Sunday, May 6, 2018

Teaching Secondary ELA Remotely: How to teach English Online

Alternate title: That one time I taught British Literature online while in FREAKING LONDON (and in Ireland, Scotland, Paris, Belgium, and Italy)!!! 

This post is a long time coming because when people find out that I teach online while traveling throughout Europe, their immediate question is: HOW? The answer isn't a short one, but I hope to explain how I was able to teach secondary ELA remotely so that you too can work toward teaching English online if this is your dream! This post is also for anyone wanting to create a paperless classroom! 

Short backstory: It has always been a goal of mine to travel, but I had the (un?)fortunate path of landing my dream school one year out of college. I felt so grateful to have the opportunity to teach American and British Literature at this school that I knew I would never be able to leave in order to travel. I'm not sure you call it being "stuck" in a place you really want to be, but basically, that was the case-- I was trapped by not wanting to leave my job. Then, about 3 years into my dream job, I caught wind of this thing called a sabbatical. It's not very popular in the US, but it's commonplace in Europe. Once I realized sabbaticals were a thing, I set out to get my history teacher husband on board, and we started saving for this dream. 

Long backstory: From our travel blog- How to take a teaching sabbatical to travel 

Why Online Teaching Matters: 

While I can't tell you what would have happened if we hadn't proposed to teach online during our sabbatical request, I can tell you that our willingness to teach online greatly influenced the decision makers. Our school system is on the cutting edge of edtech, and they want to provide the best education in the best format for each student. When we sent in our sabbatical proposal, we emphasized that we were interested in teaching online while traveling. Since starting an online program was something that was already on their radar, they welcomed the idea and allowed us to teach online while taking a year off to travel! 

Not only did we have enough courage to propose the idea of us teaching online while traveling, but we also TOOK ACTION to make ourselves marketable for online teaching opportunities. 

Pictures from where we've taught: Trains in Ireland, balcony in London, Airbnbs in the English countryside, bed and breakfast in Paris, and an apartment in Belgium 

How to Gain Online Teaching Experience: 

1. Attend every Tech PD you can! We were so devoted that we even applied for a Teacher Technology Cohort which met on Saturdays.  😁

2. Actually use the tech your school provides. A few years ago, our system adopted Canvas as its Learning Managment System (LMS). Because teachers have very little time to learn new platforms, not many teachers got on board with it. I was one of them. I have always been tech-heavy in my classroom, but I was a OneNote girl all the way. The thought of transferring my lessons to an LMS was just too much to take on. However, as I heard more and more about Canvas, I started to realize its potential in classrooms as well as with online teaching. Once I had online teaching as a goal, I immediately started training myself on how to use an LMS. The semester before we applied for a sabbatical, I ran my entire bricks and sticks class off of Canvas, meaning my classroom was entirely paperless (besides the occasional craftivity). Aaron already had online teaching experience, so that paired with my initiative to learn, showed that we were competent enough to teach from afar. 

3. Pretend to be an online teacher on sub days- While I'm not one to suggest actually working on your days off, pretending like you are will gain you major experience. Think about how you can interact and teach students on a day off. It might be as simple as scheduling out Remind messages or making a video of you teaching for the sub to play. Anything you can do to teach while you aren't actually in the room will give you some insight as to what your job will be like as an online teacher.

How to Make Online Lesson Plans: 

When I got serious about figuring out how to digitalize my lesson plans, I invested in Danielle Knight's Digital Toolkit. Since I design and sell teaching resources, I purchased the commercial use version, but you can find the less expensive teacher's edition here: Creating a Paperless Classroom 

While this resource was designed with a Google classroom in mind, it can work with any LMS --including Canvas! 

I'm going to show you some ways I turned my paper resources into digital resources and walk you through what my Online British Literature class looks like. 

1. Class Set Up- 

Videos are so important with online teaching. Students want to know that there's a real person behind the screen, and just like in a classroom setting, they want to make a connection with their teachers. 

You can see my welcome video here: 

In my video, I introduced myself, let my personality shine a bit, and explained my expectations. I added something concrete to go along with my expectations here: 

After they watched the video, they went to a lesson titled "Meet the person responsible for your success." I've seen so many cute mirrors with this concept, but since my class was online, I had to think of a way digitalize it. You can find the online mirror here: Your Online Mirror  . With online classes, students must be self-driven. I wanted to set the expectation that I will be there to teach and guide, but they are the ones who must do the work. 

Video of the Student Infographic in action 

It's very important for online students to know their teachers, but it's even more important for online teachers to know their students! In a bricks and sticks classroom, building relationships is easy. In an online teaching environment, it's more of a challenge. Instead of making a get-to-know-you bunting, I had my online students create digital infographics telling me about themselves. This infographic included a picture so that I could put a face with a name. You can learn more about these activities here: Get-to-know-you activities for secondary ELA students 

2. Digital Activities- 

Once you have your set up complete, it's time to start adding lessons! I'm not going to lie. If you are doing this from scratch, it's going to take you a hot minute. However, once you have your foundation of lessons plans, your online class can be used again and again! 

As for how this worked out with traveling, Aaron and I batched our content creation. We got all of our modules in place over the summer so that when we were traveling, we could just run the course instead of creating it. Below is a picture of me working with my mentor teacher at the Harry Potter Studio in London while my online course was running itself. 😜

Here is how I added content to my online course: 

A video showing how the digital resource works and how students can type and get to the links all within one file: 

Here is the Flipgrid tool I used to make this lesson even more engaging! 

While the toolkit mentioned above teaches you how to actually make the digital resources, I can show you how simple it is to put them into Canvas once you have them made! 

For a great example of what I mean by "use interactively" watch this video: 

***NOTE*** Tech savvy people might notice that my example above is shown in Google Drive. If you are using an LMS, you DON'T need to use Google as well. These digital resources work with any platform!

As for grading, Canvas makes it super easy! I actually like grading in Canvas more than grading on paper! You can type, color code, and even leave a voice comment! 

Where to Find Online Teaching Jobs: 
Since you have already read how I came across my online teaching job, you probably have guessed that I don't have many tips on where to find these jobs. From what I'm seeing, online jobs are popping up within school systems, and you need to be ready! However, from a quick google search, here are a few places to look for online English teaching jobs: 

VipKid is more of an ESL job, but I've heard good things about it

I hope this blog post helps you get started with teaching online! Even if you never end up teaching remotely, I believe that hosting your lessons online gives students at-home access that will improve their education! 

If you want to search my digital resource offerings, you can find those here: Digital Secondary ELA Resources 

Since most of this post showcased my Beowulf unit plan, I will leave you with this picture: 

The Sutton Hoo in the British Museum 

I can't tell you how many times I've stared at this mask on the cover of our literature textbook and every time I teach Beowulf. Finally getting to see textbook pictures come to life was really amazing!

If you want to read more about what I learned from traveling, you can find that here: An English Teacher's Guide to London