Entering the Online Classroom
I have been hearing from fellow administrators, how are you going to evaluate online instruction? As teachers navigate new teaching platforms and methods, administrators must navigate the same topic from a completely different perspective. We need to find a way to evaluate instruction that we view from our desks rather than a classroom visit. What does a “walk-through” look like when there is no classroom to visit? This shift in perspective does not have to be a daunting task. Good administrators know good teaching when they see it. Our time in previous years was spent in classrooms; now we have to enter a different classroom. It is an online classroom. Things aren’t that much different in there, we are still going to look for effective and best practices and accountability. We just have to shift our perspective. I want to help you focus your attention on the five most important aspects of online learning.
Your teachers must allow you access to their classrooms either as a student or as an instructor to evaluate online instruction. Either way, you need to be able to “enter” the classroom to evaluate it. When entering the room, the first thing you need to look for is Teacher Presence. Just like entering a regular classroom, when you enter the online classroom you should feel the teacher’s presence. Look for the teacher’s personality reflected in the appearance of the classroom setup. The teacher should be using their image in ways that make a personal connection with the student. A bitmoji or a picture will allow the student to know who the person is behind the lessons and activities. Teacher Presence is also the way the teacher is presenting the lessons to the student. Teachers should be teaching. They need to use a variety of methods and one of those methods is video. Either prerecorded videos or live video sharing are great ways for a teacher to ensure their presence in their virtual classroom.
Learning Objectives with Clear Expectations
The learning objectives for an online classroom are just as important as a regular classroom. This is where the academic focus lies. Online classrooms cannot be a jumble of worksheets that were uploaded as a PDF. The dreaded I Can Statements may have seemed superfluous in a regular classroom, but what is presented in an online classroom needs focus and a logical progression. Online classes must include activities that reinforce learning along with individual assignments. Portfolios of work, project based learning, and thematic units are a pedagogical treasure trove in these times. The assignments must include learning objectives that are clear and outcomes that are explained in precise detail. Lesson plans for online learning may need to take on a different look. Teachers must embrace the concept of planning all lessons with the final outcome in mind. There are no more activities for early finishers. Every activity must have a purpose and a progression and must be clearly presented.
Exploration of Quality Resources
We are in an age where teachers literally have the world at their fingertips. Sometimes the world has beautiful things for us to use and, other times, what we find is garbage. Right now, teachers must actively sift through all of it when looking for quality resources for their students to access. There are two perspectives with this concept. First, teachers do not have to create everything from scratch anymore. There is someone out there who is willing to share everything they created to teach a lesson. Second, everything that is shared is not high quality. The key to finding quality resources is to find trusted groups that will do the research for you, like EDGEucating.com. The planning for online lessons takes on a completely different hue when the teacher knows that they are giving a child access to anything on the world wide web when they are alone and on the computer. Websites, online programs, and software must be vetted before giving students access.
When the pandemic started, my teachers were instructed to limit their online instruction to include only trusted programs that they had used previously. My reasoning for this was that there was an enormous number of negative people out there that were going to take advantage of the situation to make a buck. Our state created a list of online resources that were approved. They never said that we were limited to what was on the list, but they were just making the vetted resources available. Finding quality resources takes time and therefore planning for online instruction takes much more effort than regular classroom lessons. You can access information about some of those resources here.
Prompt and Ample Feedback
Students enrolled in online classes do not have the benefit of having their teacher within earshot. When they have a question about an assignment or activity they cannot just raise their hand for clarification. Teachers must ensure that their directions are clear and detailed. Students must have access to examples and teacher feedback. When teachers plan lessons, they need to keep in mind the ability level of the student. The younger the student the smaller the steps in the activity must be. This allows for the student to ask questions and for the teacher to give feedback along the way BEFORE the child gets off track. We do not want students to get way out in left field before we realize they did not understand a concept. Students should not have the opportunity to practice a concept incorrectly over and over before the teacher steps in to help. There for Prompt and Ample Feedback is essential to quality learning. Lessons and activities must provide the opportunity for this student/teacher interaction.
Finally, the students must be engaged. Teachers can spend hours researching and planning the ultimate lesson, but if the students are not engaged, learning is limited. We have to get our students doing something. Students must be engaged in the learning process. In a regular classroom, during a lecture or presentation, teachers have the opportunity to look into the eyes of their students to gauge understanding. Online, teachers are blind. Engaging students in conversation, discussion, presentation, either by submitted assignments or video or discussion boards. The way a teacher engages her students is up to the teacher. It can be as personal, creative, and different as the teacher. Student engagement will be how an administrator will determine a teacher’s effectiveness.
Let me give you an example. A teacher assigns a project on Monday that is due on Friday. On Friday, the teacher looks at the student’s submission and she realizes that the child did not understand the expectations. The teacher gives feedback immediately, but in this scenario the teacher lost an entire week with this student. She now has to undo whatever the student learned incorrectly and reteach it correctly, this will be even more time wasted. This problem arose because there was no communication between the student and the teacher once the assignment was given. To avoid this problem, the teacher could have broken down the assignment into activities that she could review and give feedback on DAILY. Feedback and communication are essential to learning.
Evaluation Begins and Ends with the Teacher
In conclusion, when an administrator enters an online classroom there will be a lot to look at, review, interact with, watch, and read. But to truly evaluate online learning, the administrator will have to talk to the teacher about the lessons. Administrators must provide teachers with training and support in developing quality online learning activities and then follow their own advice. Administrators must communicate clearly, set clear expectations, and provide prompt and ample feedback. Educational leaders cannot give the assignment of “Create an online classroom” on Monday and not give any feedback until the end of the year. It is the job of the administrator to support the teachers in whatever way they need so that online learning can be the best it can be.
Teaching is NOT assigning activities. Teaching is presenting information in a way to promote understanding and growth. Online learning should be the same.