6 Ways to Prepare for Distance Learning

by VIPTeach Fellow Elayne Lemieux

Yes, things have definitely changed even in the past year. With the introduction of Covid, educators were forced to move into the 21st century using modern technology like never before. Prior to Covid, we took “in class” education for granted, but with global changes, we have learned like never before; we have to find new and innovative ways to live and learn. Otherwise, things can seem to be very overwhelming and confusing! 

With these changes, we also have learned and understood the real need for adapting and reviewing. We have to develop ways to not only teach on a small screen but to be innovative, engaging, and effective. Wow! So, how can we manage all these things online? It almost seems impossible. Well, let’s look at some ideas. 

1. Adopt a growth mindset

In the 1990’s, American psychologist Carol Dweck developed the theory of the “growth mindset”.   This describes how you will learn, fail and grow as you move forward.  Yes, I did say “fail.”  To fail is to learn and to grow from errors.   It is ok to fail and to adjust and adapt.  The best thing about an online classroom is that you are the only one that knows the complete plan, and you can still adapt your classes on the fly (just like in a traditional classroom) in order to challenge students to learn and to grow in their knowledge. Allow the technology to support you: It’s easy to do a fast online search to locate an unknown answer mid-lesson OR you can also take a moment to show students how to use the available online  tools to find the answer themselves.  This is an amazing way to promote deeper thinking in the classroom.  Promoting deeper means that you show and teach students that challenges are a good thing.  This will allow students to develop problem solving skills and help them to learn how to dig deeper for answers, thus expanding on their answers.   It is okay to not accept a very high level answer and to seek more details from a student; the more you expect, the more they will provide.   This can also show students that there is not always just one way of thinking or one answer to a question. It shows them that different points of views can be correct and also shows them  how to support their views.      

2. Technology

Take a deep breath… Trust yourself and give yourself some grace.   Start by ensuring that you are comfortable with the basics of the web conferencing tools that you will be using.  For example, learn how to admit students to the classroom (and remove them, too), how to mute and unmute them, how to “pin” a speaker so that the class focuses on one speaker at a time and how to manage control of things such as drawing on the screen, etc..  These are normally all in a toolbar at the top of your screen and will enable you to manage the class and to create a more positive learning experience for everyone.  When you are confident with the technology, it provides a more organized and structured learning experience for the students.  This in turn allows for better classroom control, the students will know that you are leading them, and they will trust your leadership.  As well, wearing a quality headset will ensure that you will be heard clearly and that you can hear your students.  When you are feeling more confident, you can also start to provide these tips to your colleagues and have a larger impact on more student online learning experience.  

3. IT support

There will be times when students (or even you) will have IT issues and cannot open cameras, cannot hear or be heard etc.…   Create a small, but direct and simple cheat sheet for the students to follow.  For example, exit and re-enter the room, unplug and re-plug the headset, check if mute is on, and as a last resort, restart their device.    This will help to reduce the amount of time spent walking a student through these steps, while managing the other students.   For yourself, all of these steps also apply, and even having a back-up device (a second laptop, a tablet, etc.) that you can quickly log on will help to keep the learning experience on track and leave you feeling in control of the situation. 

4. Create a learning environment

Create a space in your home/school that is conducive to learning.  Consider the placement of your computer (monitor) and how your webcam will be placed.  The webcam should be at least an arm’s length away from you and be a bit above eye level. This will ensure that you appear to be looking directly at your students versus up or down at them.  It will also help maintain a good posture and help reduce neck or back strain. Good lighting is also important and should be placed in front of you.  Ring lights are a great resource as they are economical and can be adjusted for the intensity of the lighting.  You should feel like you are on stage. Quality lighting will limit shadows on your face or behind you. Background – Consider what your students see behind you. This area should be clean, organized, and encourage learning.  This can be a simple photography backdrop or shelves with items placed on it.  This will reduce any possible distractions while you are teaching and show your class that you are ready to teach.   

5. Plan, plan, plan

As you prepare your lessons, consider what is the best way to deliver the content, be it a slideshow, a shared document, websites, games, or other tools. Will you have the students work on their own or in groups?   Break-out rooms are a great tool to encourage collaboration while still being able to oversee everything that is happening. Once you have your plan created, take a moment to do a run-through to ensure you are comfortable moving between tools and sharing a screen while also checking for working links and sound.  

6. Praise

Just as you might be nervous or anxious to adjust to online learning, the students could very well be feeling the same way.   It will be very important to create and maintain a method to praise and encourage them. This could be a chart that can be seen behind you or an online tracking system that can be shared anonymously with guidelines on how the students can earn the rewards.   This will help students to become more confident to unmute themselves and to speak up in this new learning environment.    

In summary, we are all here to support each other and many of the things we are doing and trying right now are new for many people.   Take a moment to celebrate the things that went well today and keep open communication with your colleagues in order to learn from each other daily.   This will help you to become more confident in your new classroom and to provide the best learning experience possible.   High 5–you’ve got this!!! 

Elayne Lemieux joined the VIPKID team very early on (January 2015) and has been on a world wind trip (literally) since then. Teaching English has followed her since she started teaching and training adults in the business world in 2000; after having completed a B.Mus, B.Ed and several business certificates. She is a versatile educator, having instructed a wide variety of students from various backgrounds and facets of society. As a result, she is a compassionate teacher, who remains sensitive to students’ needs by employing effective listening and providing individual and whole group support, offering positive encouragement and reinforcement to keep students focused and motivated.

With VIPKID, Elayne has worked in a number of different roles: classroom teacher, student interview, trial class teacher, teacher mentor (formally a supervisor), and mock class mentor (formally a supervisor). She continues to be very actively involved in mentoring and supporting potential and existing teachers and is currently a mentor with VIPTeach.