Create Touchpoints

The big disadvantage of online learning is not having the interaction you have in a physical classroom. Some of these interactions are hard to replace, but there are things you can do to interact with your students. You might not have an office anymore, but you can still create office hours. You might not be able to recreate the close proximity of the classroom, but you can recreate some of the magic of in-person learning.

As a teacher, you must give yourself the chance to mourn the regular classroom and the time you would have with your students, but after you have worked through that, you can start to rework the magic within the class. We are going to go through how to create touchpoints with your students so that you can keep the magic alive. These ideas can help freshen up the online teaching world and bring some joy to your students. We’ll also look at ways that you can differentiate these touchpoints for your students that have limited access to resources.

Creativity Choice Board

Having some creative learning projects will give your students the perfect opportunity to connect by showing off their creations together. In the Journal of the American Art Therapy, there was a 2016 study published that found that just 45 minutes of creative activity has the ability to reduce your stress, no matter how artistic or talented the person is. Doing a little something creative can help your students take their mind off of things and put them into a state of flow so that the brain is able to take a break from the stresses of life.

There is a free and editable Creativity Choice Board on Teachers Pay Teachers that are full of projects that you can provide your students. These types of projects provide you with the best chance to allow you and your students to show off how creative you all are.

Along the same lines, you also share listening experiences through podcasts. The podcasts are free and easy to access during distance learning, and they give you a great topic for online discussions.

To differentiate this for some students, you can send a paper copy home to the student or email a copy to the family to print. Students can then finish as many of these projects as they want with or without internet access. If they can’t send the work back to you, they can take a photo of what they did and then send you an email of the photo. Every idea can be edited, so coming up with a digital option is possible so that all of your students will have something to do.

Digital Office Hours

Students may need to ask you questions, but they may not feel comfortable speaking up during your classes, so it is important to have some office hours.  You can use Google Meet so that you can hold weekly office hours. During your office time, students can log in and ask you any questions that they may have about assignments for the week or to check-in and say hi.

If your school system allows you to use Google Meet, and you want to use it, try to add in a few extensions for Chrome to start off with. The Chrome extensions are simple little programs that give you better functionality with the Chrome browser. Because a lot of the communicating your do face-to-face is nonverbal, not being able to see their faces or their reactions online can be weird. The Google Meet Grid View extension will give you the chance to see a thumbnail of your students’ on one grid rather than just having a list of names down one side. There is another tool called Nod – Reactions for Google Meet that will give students the chance to raise their hands virtually to show how they are feeling by using pop-up emojis.

Then you have an extension called “Meet Attendance” that will allow teachers to “take attendance” during your “Google Meet” time. A list of all the students who participated will be time-stamped and exported into a spreadsheet. This will make it easier for you to log and then look at later if you need to.

Be sure that you check with your school district’s rules and regulations before you start to use “Google Meet” or before you initiate any type of two-way communications with your students. They might have specific restrictions or other guidelines that you will need to follow.

To differentiate this for some students, for those who can’t make it to a check-in session, they can record a meeting and then share it through email or with “Google Classroom.” This will give students who share a device with others a chance to get a message from you so that they won’t feel left out. For students who have a hard time accessing Google products, you could send them an email or try calling them. Trying to call every one of your students could get overwhelming, but more than likely, those who can’t access through a recording or email are going to be low.

Flip Grid Reading Response

FlipGrid is a great tool to use to keep the magic alive with your students, especially for English classes. It gives students the chance to create short, creative videos in response to their reading assignments. It can be accessed on desktops, phones, or Chromebooks. To help your students have fun with FlipGrid, try out these things.

Come up with fun and creative prompts. You can have your students share a FlipGrid once a week in response to that week’s reading assignment. For example, have them make up a news story that is only three minutes long that goes into details about the juiciest gossip about the characters in the book.

Create a model. For every prompt, you should come up with a model video response. You can have fun and get goofy with it as well to help connect with your students.

Provide them feedback. It is very easy to give your student’s feedback with FlipGrid. After you have watched a video, you can record a quick response. When you give feedback through a video, it will help the teachers connect with their students in a face-to-face way.

To differentiate this for some students, you can give something different for students who don’t have access to FlipGrid. Students could email you a response or upload it to the virtual classroom. You could also give them the option to provide a response written in the comments. Suppose you have students who are very shy in front of the camera, model how they can have some fun with emoji stickers. Encourage them to play around and fun.

