On February 2nd, 2020, my vice principal called a meeting and informed our faculty of the possibility of moving all lessons online due to the rise in coronavirus cases in the UAE. We all started brainstorming on strategies we could employ and questioning how this could be done, especially those of us teaching in the early years and elementary school.
As an e-learning strategist, I had already introduced e-learning to my students at the start of the academic year. I gave them projects and assignments to submit online. I also posted videos of lessons, pre-recorded in the class or at home, on our learning management system. So, when the news broke that we would potentially be moving all school activities to an online environment, my class was one step ahead.
Here are some of the strategies that worked for me; hopefully they can give you some ideas to implement in your class for a smoother transition.
If you are teaching in K-12, then most, if not all, of your students are new to online learning. It can be frustrating as most of them are still finding it difficult to get a handle on the process. One of the best strategies to use is simply being visible. This could mean being there for your students, listening to them, or guiding them through life and academic difficulties.
But my advice here is to be taken in a literal sense: Your students need to see you.
They need to see you in all the video conferencing, online classes, and conversations. Some teachers hide behind their blocked cameras so students only hear their voices. This can be counterproductive as students will hide, too, and often leave you talking to yourself.
This strategy helped me a lot as the difference between our traditional class scenario and the online class scenario was greatly minimized. We even sing the national anthem every morning before class begins. I play the anthem via my device while every one of us stands up, hands-on chests, and we all sing together.
Except for a few students who fell ill, none of my students missed online classes last year. They even came online before I did.
Online teaching in K-12 isn’t a smooth ride. You must be creative in your pedagogical approaches. You will find yourself not following everything in the books. Remind yourself that there are other ways of doing this, so long as the lesson objectives are met.
Be creative. Be wild. Put some magic in how you teach and in what you teach. Have a sense of humor and try to understand the learning journey from the perspective of your students. Once your students see your magic, they will bring out theirs.
Integrate Collaboration and Fun Activities
The issue I see most teachers struggling with is how to have their online classes feel more like a traditional class. Tough times require different strategies.
With student-led-instructional methods and inquiry-based learning, you can simulate your traditional classes in the online environment. Thanks to Zoom breakout rooms, I was able to move my students into groups, allocate a set time, and have clear instructions on what to do. They go off to discuss, brainstorm, and research. When the time is up, everyone returns to the main discussion room and shares their findings with other group members, one group at a time.
When I create these learning experiences, my job shifts to a learning facilitator; I simply explain the concepts at the beginning of the lesson and then debrief at the end of the lesson.
I usually seek my students’ opinions when it comes to class projects and tasks, and it was imperative that that continued during the online classes. It works well for me. I discovered that my students are a bank of ideas. Some of the best strategies employed in our class projects were not my ideas.
I allocate 45 minutes on Thursdays for fun activities such as online Kahoot game lessons, riddles, tell a tale, teach us a meal, etc.
Toward the end of last school year, we had an online party. Everyone dressed up for the day and sat in their living rooms, each holding a cup of juice to celebrate.
Be Considerate and Stay in Communication
Some of your students won’t finish their tasks on time. Give them some extra time. We all have our own pace of doing things, and we must be champions of inclusive education and differentiation in learning.
One of the strategies I employed was having constant communication with the parents of my students. I sent them WhatsApp messages almost every day, either to remind them to wake the kids up to come online for classes, or to make sure their child is doing the homework assigned. If any of my students missed an assessment, I called the parents to remind them and asked why – we must understand that parents are passing through these difficulties as well.
Giving them this extra hand will go a long way to ease out things for you during these unexpected times. Above all, it will build a partnership between you and the parents that can help their child succeed.
In conclusion, being visible, creative, collaborative, considerate, and good at communication were the most effective strategies for me.
What were the strategies that worked best for you?
Cheta Ikemsinachi Onuecheta is an uncommon educator, e-learning strategist, researcher, and organizational psychologist. He’s an advocate of collaborative online international learning, accelerated learning, vocational education, practical entrepreneurship, and digitization of work. Originally from Nigeria, Cheta holds a Bachelor’s in psychology, a PGDE, an MSc in organizational psychology, and is a member of the Nigeria Psychological Association. He has over 10 years of experience in teaching and educational leadership in both Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates.
He believes that if the world were going extinct and people asked to work for free to save the earth, that teaching is the job he would happily do for free.
Cheta isn’t always this serious. He loves to dance, sing, and laugh at his own jokes. He’s also a good actor and event planner.
Cheta is currently working toward his doctoral interests in educational leadership and policy.