5 Tips for Teaching Online Classes Live

In a recent conversation I had with an educator, she was exasperated about trying to teach students in live class sessions. This would involve students being at their computers at set times, while the teacher works through the lesson over videoconferencing. She said it’s challenging enough supporting students who are at home and learning virtually due to COVID-19 (or a variety of other reasons) in these unprecedented times.

Sound familiar? Educators across the country are faced with this exact situation each day. Not only are they using various learning platforms and digital tools, but they are also looking for ways to effectively teach remotely.

To do so, many teachers want to help students learn on live platforms. They need to truly engage students online, offer ways to move content from short- to long-term memory, and build relationships through a screen.

Tips for Live Teaching Online

As we reflect on our first nine months of learning in a digital environment, let’s consider a reset for 2021. Here are five tips for teaching online classes in a live format.

1. Build Norms

When we suddenly jumped into remote learning in March, few had a picture of what the virtual classroom would look like. In fact, many were unsure where to start. Somehow, we managed, and some folks even excelled. In speaking with those educators, I discovered that they were always clear with students about their expectations for synchronous whole-group and small-group digital learning.

For example, you might share the expectation that all students respond to the question you post in the chat. You also might ask each student to log in a few minutes before class officially begins, or that students have their cameras on at the beginning of class—unless a student or their caregiver has shared a specific reason why this is not possible. Another norm could be that students participate fully when they are divided into breakout groups.

Don’t assume students know what learning is supposed to look like. We have to clarify what is expected of them in remote learning—how they should participate, collaborate, and engage with learning.

2. Live Doesn’t Mean Everyone

One of the biggest missteps is making the assumption that live learning can only happen when all students are online at the same time. We need to be judicious in how we utilize our minutes of live instruction. If we want to provide direct instruction to all students at once, we need to keep these sessions to no more than 10–12 minutes. Then, if you move into guided practice, you can divide students between live, small groups and independent, asynchronous work.

Live learning doesn’t have to be in front of the computer with the video on for the entire 85-minute block. It can also include moments of independent work, small-group work, and of course, small chunks of direct instruction.

3. Use Simultaneous Engagement Tactics

We have to be agile when we move students from task to task in live learning. This means we need multiple ways of engaging many students at the same time. Yes, this can include breakout rooms where we design specific roles for students. But let’s not stop there. Use tools that can increase engagement. Mentimeter is one of my favorites. Do a Google search of “online engagement tools for students,” and you’ll find a whole bunch. HUGE WARNING: Please do not pick a tool just for the sake of using the tool. We want to be deliberate in our selection, which means we are matching the tool to learning outcomes and strategies for our instructional design. The tool should connect the learning, not be another independent task.

4. Utilize Your Colleagues

Colleagues around the world are looking for practices to help improve remote learning performance. (Yes, around the world—I spoke recently with educators in Saudi Arabia who are working on the same issue: student engagement!) Get advice from other educators and connect with your professional learning network on Twitter or Instagram, or ask an administrator for colleagues to connect with in your school who are knocking it out of the park (it could be you, too!).

5. Silence Is OK

This is an important component of live online learning. In the classroom, when we ask open-ended questions, we may give students wait time, ask them to connect with a friend, or even have students write down the answer. Sometimes, we struggle with silence. Online, it’s even more important to give wait time. Say to your students, “I am going to give you a minute of think time to jot down your thoughts, and then be ready to share.” Now comes the hard part—be silent. We need to give all our learners a chance to process the question, activate prior knowledge, and be reflective in their responses. Silence is golden in live remote learning.

Here’s the bottom line: live teaching online requires much more planning, organization, and execution of delivery. We need to ensure that we have every moment planned, and we have back-up plans for when things go wrong. Above all, we need to give ourselves grace. It’s OK when something doesn’t work. When the learning falls on its face, do two things: 1) Ask your students how to make it better. 2) Do it better tomorrow.

Remember, we want to fail forward. We can do this. I believe in you.

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Educators, students, and families can teach and learn at school, at home, and anywhere in between when you think connected. Explore HMH Connected Teaching and Learning to maximize effective virtual learning time.

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