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Top 6 Strategies for Building a Successful Remote Classroom

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Amy Hogan is an AP Stats teacher and math team coach at Brooklyn Technical High School, a specialized public high school in New York City. Amy is an AP Exam reader, a three-time recipient of the Math for America Master Teacher fellowship, and the inaugural recipient of the American Statistical Association Statistics and Data Science Education fellowship for high school teachers. You can read her blog A Little Stats and find her on twitter as @alittlestats.

Certainly this year has been like no other in my career teaching in NYC public schools. I started my four sections of AP Statistics class remotely and a week later than normal (which is still later than most schools in the country). We had a new block schedule, with blocks meeting every other day. Then we transitioned to hybrid teaching, with some students coming into our school building one day every three cycles. On the days they don’t come into the building (and some never do), students come to my class virtually via Zoom. Fast forward to three weeks ago, when we went all-remote (at least temporarily). As of right now, I am not sure what the plan is for potentially returning to the building or if it will happen at all. [I also teach a math team class that’s completely asynchronous.]

Sounds confusing and it’s been even more challenging building community in my classroom, getting to know my students, and figuring out how to meet their learning needs in this environment. I feel like some of the classroom routines I’ve been using for a long time worked well in a virtual environment. And some I had to incorporate for the first time this year. Regardless of what’s in store for me and my students for the remainder of the year, my classroom will be predominantly a remote experience. I miss teaching in person. I miss checking in on student groups working together. I miss the head-nodders. I miss the ability to read the non-verbal cues from my students. But for now, for remote teaching, I feel like I’ve set up some good things. Here are the top 5 strategies I’ve used that I think are really helpful for my remote classroom.

1. Daily class agenda.

The day before each class, I post a class agenda on our Google Classroom. Separately, I post any specific assignments with attached files, all instructions, and all deadlines (usually a few days later). This allows students to download documents, print materials, and get their notes ready before the start of the day. But it also means that if a student (or myself) can’t connect to the synchronous Zoom class or is absent, they can still complete the classwork. I haven’t had any internet troubles (yet… knock on wood), but I definitely have students who have. I recently had a student who couldn’t log in to Zoom (because of a server issue on the school end) and was still able to complete the work by the end of the day thanks to the agenda.

2. Annotated student work.

I have 136 AP Statistics students. I don’t get to read every word of every assignment they digitally submit to me. That isn’t my first choice but I’m a realist about my time. Instead, I spend quite a bit of class time reviewing assignments, discussing good responses, and answering student questions. In addition, I post one student’s work for each graded assignment with my detailed annotations. I am using the program Notability on my iPad. It’s relatively inexpensive; easy to use with my stylus; and allows some flexibility for handwriting, typing, inserting diagrams & photos if I need. I pick a different student each time, not necessarily the best student work but one whose work is legible. I make sure the work and justifications are to my satisfaction for a complete response. If not, I make corrections and suggestions. This way I know there is a record of what I would want for specific communication and I can always refer students back to that document.

3. Asking: "Anything else you want to ask or tell me?"

On pretty much any Google form/quiz I give, this is the last question. On a questionnaire. On the weekly formative homework quiz. With remote classes, on a summative test. It’s optional, of course. Some students will never fill this out. Some students will occasionally use this space to ask: “Can we go over statistical significance in class again, please?” Or lament about not having an Against All Odds video in the week’s homework assignment: “Is there no video for this week? :(“ There are a handful of students who always fill this out and the information they give is different but equally important. Because some students need that space to give me specific feedback on that particular assignment and some just want space to provide me with a miscellaneous fact about animals, tell a stats joke, or tell me to have a good weekend.

4. Forgoing apologies for everyday things.

We know things are going to be weird this year. There are going to be things I can’t even foresee that will happen. No internet or power due to a storm? Uploaded the wrong version of your assignment? Having trouble with your log-in (see #1)? Please let me know. But, also, please don’t think you need to apologize for these things. In my first week with my students, I let them know we should be allowing all of us some grace during this time. When we are relying so heavily on technology and resources that are not always so reliable, especially, we will need some automatic patience built in to these routines. Of course, my students are still apologizing for literally everything. I am happy to see, though, some students proactively emailing myself and their other teachers when struggles arise and normalizing the phrase “thanks for your understanding.”

5. Making each student “visible.”

At the beginning of the year, we talked a lot about what makes someone feel “invisible” in a math classroom. Students offered suggestions about how we could grow our community into one that makes all visible, whether their cameras are on or not (and most are not). I keep track of which students have participated each day in our whole-group work. If I haven’t heard from a student in a while, I find a way for them to become visible again. My goal is to get all my students to unmute their mics at least once every couple of classes. I have them read out loud, answer a question, go over a problem, ask a question, etc. I also ask one student to share their screen when they are in a breakout room. I try to get it to be different students who have these roles. In all cases, I want there to be multiple ways students can be engaging with each other, with me, and with the content. And, at the close of class, we take a minute to turn cameras on if we can/want to just say goodbye.

6. On Fridays, I have Chit Chat office hours.

We are required to hold remote office hours for 20 minutes every day. I decided to create a schedule for my office hours and it is one of the best things I have done. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays I am available for help for my AP Statistics students. On Wednesdays, I do office hours with my math team. But on Fridays, we just chat. Anyone is welcome. And, in fact, on average I have more students coming to Chit Chat office hours than any other day. Who comes? Former, current, and even possible-future students. It’s been awesome. We chat about the week, weekend plans, current events, our personal lives and interests. Sometimes I get to virtually meet their family members. Sometimes we share stories about pets, house plants, and loved ones. Sometimes we just check in on each other. Hands down, this addition to my classroom routine has been the best thing I did for my students and myself this year.

Do you have any routines or practices that you find are helping with remote teaching?

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