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Setting Purpose for Your Students in a Virtual Learning Environment

This blog series is aimed at helping educators in a time of challenge and opportunity.

As No-Nonsense Nurturers, we inherently believe that all scholars deserve to know why our learning expectations matter. In our current context, the “why” has never been more important. Scholars are adapting to a new virtual medium and new expectations for how to engage, and they need and deserve rationale and investment to opt in with consistency. We drafted the scripts below to first provide ideas for general purpose for virtual learning and why it matters, and then more specific ideas related to virtual directions. 

General Purpose for Virtual Learning

Elementary School: It is so important for all of us to keep doing our best to learn everyday so we can grow our brains for middle school and beyond. I am going to help you as much as I can just like when we were together at school. I know that each of you are going to do your best and that everyone will try to be helpful as we work together.

Middle School: Even though we may not meet again in-person or take final exams this school year, we need to work together to make sure everyone keeps progressing and learning because that is the true purpose of education. I am going to do everything I can to help all of you learn through our virtual classroom and there will be opportunities for you to help each other because we all need to succeed. Additionally, this is your chance to grow as independent learners and take more ownership over your education which will make you better prepared for next year.

High School: Regardless of what happens with final grades and exams this year, it is critical that we all commit to our collective goal of learning and growing in scholarship. While the exact timeline for when school returns to a more normal routine is uncertain, it will eventually happen. In the meantime, this is your opportunity to take more ownership for your education and help advance yourself to be exactly where you need to be when we reconvene. In addition to furthering your academic achievements, learning through a virtual setting will provide you with a whole new skill set that is absolutely necessary for your college years, especially now that remote education is likely to expand. 

Purpose in Life/Establishing Relevance for Students

Elementary School: We are all going to learn together using more technology than we did in our regular classroom. It is okay if you get confused or need help, just ask me. We are going to show everyone that learning can happen anywhere, as long as you try your hardest. 

Middle School: As a result of so many schools switching to virtual learning, it is important for students to be confident and more independent in their learning. In order to make sure we all keep progressing, we will use a lot of different tools and technology. It is okay if you need to ask questions or want more help because that is what people have to do in order to learn. This is a great opportunity for us to support each other by showing patience, understanding and compassion because all of us are experiencing this situation differently.

High School: The future of a global economy is increasingly reliant on the use of technology. With your commitment to learn in this new virtual setting, you are positioning yourself to build a whole new skill set that will undoubtedly make you better prepared for the world ahead of you. This is new territory for all of us, so I thank you in advance for coming together as a community and giving grace for us all as we navigate this situation as a team.

The way we present ourselves as scholars and professionals in the classroom is the same way we need to show up ready to engage in a virtual setting the same way.

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Setting general purpose for virtual learning is critical, and so is setting purpose when giving specific directions and expectations during the gradual release of the virtual lesson. We’ve detailed some expectations below with scripts for what setting specific purpose might sound like. While not grade-level specific, each can be easily modified in language to cater to age. 

Listening/Tracking with Video On

Scholars, as we are learning virtually, my expectation is that you are tracking the screen, sitting up and paying attention – with your video on. This matters because we retain 50% more of what we hear and see, and your body language matters! Seeing each other as we listen and contribute allows us to learn at deeper levels, and react to one another’s thoughts and ideas. When I’m teaching, it also allows me to see you and ensure you are with me. I may also ask you to show specific hand signals to check for understanding, so seeing you then will be critical to gather data on what you need. (Note: The teacher may choose to include directions and rationale for virtual backgrounds if the platform allows.)

Muting When Needed 

Scholars, I will ask you to mute at different points in the lesson. I will do that when we need to focus on just one speaker for our learning. Muting when I ask matters because it allows you stronger focus on me or on the speaker as we are teaching and learning – and it lessens distraction. Muting is no different than our expectation of silently listening in a regular classroom. 

Holding Scholars Accountable

Scholars, I will be holding you accountable to my expectations in our virtual classroom just like I would in our traditional one. Providing reminders and consequences matter in a virtual space because it provides the structure in our classroom that we value. Your learning is so important, and each of you deserve to learn at high levels in our virtual classroom. If you are making repeated decisions to opt out of learning and not follow directions, I will always intervene to ensure you get back on track (in the chat, etc.). I do this because I care deeply about each of you. (Use this space to introduce or remind of virtual hierarchy.)

Checking for Understanding (in Zoom Chat, etc.)

Scholars, I will expect you to answer questions for me in the chat throughout the lesson. I will ask you to do this so I can see and understand your thinking. In our virtual classroom, this is especially critical. It matters because it gives me data on where we need to go next, and allows me to follow up with you in response to a question. It also may allow the rest of the class to learn from you. For all of these reasons, it’s critical that you follow directions to participate appropriately in the chat whenever asked. Your learning matters! 

Using Zoom Breakout Rooms

Scholars, I will be putting you into breakout rooms during the lesson. Breakout rooms allow us to collaborate. They allow you to think first, then share our thoughts in a smaller setting with our peers. It allows me as your teacher to pop in and out to listen to your good ideas, and then call on you to lift them up full group when we return to the Main Session. It’s critical that your breakout sessions stay on task with the topic or activity provided so you can honor your own learning, support your peers’ in theirs, and then share with the whole group to move the class forward. 

By Teshira Newton, 8th Grade Math Teacher at Ashley Park PreK-8 SchoolAlex Price, MCL at Ashley Park PreK-8 School, Meaghan Loftus and Joey Roane, Associates, CT3

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