt is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education at Tennessee Technological University. She teaches courses on science methods, field experiences, learning theory, educational technology, and grant writing. Dr. Wendt assisted educators and preservice teachers with transitioning to online instruction during COVID-19.
Burgess, S., & Sievertsen, H. H. (2020, April 1). Schools, skills, and learning: The impact of COVID-19 on education. VoxEu. https://voxeu.org/article/impact-covid-19-education