Creating an Online Community of Learning

Online community of learning

In the spring of 2020, teachers hit the ground running with a new way of teaching. With only a few days to prepare, classrooms were transformed from a supportive classroom environment to online learning. Considering the timeline, we did an amazing job. Now, we have the gift of time and experience to re-think and re-build our online classroom community. Here are a few helpful tips to guide your thinking.

Safety and Emotional Supports

  • Tech Guidelines – Connect with district technology leaders for guidelines. Create student friendly guidelines for your students and caregivers.
  • Privacy – Teach students and caregivers to keep personal information private.
  • Feedback – Ensure students have daily opportunities for success and positive feedback.
  • Resources – Create a problem solving process for challenges. Share information with caregivers about taking time for breaks, when it’s a good time for students to disengage when overwhelmed, etc.

Technology and Resources

  • Tech Platforms – Most districts have chosen a platform and resources for developing virtual classrooms. Review each option and choose the specific technology tools that best fit with students in your age range.
  • Rituals & Routines – Create Rituals & Routines for how to access and interact within each technology tool. Include simple directions and instructional videos and feedback loops that can be part of the first week of learning to ensure all students can use each tool.
  • Texts & Resources – Identify free resources, such as online books and tutorials, that can support learning at home. Preview each resource and create links with short definitions. Periodically check to make sure all links are working.
  • Student and Parent Connections – Create an activity for students and/or parents to walk through the rooms of their home to see where there may be gaps in wifi reception. Consider the spaces that have a strong connection. Are there minimal distractions? Are there places to work productively? Identify the best places for at home learning.

Access and Equity

  • Tech Access -Determine district supports for families who need technology resources. Does the district have laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, hot spots, etc., that families can check out? Create alternative learning pathways for families with limit access to technology.
  • Tech Support – Identify district technology support staff that can serve as resources to teachers and families.
  • Connect Early– Check in with caregivers before school starts to ensure that they have the technology, wi-fi access, and tools needed to be successful.
  • Analyze Resources – Review the texts and resources you are using. Do they represent the community and students in your school and district? Will they provide bias-free, culturally and linguistically responsive opportunities to learn? Does each student have access to learning resources that offer mirrors that provide a way to connect with people, cultures and ideas that are familiar and present the learning? Are there opportunities to see their own lives reflected in the learning? Do the resources offer windows and sliding glass doors to explore new ideas, cultures, and step into the shoes of others?

Engagement and Efficacy

  • Keep It Simple – Create short, interactive 3-5 minute tutorials to introduce new content. We know that students’ attention span varies in every classroom, but there are some guiding rules. Brain research indicates that students in a classroom setting can engage in direct, explicit instruction for the time equal to their age plus two. So, a first grader can sustain active engagement for about 7-8 minutes (Jensen, 2020). In an online learning environment, that time may actually decrease!
  • Balance – Embrace the Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework (Fisher & Frey, 2011) and provide time for explicit instruction, guided practice with smaller groups, collaboration with peers, and independent application of learning.
  • Esteem Building – Provide for daily feedback for each student. Some technology resources offer ways to give a positive “thumbs up” or emoji when a video or tutorial is completed. Teachers can provide a short, thirty second video of the teacher summarizing the learning and sharing excitement about the growth goals. Consider individual weekly conferences or short individualized video messages. Mix it up, but be sure that students are hearing, seeing, or receiving some sort of feedback from you each day to build their confidence in online learning.

Communication and Partnership

  • Clear Communication – Share the process for students and parents to reach you directly. Some teachers have set daily “office hours” that allow for emails, phone calls, newsletters, and video chats. Be sure to set up a process that you can consistently deliver and be consistent. Teaching online can be more time consuming than face to face!
  • Caregiver Connection – Set up a way to engage with caregivers regularly. They are now your teaching partners, so it is important you learn the best way to reach out and communicate while keeping boundaries for your time.
  • Schedule – It is important to set up a guiding schedule, so that parents and students know the time commitment.

Content and Delivery

  • The Gradual Release of Responsibility – The teacher’s role in designing and delivering online lessons that can motivate and inspire students to do some heavy lifting and become self-directed requires careful thought and planning. The teacher actually shifts his or her own role through the GRR process.

Exclit Focused Instruction – (I Do) The teacher models the new learning content using a class technology format such as ZOOM or Google Meets for an interactive session or creates a video mini lesson. These lessons need to be short – 3-5 minutes of content; more if the lesson is interactive.
Guided Instruction and Practice – (We Do)
Collaborative Learning – (You Do Together)
Independent Application – (You Do Alone)

Spice Things Up – Although consistency in the schedule of induction can provide safety and comfort to students, it is a good idea to mix things up. Students will be bored if they only see a video lecture each day or the small group or independent application is too similar or busy work. Find ways to encourage discussion and creativity.  

Play and Choice

  • Importance of Play – Children are more motivated to explore academic goals within their play because it is meaningful to them (Arrow, 2019). Think of ways for students to apply the learning form the focused lesson into a physical or hands-on application. For example, if you are learning about bugs in science, create a scavenger hunt so that students can go out and find, draw, and study insects in their world.
  • Personalize – Use the learning target or goals of lessons to make rubrics, offer 2-3 ways to meet the goals, and also provide opportunities for students to design and propose their own learning using the goals and rubrics. The end goal, meeting the expectations outlined in the rubric, are the same. The difference is their choice in how to get there.

Monitoring Progress and Feedback

  • Formative Assessment & Summative Assessment – By providing clear learning intentions, assignment guidelines, and goals, students know what is expected and can personalize their learning. Teachers can review student work and provide guiding feedback, align the way (formative assessment) and identify the degree to which students have mastered the content (summative assessments).
  • Effective Feedback – Use timely data from student work examples to describe areas of success to affirm and motivate. Use these examples to reflect on and discuss areas in ended of growth or deeper learning. Look for patterns in the areas of understanding or misunderstanding to determine if instruction was effective or re-teaching is needed.

Teaching online, or in a hybrid model, is new. Change can be invigorating and exhausting. Remember, teachers are learners, too. When we look at change as new learning, we can be inspired by both our growth and the growth of our students.


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