Digital Literature Circles

Engaging group discussion is able to occur without being inside a classroom. There are free tools out there that will allow you to have literature circles within your virtual class. These are unique ways to get discussions going since every student will have a different role than they have to present to the whole group. Having a specific role that they have to show will help the students feel at ease when presenting things in a digital format. These types of discussions thrive on all the members of the group interacting with each other. This type of interaction can only happen in a virtual classroom using live video tools.

You can find two free video tools that allow you to chat that work great in virtual literature circles: Google Meets and Zoom. Before you decide on the one you are going to use, you will need to check in with your school district to find out about the expectations and policies.

Zoom has the unique feature of having breakout rooms. This will allow teachers to split the large class into separate small groups. This means you are able to begin with, the entire class so that you can explain what you want them to do and then put the students into smaller groups. The best thing is that you can bounce between the groups.

Another free resource for video chats is Google Meet. You will have to create Google Meets groups and name them for each separate group so that they know the group they belong to. It can be great to schedule group presentations at a separate time so that you all can meet up.

For those students who can’t participate a certain time, Google and Zoom give you a chance to record. For those who have a hard time with internet access, encourage them to send in quotes or questions for discussions in your class. Then, you can send them their classmate’s responses through an email.

Online Discussion

No matter how you do your online classes, connecting with the students, is difficult and complicated. You will often have those moments where you just feel like you are speaking to a screen while teaching or you are always wondering if they are even reading the things that you have posted. If you have this feeling of disconnect and you miss that interaction with your students, try to add is some sort of discussion. There are a couple of different options that you can try out.

If you have a Google Classroom, make sure you check out the “Ask a question” tool as a way to open up an online discussion. When you do this, it gives the students a chance to reply, and they can see their classmates’ responses and reply to them. If you would like to take things a bit further, you should think about letting students come up with their own questions for a little mini class with each other.

If you have a life lesson using a conference program, then you will be there to help facilitate the discussion. If you think that the discussion isn’t doing well, try these options.

  • Flood the Chat – Set a timer and then ask them a question. Let them know that they need to come up with an answer to your question before the time is up. This is going to cause your students to “flood” the chat with different responses.
  • Virtual Turn and Talk – Depending on what type of platform you are using and the tools that it comes with, you can come up with different conditions so that that your students can send messages with the classmates with answers to questions. For example, you can ask them to send a message to their classmate that is to the below or above them on the participant list. If you can’t do that, ask them to answer to a person who had a name that starts with the same letter as theirs.
  • Respond with Characters or Emojs – Add some multiple-choice questions to your screen and then assign each one of their answers a character or emoji. Then have your students rely on using the character or emoji of the correct answer.

If you want to try out some new tools, think about an online “backchannel” discussion platform like Yo Teach or Kialo. These platforms give you that chance to browse public debates or come up with your own.

For students who can’t make it, think about recording the online discussion. For students who don’t typically have access to the internet, enquire about prompts that can be given to the class and then give them their classmates answers through an email.

Structure and Normalcy

When you try to create a structure and normalcy, it will establish a foundation where learning can happen. To provide structure, you can make check-ins a daily activity for your students using Google Forms, have a screencast for the day’s agenda, and then share the calendar with the perspectives for the week and day. Like you would with a regular class, have a predictable structure is going to help your students feel like they are in a stable environment.

To create some normalcy, you can try streamlining your instructions and use platforms and tools that you were already using with your children. Actively Learn may be a platform that you would like to use as it does it all. You can also use the Kami extension for Chrome. It allows users to upload images or documents and change them into PDFs, which can then be annotated in various ways.

You may be tempted to try out a bunch of new things and to jump on new bandwagons, but that might not be the best option. Keep in mind that you need to build a foundation, create stability, and then start teaching your students new tools to help them feel more comfortable.

For those who don’t have internet access, you can mail out paper versions of all of the work and agendas, or if there is a meal delivery plan that your school is doing, see if they can send out your paperwork with the meals. You can also send out things in bulk, like one month at a time, that’s fine. Try to make sure that you keep things simple so that the work stays accessible to your students and reasonable for you to come up with.

Digital Spirit Week

Spirit weeks are meant to bring the students together through school spirit, so what better way to bring some connection with your students than with a digital spirit week? You can ask your students to send in daily pictures of different themes, such as crazy sock day, pajama day, or school spirit day.

You can also tie these things into the content you are working on. For science, they could dress up as their favorite scientist or compound. In English, they could dress up as their favorite character. You can also ask them to write about something that they have been doing when they don’t have anything else to do.

You can get creative and come up with some more touchpoints for your students if you would like. There are actually a lot of tools out there to enable you to interact with your students and make sure that they are doing well. Hopefully, this will also help to bring the magic back into the classroom.