Nothing Is as Revolutionary Here as Hamilton, But These Four Things Are Making My Virtual Classes Work (So Far)

As teachers in 2020, we are all learning a new normal – whether it is 100% virtual teaching or a hybrid model, all changing how we interact with students and our subject matter. In my environment, I am teaching Spanish remotely from home with my students “zooming in” three times a week. And even though this is certainly a new experience, I still think some quality language teaching can happen. Here are four things (again nothing is revolutionary like the scale of Hamilton 🙂 but so far they are working for us.

In order for anything to work this year, I believe that being flexible and adaptable is key for my sanity as a teacher and for my students. I accept that there will be problems with WI-FI, slow computers and programs, and that each time I try a new application, extension or anything with technology that I will learn something new and it may fail. More importantly, I do not expect perfection from myself nor my students. In fact, according to my husband, he sees me most frustrated as a person when I am fighting with the computer or with technology that does not work. But honestly, after 6 months of working virtually, I have not let that bother me as I once did #growth.

This year I am teaching Spanish I, II, and IV and in each one I must help students reach success using scaffolded learning opportunities. With this, I must constantly adapt to a new virtual environment and figure out how to teach “my curriculum” seeing my students 65% of our normal time a week. Luckily, I teach in a district that realizes we may not cover the same content this year and that we must focus on our students’ needs. I certainly hope that those of you reading this have administrations and expectations, for yourselves as teachers and your students, that are realistic. Saying this, I do keep plugging along teaching with a smile daily online and hoping that some things that I am doing are sticking. But really, it is still hard to tell, and each day, I embed new formative assessment types for my students to try to decipher what they are learning.

Frankly nothing that I am going to post here is going to be “Earth-shattering” in fact for some readers it will be elementary. But for me, virtual learning has pushed me to engage with technology on a new level. Now truth-be-told, I have been using technology in my classes forever. I am not afraid of technology and I have always used it when necessary.  I stress “ when necessary” because many of the formative assessment tools that I am trying to incorporate now, are ones that I would not use daily in class because I pride myself as having a desk-less classroom without much screen engagement except my daily slide-shows on my interactive whiteboard, games of Quizlet Live or Gimkit, and using our Nuestra Historia online textbook for 5 to 10 minutes at a time and for homework. But I digress, today I work to develop lessons that engage students while helping to hold them accountable and providing me with formative assessments to show learning and/or acquisition.

Here are 4 things that I am doing today to help move my students forward in our virtual setting. Honestly some of these things are best practices that I always have used to reach all students and they are helping during my 60 minute virtual classes too. I will follow up with a post this week about how I am still using songs with students while being remote.

1. THE “DO NOW” – I have implemented the beloved do now/bell-ringer which I do not normally do in class, but it allows me to take attendance and allows me to control the virtual waiting room as students enter late. So far, the DO NOW, has either been writing down or typing a CALL and RESPONSE (like “thank you” and “you’re welcome” in Spanish I) or a QUESTION and ANSWER. As a scaffold, students see the answer on my screen and I can do the call and response with students or have them respond aloud to the question. By doing this, all students have the opportunity for success by reading their answer after hearing me say it a few times. (In normal circumstances I do many Call and Response sets in class, so this is a great way to continue it; it also provides a way of incorporating Interpersonal Questions and Answers in all levels from How are you? to If you could go to any place, where would you go and why?).

2. REMIND.COM  – I have had all students join my REMIND classes and if they do not come to class within the first two minutes, I send them a reminder text which usually results in their joining class :).

3. DAILY PARTICIPATION POINTS – Frankly in live school, I have never found a good way of doing daily participation points. Usually I move around my classroom so much, pointing to visuals and word walls, moving closer to students, answering the door, etc., that I cannot comfortably continuously focus and write down points per student. But all of this has changed at home. On Zoom or Google Meet, it is easy for me to focus on participation points even while pointing to words on my virtual word walls and holding up signs as I teach. Each day I have my student roster next to me and I give points based on what students do in class. There are 10 points daily and students each earn 6/10 for attending class and they must earn the other 4 points. They earn +1 point for speaking/interacting with me via the DO NOW Question of the Day (and those from the past) or talking about the calendar/day, sporting wins and losses, time, weather and/or current feelings depending on the level/class. Students can earn +1 point for completing the Song Task and +2 points for completing the Exit Slip.

4. THE EXIT SLIP: I know many readers have done exit slips for years. It is a great formative assessment. Normally I would do a daily quiz on paper asking questions to see what they have acquired or which words they can reference from my walls or we would do a read, write & discuss. Since paper is now not an option, I have taken advantage of the following tools to engage with learners during the last 3-5 minutes of class. This is also a strategy I am using to ensure that students remain in the virtual class until the end of the lesson. Here are some exit slip tools: 

-THE PRIVATE ZOOM CHAT – Send me a PRIVATE CHAT about …. Whatever … I just pose the question and they write (often times the answer can still be constructed using the scaffolded language on my screen).

PEAR DECK – I will write more about Pear Deck in my Song Post but since I use a Google Slideshow as a Visual to “run” my daily classes, the Pear Deck add-on is an interface that allows me to collect data in a very simple way. There are many tutorials to teach you about PEAR DECK and I watched this Pear Deck 101 three weeks ago and it was enough to get me started.

-GOOGLE CLASSROOM QUESTIONS – Just pose a Google Classroom Question and have students respond privately; it sorts the questions in a great way and let’s me know who still has not completed the question. I am sure other LMSs like Canvas, PowerSchool, or Schoology also offer this option too.

Again, I do not think that I am posting anything revolutionary here, but I do believe that anything and everything we do in this current school climate can be and should be seen with the lens of being revolutionary because we are all in new territory. Best of luck throughout the many transitions we will likely have this school year.

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