This past spring, educators across the country transitioned the word “zoom” from a verb in the classroom (“Dante was zooming around my room during our scavenger hunt!”) to a noun (“Dante joined us on Zoom for a math lesson.”) This historic and rapid digital switch didn’t leave a lot of time for educators to reflect on the best practices of this new medium. Now, after a few months of separation, educators are sharing their best practices for using Zoom effectively during distance learning. Here are six Zoom tips for teachers, by teachers:
1. Building a Classroom Community is Essential
Last school year, teachers had the advantage of knowing their students before moving to a digital platform. The beginning of this school year will look unlike any other in a teacher’s career, so building those connections with students is critical before any learning occurs. Take time during the first few weeks to speak with your students, let them share their voices and experiences (yes, you’ll have to look at lots of pets) and assure them that you’re here to help. Don’t neglect this even after you’ve found your stride while teaching– your students are likely feeling lonely and isolated, too.
2. Schedule Fun Time
Having a great time in the classroom happens organically when students feel safe and are engaged with the material and their classmates. This is harder to cultivate in an online environment, but is achieved by setting aside time just for silly quizzes or activities. This works great at the secondary level using school-wide trivia or dance contests with prizes (like a pizza!) delivered to the winning student’s home. Planning a block of Zoom time where there are no academic expectations builds relationships and allows for some laughs during a stressful time.
3. Clearly Outline Your Online Expectations
When digital learning began this past spring, teachers didn’t know what to expect from both themselves as well as their students during a Zoom lesson. Now, you’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly while trying to teach online. Just as you would in the physical classroom, it’s important to outline your student expectations during Zoom meetings. Do you require that every student use their real name and not a nickname? Will you ask that every student turn on their camera during the lesson? Are you asking for student feedback via the chat box or reaction emojis? Be clear and specific about your online expectations.
4. Utilize Breakout Rooms
One feature of Zoom that teachers found useful is the use of breakout rooms. This lets the teacher divide students into a smaller group for discussions, analysis, and activities. These separate rooms are easy to create, and have a set time limit that returns students to the main group after a few minutes. The teacher can also pop into each breakout room to observe and guide discussions. If you have the ability to incorporate another teacher or aide in this activity, you’ll have more adult eyes keeping track of students’ conversations.
5. Encourage Student Participation
It’s hard to monitor a student’s engagement with a lesson if they’ve chosen to turn off their video, which is understandable considering many students’ home environments. However, you can still encourage student participation by enabling the Whiteboard or Annotation features of Zoom, which allows students to write on or highlight a document that you’re sharing. You can also allow students the ability to present projects or work by screen sharing with the class and having them take over explanations. Think of it as a modern version of project presentations!
6. Intentionality is Key
Many educators used Zoom this spring because they felt is was something they had to do in order to reach students. Now, before you begin a Zoom lesson, approach it with the same intentionality as you would any other tool in your classroom. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Is Zoom the best method for delivering this content?
- What should students be able to know or do by the end of this Zoom lesson?
- How can I ensure that all students are able to access and understand the material presented?
- How can I support struggling students after the Zoom lesson ends?
Much like any piece of technology, Zoom is just one tool in your kit that is used for student learning and engagement. An intentional look at how this tool is used throughout the course of your unit is good pedagogy, and results in a stronger digital learning curriculum.