6 Strategies for a Distance Learning Mind Shift


This week across our nation teachers are being asked to shift from traditional classrooms to a completely digital environment. Anxious teachers are now swan diving off the high dive into online distance learning platforms, hoping to tread in often unfamiliar waters. This past week, Erika and I have navigated a flurry of emails from brave, but nervous colleagues, students, and from our TPT family. While students are navigating new expectations, as always teachers are concerned with creating meaningful assignments without spending too much time grading on screens. Before you dive headfirst, here are six tips to consider that will help you in your digital classroom mind shift:

1. Embrace the online video tutorial!

Google Classroom tutorials are awesome. If you have a question on how to do a function on Google Classroom, just Google it! More often than not when a panicking colleague has a question about Google Classroom, I send them a 3-5 minute video that models functions step-by-step. How-to videos from how to start a class, how to post assignments, and how to grade are all at teacher fingertips, often made by teachers. The great news about Google is that over the past five years Google has listened to teachers! Google Classroom is constantly evolving through teacher input, creating a platform that teachers have grown to love because it’s easy to use. So do yourself a favor and start front-loading information for about twenty minutes before you do anything! Here are a few tutorials that I suggest: 

​​​2. Keep it Simple and on One Page!

Consider what you may want to give credit/no credit for and what you want to grade. For example, when my World History class was taught primarily on paper, I would stamp daily assignments to verify that they were on time and complete. Then, I would have students compile the assignments into unit packets that I would grade on effort and completion. Next, the students were assessed on what they learned through quizzes, projects, writing assignments, and tests. For me, there was a packet mind shift. Google makes it easy to gather time stamped assignments in one place! There is an arrow function when you open the assignment that lets teachers click through and view “turned in” assignments just like you would on paper, put faster and less germ-ridden! It helps if the assignment is on one page for easy viewing. Also, for assignments that I know that will lead to an assessment, such as a vocabulary learning assignment that has a quiz, I may simply give credit for completion, which means all students that turn it on on time get credit. It’s so easy to give a mass grade to those who have turned it in! Besides, your students will see the value in doing the assignment when they know they will have a quiz that follows! This results in no more packets, but easily graded daily assignments that take less time than stamping and have a grade entered immediately. Also, it’s super easy to write an uplifting comment in the assignment’s comment space and copy and paste it to all of them. Students don’t see each other’s assignments so it can seem personal with little effort on your part.

3. Assess for Mastery!
Google Forms has made grading a snap! Teachers can now give simple, meaningful, and frequent assessments of skill and knowledge. Multiple choice, short answer, and matching assessments are easy to create and they give students immediate feedback! Now, I give more assessments than ever, but with the expectation of mastery. When taught on paper, my class had fewer formal assessments because the grading was always so daunting. Now, assessments seem like more heavily-weighted assignments, and due to the fact that it’s merely called a quiz, students try harder and they see the value in completing the assignments that lead up to it. Since students can take quizzes multiple times (if the teacher desires), students are able to master a content area by going back to missed questions to reconsider why they missed it. Google Forms even allows the teacher to see the most missed questions so they can assign alternative content-specific activities or reteach the content if necessary! There are tons of teacher-authors on TPT that have created skill-based and content building Google ready assignments that often include Google Forms assessments. For example, you can find Ancient History, Medieval History, and US History reading and skill based assessments that accompany online readings at our store. Believe me, creating assessments is a skill that is worth it to have done for you. The good news is that once you buy an assessment, you get your own copy in Forms that you can edit to personal perfection.

4. Address the Elephant in the Room!
Whenever, I talk to colleagues about taking quizzes and tests online they always claim that students will cheat. This was a major concern of mine too. I really had to consider what it means to cheat and why students do it. I concluded that students cheat because they are afraid of failure, they just don’t know the answer, or it’s easier to have the answer provided for them. A few years ago, I started experimenting with assessments in my classroom. I started giving skill-based open-note assessments, allowing paired tests, and of course, retakes for mastery. While it would be naive of me to claim that students do not cheat, I basically minimized the reasons to cheat. By allowing students to use informational resources, to retake quizzes, and even to take quizzes in pairs or groups sometimes, I have addressed the issue head-on and I have found positive results! Also, since I give so many more assessments that practice the same skills, students are comfortable with the format, feeling less anxiety. 

5. Get Out of the Classroom!
Now, students can view models and maps in full color and explore the world! They can even turn the earth on its axis in Google Earth or Google Maps and zoom right into a specific geographic area, just to take a look! Find geography content that uses Google Maps and has an accompanying Google Forms quiz at our store. Consider where you would like your students to visit that could help them to see the classroom content in meaningful, engaging ways. For me, that means that my students go to museums, such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence to view Renaissance artwork in a virtual field. Consider creating a  simple Google Docs template for exploration! For example, I created a template that is basically used for every geography lesson for every unit. Over time, I even created quizzes that accompany each geographical area. 

6. Video is Your Friend…and Enemy!
If you have ever tried to record yourself teaching, you understand why it’s your enemy. It’s so hard! When the camera turns on, my brain turns to mush and I lose my words. Luckily, YouTube has tons of engaging content for teachers to use. Do a little research and find a channel that you like. Chances are there is an energetic, camera-ready gleaming teacher out there that has delivered the content you are looking for in an engaging way. These people are extraordinary! You can use their voices, or less personal but equally as effective, video production companies voices and step back. Many teacher-authors have graphic organizers as we have or, you can simply create a templated Google Doc that has the basics. It’s easy to just write a general claim at the top of a Google Doc that has students collect supporting evidence from the video. They can even view videos with closed caption and pause to write important content! CNN 10 can be a great source for a quick update in domestic and global events. You can get Google Ready graphic organizers for daily or weekly summaries at the Instructomania store too.

Rest assured as a teacher, you innately thrive in a bit of chaos. I mean, parents all over the world are finding your job as impossibly challenging! They are taking on a new appreciation for all that you do. Take a deep breath, gather a few go-to resources, and go for it! You inevitably will find some nuggets that you will carry through your teaching for years to come!

For complete Google Ready Ancient, Medieval, and US History unit content with Google Forms assessments and Google Ready distance learning activities visit the Instructomania store

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