It’s been a long old slog learning how to replicate effective classroom practice at home, sat in my pyjamas for most of the day with a one-and-a-bit-year-old tugging at my trouser leg.
At first, recording voiceovers onto PowerPoint presentations and using video recording software to pre-record 10 to 15 minutes of teacher input seemed like a relatively successful way to go, especially as this could be done without interruption whilst my daughter napped.
However, as the time away from the classroom dragged on, I couldn’t help but notice the higher levels of engagement amongst pupils for some of my colleagues who were delivering live lessons instead of pre-recorded ones.
No matter how much pupils might protest when they’re actually in school, could it be that they actually do enjoy having that face-to-face experience with their teachers in real time, I wondered.
How to make live online lessons work
Keen to find out whether I should jump on the live lesson bandwagon, I decided to try it out. I approached colleagues for their advice about the best ways to make it work. Here’s what I learned.
Have a ‘do now’ ready when they arrive
It stands to reason that when you have planned a live lesson for a class of 30 students, not everyone will be on time – some pupils will have parents on the laptop hurriedly finishing work, some will have their clocks set two or three minutes behind the rest of society, and some are just naturally poor timekeepers. Therefore, having a five-minute “do now” task or retrieval quiz on a PowerPoint slide as they join gives you a few minutes to gather your thoughts and greet everyone as they arrive.
Share the ground rules
There are a thousand things that could go wrong when relying on technology, and that’s before you take into consideration the issues that could arise from forgetting to establish ground rules. So, make sure that a lack of rules is not the thing that trips you up.
Have a clear set of guidelines ready and read them out at the start of each live lesson. Who cares if the students get sick of hearing it by the end of the week? A friendly reminder to stay muted and only use the chat for responding to tasks can help to reduce the number of potential issues with behaviour.
Check for understanding
Once you have taught the material, you must check that all pupils understand, like you would in any classroom lesson. This can be done easily using a couple of the following options: unmuting students and using cold call; using a poll in the chat feature; setting a quick quiz; or having a go at home-made mini-whiteboards using a couple of sheets of A4. Whatever method you use to check for understanding, ensure that the soft data you gather informs your next steps.
Say pupils’ names
Whether it’s cold calling them or praising them for a great response in the chat, it’s important for the students to hear you saying their names. They’ve been off school for quite some time now, and some won’t have had much interaction in that time. By using their names, you’re reminding them that you haven’t forgotten about them and that they are still important to you.
Be honest when it goes wrong
Nobody has cracked this synchronous teaching lark yet – there is still some way to go, and that involves making mistakes and learning from them. If a live lesson goes poorly, there is no harm in admitting it to students and starting from scratch again the next day. It is important for students to see us as human and witness how we pick ourselves up after failure; never underestimate the power of honesty.
Don’t just hang up!
At the end of your lesson, the first thing you’ll be wanting to do is hang up and jump back into those pyjamas. Unfortunately, though, students can remain on the call after you leave. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, and no tomfoolery can occur, you must wait until all students have left. It may be that some students want to speak with you one-to-one. If this is the case, make it clear that you will be staying for no longer than five minutes to answer questions at the end of any given lesson; you still have to look after your own work-life balance, after all.
Laura Tsabet is director of CPD and initial teacher training at a school in Bournemouth. She tweets @lauratsabet