bulletin boards · classroom environment · COVID-19 · independence · small group · writing workshop

Bringing Virtual Classrooms to Life

As we get deeper and deeper into Distance Learning, I’m holding up my hand and offering high fives to you as you walk by. If I know you, that high five could turn into a hug. Take a moment and experience it. 

I wrote my opening paragraph and took that picture intentionally because I think it’s important to do everything possible to ground students in the knowledge that this quarantine is temporary. We will return to classrooms, if not this year, then in the future. We are still there for each other, cheering each other on. We are still, even and maybe especially from afar, caring about each other, and teachers are still invested in both the learning and emotional well-being of our students. One possible way to help students is by providing systems and routines that are reminiscent of classrooms. Is it possible to duplicate the live, in-person experiences? Of course not, but maybe some of you felt the authenticity of my high-five or hug. 

So let’s think about some ways to bring virtual classrooms to life, maybe thinking of it as duplicating some of the processes of your classroom in a virtual world. 

Welcome students into classrooms, finding creative ways to greet them

Jennifer Merrifield, a fourth-grade teacher from Maine, was featured on a local news show for the creative ways she has been engaging her students. Here is the link to the news story.  Jen has been brave enough and generous enough to share the video clips in multiple parts that she has created for her morning greetings.

You could spend a LONG time watching Jennifer in her videos, and I guarantee that you will find inspiration in her animation, creativity, and theatrics. Engaging students through a 2 dimensional screen is hard, and she has found some ways to do it! There is so much to learn about Distance Learning (should that be capitalized?) from Jen.

Make non-live teaching feel more like you’re there

Even if you’re teaching asynchronously, consider addressing students as you’re doing it. It could sound something like this: Melanie, I can picture you with your feet on your chair. Julia, I’m guessing you’re doodling. Fold your hands and give me your listening ears right now because I’m about to say something important. 

You could keep a list of your students and tally who you’ve addressed as you’re recording lessons, and if you are teaching other people’s classes, you could even add those students to the mix. It’s tricky, yes, but not impossible, and students will listen more closely if they think they might hear a name. They may even tally, too.

Remind students of what they’d be doing if they were in class right now. I’m guessing I’d be seeing about four hands up right now. And now maybe six. More to come… Some of Jen’s greetings in the videos she’s shared have her theatrically seeing hands. She brings humor through this technique, but also taps into imaginations and shared memories.

Call yourself out for the idiosyncratic behaviors that your students might say make you you. For example, Jen described announcing a hair-tucking moment, before getting close up to her camera. One of her students told her he could see up her nose. (Gross, but so real!)

Refer to the environment and even consider recreating it 

Several of the classrooms where I work have interactive bulletin boards where students can “borrow” small versions of charts when students need them.

Allie Woodruff, one of our fourth-grade teachers reminded students of the bulletin board in their room, as she presented a Padlet of similar and familiar materials for students. “It’s like our classroom,” she told students. “Only virtual.” This virtual bulletin board does not have to be limited to this time period– it’s a wonderful idea for when we’re all back in classrooms, as well!

If you have any opportunity to return to your classrooms, consider taking pictures of your room and sharing those with students. Maybe you have pictures of your classroom already. I bet students would love to see them.

Small group instruction

If you are a workshop teacher or you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you probably engage in small group instruction with your students. Maybe some of you have set up systems for choice and agency for your students so that they can be involved in setting goals for their own learning. In many of the classrooms where I coach, we set up “seminars”, inviting students to sign up for lessons. The picture below is what it could look like:

Lisa Jacobs, a third-grade teacher in our district, and I collaborated to design a form so that student could identify their learning needs and she could provide small group instruction through small group instruction. She could meet with students live or even share a lesson video of a specific skill.

If you want to use the form, you’ll have to make a copy and then revise it to whatever makes sense for your students.

I had plans to write more, but we are all on information overload, and depending on what you dig into within this post, it’s probably more than enough. If any of you have suggestions for ways to make your virtual classroom so more real life, please share them in the comments. We’re all learning together!

3 thoughts on “Bringing Virtual Classrooms to Life

  1. Jennifer’s videos are ADORABLE!!!! How fun and creative!! I’ve been making a morning meeting each day for my students but I do it at 6am and I look A WRECK so I screencast a Buncee presentation without my picture. The kids here my voice and I talk directly to them and follow the routines we had like sharing an inspiring quote and a word of the day. Props to Jennifer for being so funny and creative in sharing her greetings with her students. I love the Padlet idea of charts!


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