To Do's for Today's Virtual Teaching

April 2, 2020

To Do's for Today's Virtual Teaching

By: NIET CEO Dr. Candice McQueen

With schools now jumping into remote learning, I have had the opportunity to view a variety of virtual lessons. Based on these reviews, here are my do's and a few don'ts of virtual teaching as we develop remote sessions for children of all ages as part of an emergency response to COVID-19.


Keep it simple

  • Start with the basics and build on those over time. Less is really more. And having less to grade provides more time to plan and engage with students on their assignments.

Create a daily structure

  • Pick a consistent structure for each "school day." For example, start with a video or written message, highlight success criteria for the tasks of the day, then provide an assignment with a set time for finishing.

Develop weekly routines that coincide with student needs

  • Consider structuring your week in a way that builds in some variance related to student needs on particular days. For example, on Mondays you may always tape a video of yourself explaining a math concept and providing links for the week, or on Tuesdays you always do a Zoom meeting with students for a book discussion, or on Thursdays you may build in a creativity session. Some days could be scheduled for longer writing assignments or a reading block.

Start with caring and sharing

  • All of us are experiencing this new reality, even if it looks a little different for each person. Acknowledge that with students, and give them an opportunity to share what they are thinking and feeling. Also share encouraging or fun videos and stories – there are still moments of joy and connection that can help morale and engagement.

Show your face and/or personality as much as possible

  • Students know and trust their teachers, especially by this point in the school year. Getting to see your face can feel more engaging than only reading a note (but don't underestimate the value of a personal note), and don't hesitate to show your personality – kids see and respond to authenticity.

State the purpose

  • In a virtual setting, it's even more important to articulate why students are being asked to do certain projects. Otherwise, they are more likely to tune out.

Build on the prior session's work to create thoughtful connections

  • Consistently referencing back to earlier work will help students to remember those skills and understand the progression of their learning. We simply tend to do this more in person than in a virtual environment, so we have to work to make it happen.

Show students what success looks like

  • This is potentially the most important piece to do right now, and we have provided some ideas for what this could look like in a virtual space. Students – and, often, parents – need to know the criteria for the assignment and specifically what you are looking for. This matters regardless of whether the work is graded or not, but if it will be graded, be clear about that.

Spend more time on feedback

  • Feedback is likely the best strategy you have right now to help students progress in their learning. Prioritize your time on providing feedback – even more time than when you could see your students face-to-face.

Show grace and provide options for help

  • Students will struggle and get behind. This is a time to show grace and provide ways to access you, redo, or relearn.

And here are some don'ts

  • Act like it is business as usual
  • Confuse students with inconsistency in structures or routines
  • Create lessons with too much complexity in the technology tools or too many directions
  • Make lessons too long
  • Never show your face
  • Spend more time on planning lessons than providing feedback and remediation
  • Ask students to do something meaningless
  • Fail to share what success looks like

We are all learning and growing as we adapt to virtual learning, and over time as you get comfortable with your routine, you may want to alter it and build in more creativity. You may want to build out your daily schedule in new ways that expand on what you start now, add more depth to what you are teaching or the ways you expect students to show their learning, and try new technology tools. You don't have to do it all at once – and in fact, you may be more successful if you don't. Remote learning has its challenges, but there are opportunities, too – and those could be the difference-makers that bring some "normalcy" to students this spring.