Making Your Virtual Classroom Comfortable

Before the students ever make their way into our classrooms, we spend days creating a welcoming and inspirational environment. We lay things out just so to improve classroom traffic, set up our bulletin boards and whiteboards in such a way that students will always know where to go for tools and information, and we do everything possible to make the classroom (in my case a Blackbox) a great space for being creative. We make signs with expectations, how-tos hanging over the sinks (I really hate it when the custodial team has to clear the paint out of the drain trap for the hundredth time in a school year), and decorate to let our personality shine through.

The virtual classroom should be no different. Think about what is normally in your classroom and come up with a virtual equivalent. If there isn’t a virtual equivalent, is it something your school needs to provide to students, or can they find something that will work in their own homes?

In a normal year, I teach my students how to run a physical and mental warm-up, and then put them in charge of it. Each day, I post on the whiteboard the name of the students responsible for the warm-up, as well as the students who are responsible for the next day (this takes care of when someone is absent). It is one of the best choices I’ve ever made- it allows me about 5 minutes to complete attendance and other teacher-y paperwork, while the students are still being productive. Bonus: administrators absolutely love it when the students have the ownership to run the class without any prompting from me!

Think about what is normally in your classroom and come up with a virtual equivalent.

This year, I plan to create a Google Site that has all of this type of information. There will be a “whiteboard” that has the objectives for the day, and the warm-up assignments. There will be a space with their homework assignments/due dates listed. It will have the Google Class Code and links to all of our resources. It will look like it does in my classroom. Kind of. Maybe, if I’m allowed in there before school starts, I will take a pic of the whiteboard and it will actually look like my whiteboard. So that when we return to the classroom, they will already know where to look and we can hit the ground running.

Yes, I know. Google Classroom already does a lot of this. But how many of your students claim they don’t ever see homework in classroom? It IS a real problem. I thought they were making it up until I experienced it for myself while trying to help my 4th grader complete work from home. Some of her teacher’s assignments did not show up in her stream as being due, even though they were. But that’s neither here nor there- different students process information in different ways, so we have to give it to them in different ways.

Teach them how to use the technology.

I know, not our job, right? Let me ask you this- how many awful slideshows do you want to have read to you this year? My answer is zero. I’ll get enough of that during our back to school PDs, right? Spend the first week of class showing them around the room, so to speak. Give them pointers on Slides/Powerpoint, Word/Docs, and Sheets/Excel.

They’re not learning it anywhere else.

Trust me- they’re not. Every year, at least two of my students come to me and tell me so, along with profuse thanks for knocking a presentation in another class out of the park. But this year?

The technology is your classroom.
And they need to be comfortable in it to be successful.

Next, check out their learning environment. Tell them what you would like to have and ask them if they have it. You may not be able to get it for them, but knowing that they have 3 siblings also learning virtually will definitely explain why they get booted from your class on the regular.

what do you want them to have?

  1. A quiet place to learn. Preferably a different place from where they sleep.
  2. They must wear clothing they can move in to class every day. If you can, discourage pajamas.
  3. Space to move. We do a physical warm up every day. They need a space the size of a yoga mat. That’s it. More is better, but we will make do with what we have.
  4. A pencil and paper. I know… we’re on a computer. BUT WE USE COMPUTERS TO BE ABLE TO FORGET INFORMATION, NOT TO LEARN IT. If they write things down, they will learn them faster. Not everything. Even though it’s easier to read docs, I will accept photos of written work, if they learn better that way. Unless it is a project for assessment. Those need to be typed. We use a process journal in our classes, so I have them get a composition book at the beginning of the year and use it for everything.
  5. If possible, ask your school to provide students with (legal) hard copies of scripts. I know that you can use digital scripts, especially with 1:1, but being able to annotate a script by hand is much more effective for most learners.

I know you’re stressed about doing it better than you did it in the spring. It seems that everyone has stopped talking about you as a hero, and instead focused on just how awful this spring was. THAT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. That’s about so many other things. Don’t take it personally.

Creating your virtual learning environment is not as hard as you think it is. Take it one small manageable step at a time. If you prepare your virtual classroom environment to reflect your regular classroom environment, you will set everyone up for success.