Virtual classes are not new; they’ve been around nearly as long as the internet itself. Recently, though, virtual learning has come blazing into the foreground. It isn’t as easy as just hopping on a Zoom call with a class full of preschool-aged children. These young learners need to be engaged, involved, and active. Here are some tips to help make virtual teaching an easier, more successful experience.
How to Create a Virtual Classroom
Virtual Teaching Tip #1: Dedicate a Space
While this seems like a rather obvious step, it is very important to have a dedicated space to record in. Finding a calm, quiet space can be quite a challenge if you have a busy home. Dogs barking, doors slamming, children playing and other background noises will easily distract young learners from the task at hand.
- Choose a space that is off-limits to the rest of the household.
- Set up a fixed backdrop. A wall, bulletin board, or even a shower curtain will work.
- Pick a time to film when it is relatively quiet, and before hitting record, make sure everyone knows that it is filming time so, “Do not disturb!”
Virtual Teaching Tip #2: Finding the Right Equipment
The easiest thing to do is to set up a mobile phone or tablet on a tripod. Make sure that the device is steady for the best viewing experience.
Another option is to use a computer. Most laptops come with a camera, but that doesn’t always mean it is one of great quality. Purchasing a separate webcam may be necessary.
Additional recording tips
- Make sure the area is well lit, possibly by adding a ring light to focus on the subject.
- Sound quality can suffer too, so using a hands-free microphone is a good investment.
- Always have the camera set to slightly above eye-level, looking slightly down at you. Never position the camera to look up at you!
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Virtual Teaching Tip #3: Choosing a Platform
Picking the right platform is also important. There are many options out there and new ones are springing up every day. Taking some time to learn what works for the class being taught as well as researching the platform itself saves headaches and frustration down the line. Here are a few options:
- Broadcast “live” to a Facebook group comprised of your students.
- Record a video and post it in a Facebook group.
- Record a video and upload it to YouTube or Vimeo with a private link for your students only.
- Use an online education platform like Google Classroom, Schoology, or SeeSaw.
- Interact via Zoom or Google Meet
Virtual Teaching Tip #4: Organization is Key
As in any preschool classroom, knowing what the lesson is going to be about is a good start. To present the most engaging lesson virtually, however, the teacher has to be prepared with everything at his or her fingertips. n radio and television, any time that is silent due to a missed cue is called “dead air” and is considered one of the worst things that can happen. Too much dead air and the viewers or listeners change the channel. A teacher that leaves the screen to grab materials is also providing “dead air” and loses the focus of the students very quickly.
It is important to plan ahead and perhaps even do a practice or two before hitting the “record” button. An easy-to-read list off-camera is helpful for staying on task and not missing any steps. Ultimately, having set order to the lesson benefits both students and the instructor, and gives a more professional appearance.
Virtual Teaching Tip #5: Use Developmentally Appropriate Practice
It might seem that students can sit in front of screens for hours, but to keep them engaged and learning, limit sessions to thirty minutes. Asking students to sit quietly for a long period of time makes the students wander off, check out, and miss the content of the lesson.
A good, consistent lesson might include:
- Welcome Song
- Class Puppet
- Introduce the Topic/Main Focus
- Model an At-Home Project
- Closing Song
Using the same routine every time helps most preschool students focus on the content and not on “what is going to happen next?” Many find it comforting to have a familiar structure, so do not feel nervous about being repetitive. It also helps make lesson planning a little easier!
Virtual Teaching Tip #6: Flexibility for Families
Every family is different, and it can be tricky to accommodate all of the different needs across a classroom. Be sure to listen to families about what is and what isn’t working for them. Provide alternative ways to interact if necessary. Some preschoolers become very shy when it comes to a live interaction on the internet. Some students will have trouble distinguishing between watching television and interacting during a virtual class. Others become overly joyful and can be a distraction for others. The mute button can be your friend!
Offering virtual classes can be very intimidating. All of a sudden, we have an audience that includes parents, siblings, and other people. Take a deep breath. The most important thing is that the students have a connection with you. Take time to talk and listen to them. Try not to worry about being on camera. Your children will be so happy to see you. You’ve got this!!