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Help! Virtual Instruction is Awful!

From my lofty perch, I will now bless you with all of the answers to virtual instruction. Not really. The truth is we don't have all of the answers to make virtual instruction perfect. However, that doesn't mean that virtual instruction has to suck. The biggest barrier to having good virtual instruction is our hang-up that it needs to be like in-person learning.

Let's just all accept that virtual teaching should be different from in-person teaching. Is it more work? Possibly. Is it different work? Yes. What I'm asking you to do is change your expectations first. Clear your head and let's look at it from a different perspective.

Why would a kid log into virtual learning if they know they'll be bored and the alternative is to do something else at their home. We know they can do something more entertaining at home and their parents are probably trying to work from home themselves, so they can't be hovering the entire school-day. How can we compete?

First, we have to grab their attention. How do we do that? Jazz up your lesson. If they're logging in and you log in and just start lecturing, everyone is bored - even you. Find a way to make it entertaining. Start small, find a riddle. Make them start to think a little. Have a real talk with them, use something that is on their level. You may have to research Fortnite or Among Us, but you'll see some kids buying in (those are video games, by the way).

Maybe you find a funny video to start. Or I suggest visiting vMix and downloading a free version of their streaming software (for more features, splurge $60 for their Basic HD version). You'll have to set it up a little, but you can use it with Zoom in place of your integrated webcam. vMix allows you to be your own producer and make custom overlays and as you learn, you can add more. (Check out their overview video.) It seems small, but kids will start paying a little more attention if it looks like you're a real streamer.

Next, think about your own attention span. When my own kids (those that share DNA) start on a rambling story, I tune out. I know that kids who aren't related to me will check out if I'm boring and it takes too long to get to my point. So, make your lessons short and sweet. Respect their time and give them the information in an entertaining and quick format. I like to record my lessons and let them watch as many times as they need. Of course, we can't do this all the time, but do it when you can. You can record with Zoom or in a pinch, use your smart device. vMix would really help with this (it records too).

Once you give them the information, give them a few choices for how to show what they've learned or to illustrate their understanding. Does it take more time? Yes. Give at least 3 choices (not too many though) and let them pick. You can always help steer them by giving a difficult choice and a couple easier routes. The point is to let them choose.

Can this be done with primary? Yes. No one said it was easier than face-to-face, but it shouldn't be more boring. Our job is to teach, but we can't teach if they don't pay attention. They'll need entertainment, movement, and instruction thrown in.

My number one rule is to start small. Give yourself a goal, one that's easily attainable. Build as you can. Do not think about virtual instruction as doing what you do in your building, just on Zoom now. It won't work that way, so start changing it.

My next rule is to be positive. Think about what you want to do next and always be moving forward. There will be obstacles, so be prepared to roll with it. This pandemic is a great opportunity for us to try new things. It provides us a great excuse to fall short too. "We're all learning here," is your new mantra. Ask your kids what they liked about a lesson. Then ask them what they didn't like. And listen.

Number 3 rule is to use the resources you have. What a great segue into this - reach out and ask a question or place a comment on this story. The entire world is dealing with this. If we work together, we'll come out of it as better instructors.

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