What to Do Now

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What to Do Now

If you are reading this before your school has closed, there are some immediate steps you can take that will help the transition to online learning and instruction. In this section, we'll look at several activities and their value, and in the next section we'll look at specific tools to use.

Creating Video Resources

Making a video is far easier than it was even five or six years ago. The tools have become easier and quicker to use, with fewer specialized terms or processes to navigate. For the moment, read on knowing that you can create a video quickly. In the next page, we'll look at tools you might try first.

Teacher-made videos are best when they are short and focused clearly on specific topics.

Think of a topic that students find challenging every year. Do you have to repeat explanations for students having trouble grasping the concepts? If so, being able to create something that they can watch repeatedly can be very useful. The goal is to get them to go from simply telling you they don't understand, to telling you specifically what they don't understand, and a good video makes this much easier.

Additionally, for those teaching multiple classes, giving instructions in video creates consistency among different groups of students. You might go to a tool, click "record," say what you need, and then post a link in a message, on a web page, or in your learning management system. If students identify something missing in your explanation, you can re-record and re-post. All good.

If your students can make videos, these can then be not just how they respond to your assignments, but also how they create material that helps other students or serves as the basis for future assignments.

For now, try creating an explanation to a frequently challenging topic using a tool like Adobe Spark or Screencastify. Share it with your students and ask for their feedback, along with what would make that a useful resource for them.

Developing Writing and Discussions

In an online learning space such as Google Classroom, a teacher can ask a question to which students write responses. A shared document of some kind can also serve to house questions and answers.

The value in this is that students are able to see an exchange develop, and learn to make contributions after thinking through what they want to say. Not every student who speaks up in class has that kind of filter, after all.

Taking this another step, students should be able to look at a variety of ideas posted by the class, and articulate which insights are most valuable to them and why. Ideally, students can also begin drawing connections between some of the answers and other things they are learning.

When having students write responses and discuss ideas in online settings, they can both participate and keep their own document covering what the drafts of what they'll add, as well as what they learned from what they added before. This added level of reflection can be useful for students to see that these are areas where they can genuinely improve, as opposed to the fixed mindset of who they are as writers when they simply turn in written work and look at their grades once it is returned.

For now, try asking for written responses to a prompt using a tool like the question feature in Google Classroom. Get your students' thoughts on how to improve the quality of discuss in the tool you choose, and ask how they can make the discussions in that space more interesting for them.

Group Work

As mentioned in an earlier page, opportunities to connect with other students when school is closed may be especially important.

Using a tool like Flipgrid, students can see each other sharing ideas on possibilities for approaching different assignments. In a small group video conference, they can talk with each other while developing a shared document.

At a high school I regularly visit, one department decided that the default look of class time if switching to online learning is to divide the class into four groups, and during the time that class meets, the teacher will check in with each group for 15-20 minutes as they develop their projects together.

Google Slides, Google Sites, or Book Creator can serve as a useful frame for any project in which much needs to be gathered, considered, and presented, and these are all tools in which each member's contributions can be identified along the way.

For now, have small groups use one of the tools above to create a Frequent Misunderstandings project in which they collect the things that lead to mistakes with the content you teach. Get them to tell you whether such a focus helped them clear up any misunderstandings, and use what they create to get thoughts from other groups about the value of their project going forward.


Perhaps the biggest change for many teachers is rethinking how assessment works. Much about online learning makes traditional assessment problematic, as cheating becomes so easy that many students would make a dishonorable choice.

Online forms can still be used for formative assessments just fine, but when thinking about checking for genuine mastery and extension with what's being taught, consider how things work with mastery learning models.

Mastery learning asks students to show that they can explain and/or do what they've been asked to learn. The student shows the teacher what he or she has done, and the teacher poses questions and challenges to gauge understanding and ability to connect to other ideas.

This can all be done via video chat, and while it takes plenty of time, it could be the best way to see that students are making genuine progress. As discussed in the last section with knowing your focus, this may mean that you have simplified what you are teaching, covering fewer topics, but getting a deeper sense of what students can do with the concepts they are exploring.

If the school closure only lasts a few weeks, one can save traditional assessments for the return, with the final days online devoted to review and examples of effective and creative responses to questions that might be posed.

For now, pick something you would like students to show they have mastered in a face-to-face discussion with you. Get their thoughts about the differences between written assessments and something more authentic, such as explaining under questioning how a given idea connects with other things they've learned.

From Now Forward

Switching to a different learning setting almost certainly requires rethinking what can work best for different students. While a well-organized and tested curriculum may be easier for us, the chance to try things in different ways can also help us reconnect with the passions that brought us to teaching what we do.

As with students and their learning, don't expect flawless implementation your first time out. You'll try different things, learn from what you do, get ideas on improvement from your students, and end up with a new set of tools and ideas that may prove helpful for years to come as you work to reach the next kid.

And if done well now, it should make doing all these things in an online setting notably easier.

Go to Choosing Tools.

The writer, Rushton Hurley, is the founder of Next Vista for Learning, the author of three books (Making Your Teaching Something Special, Making Your School Something Special, and Technology, Teamwork, & Excellence) as well as the writer of the blog Inspiring Improvement.