From personal to virtual in 3 weeks. By teachers, for teachers.

Imagine Macys tried to become Amazon in only three weeks? That’s what teachers around the country have had to do. It’s a paradigm shift, and the pedagogy has to change.

What have we learned about how to teach effectively in this new “virtual reality”?

We’re far from perfecting the approach at Northridge. But, we wrote this to crystalize the insights for ourselves and realized it could help other teachers.

What’s changed?

Classroom time is no longer the top priority.  When in-person, our class time with students was our primary teaching mechanism. Now, even if you’re lucky enough to have remote classes, learning is significantly limited: you can’t do remote classes that often, and you can’t expect much from the students during  remote classes.

Your assignments do the teaching. Instead of class time, it is quality assignments that will lead your students up the “incline plane” of learning material. The assignments must both teach and provide work for the students to synthesize that teaching.

Office hours are very effective. The loss of class time allows significantly more time for the individual tutoring that gets your student through the roadblock where she/he’s stuck. The good news is that we can do more of this since everyone’s more flexible.

Grading feedback really matters. The instruction you once provided in the classroom now takes the form of detailed  feedback on assignments. Spend more time on grading than ever in the past, and explain to students why they missed a point or two.

Academic integrity is an obvious challenge.  The temptation to copy and share answers is very strong.  We need to continue to remind our students about the importance of  integrity and help them by the way we design assignments and assessments.

This is still more than a full-time-job. Preparing great assignments, grading them well, and helping students through it all is incredibly time consuming. The flexible schedule is great, but expect to remain more than busy.


7 Tips

We’ve developed “7 Top Tips” for the areas outlined above. Explore them below, or visit the first one here.


Good comes out of everything

The silver lining here is that we have all probably relied too much on class time. If we use them well, these days of shut-in will lead us, the teachers, up the incline plane of helping our students become more independent learners. When we return in the Fall (let’s hope!), our classes will be improved by incorporating our learnings from these times. 


Some context for these tips:

    1. Type of school: We’re an all-boys Middle and High School, grades 6 – 12; we’ve tried to change “he” to “student” or “he/she,” but forgive us if we missed some pronouns.
    2. Some assumptions: This was written assuming a relatively motivated student body (about 90% of our students are currently trying hard), with reasonable access to wifi and technology at the home, and who tend to come from stable households.
    3. We’ve been asked about motivation – how do we get 90% of our students to work hard? Several factors: we’re continuing our normal grading scale during these times. Students have three scheduled classes each morning (over Zoom), with required attendance – the structure really helps. You can find our remote learning approach here. Also, we’ve created a team actively following up with at risk or slipping students.
    4. Many contributed to these articles. We’ve had several working teams studying these issues. Particular credit goes to Peter Fletcher, Joe Rhee, Rich Rodriguez (who co-authored much of this), Ben Foster, Edwin Carbajal, John Powell, Jim Lothian, Stephen Kim, and more.




Academic Integrity (7 Tips)

The ability and hence temptation to cheat is significantly higher during these times, for many obvious reasons. A few thoughts and approaches:   Talk to your students about integrity. They know what’s right, they have ideals, and they want to be...

Virtual Classes (7 Tips)

Class time is what we’re accustomed to and enjoy, but it’s gone from being the most to the least important part of teaching. However, class time is still an important teaching tool. Here are seven tips to make them effective:   Flipped Classroom...

Grading & Office Hours (7 Tips)

No longer can we depend upon the in-class interactions to give feedback and help students learn from their mistakes. That was a crucial (and often under appreciated) component of the education process. Your grading and Office Hour time fills the gap.  ...

Building Assignments That Teach (7 Tips)

You aren’t there to remind students, provide instructions, or spot check assignment notebooks. You can’t staple materials together for your kids. You aren’t there to coach the weaker performers.  All this is missing. Now it must be supplanted by concise,...