Best Ideas for Online Teaching (Ep. 244)

As more schools are going to online learning the demands for online teaching continue to grow. In today’s episode, Tim shares some of the best ideas he has seen, the best ideas that people have shared, and the things that make online teaching work well. Listen for some ways to help yourself, some ways to help your students, and some other best practices that may help you now or in the coming months.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

Resources and Links


Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University. And I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Before we start today, I want to share something with you and ask you to do something, if you can, if you have the time. We all know that 2020 has been just a roller coaster of a year, but I think we can be optimistic. We can look forward to 2021. And as we head into 2021, we are trying to gather information about you, about art teachers and classrooms, and what’s happening in our teaching all over the country through our state of art education survey. Now, since 2018, we have asked questions exclusively to art teachers in the largest, most comprehensive survey of its kind. Questions cover a variety of topics from curriculum to support, to media, to your own teaching environment. And we will share all of the results in the AOEU magazine from this year’s survey in January 2021.

The survey takes about five minutes. You already know all the answers, we’re just sharing your own experience and your answers can help art teachers all across the country. So you can find a link to the survey in the show notes to this episode, and you can find it on our website, www.theartofeducation.edu. So if you have a few minutes this week, we would very much appreciate hearing your voice. We would very much appreciate getting your input. Thank you. Now, let’s make our way into the show.

Now, as we seem to start off a lot of episodes this school year, we have some people still teaching in person, some teachers in a hybrid model, some teachers doing remote learning. And I am seeing a number of schools kind of abandoning those hybrid models and abandoning those in-person plans as the pandemic gets worse again. More schools are going to online learning, more teachers are doing online teaching. And I would not be surprised if that trend continues over the next couple of months.

So today, I just wanted to share some of the best ideas I’ve seen, the best ideas that people have shared, the things that make online teaching work for them. So I will share some ways to help yourself, some ways to help your students, and some other best practices that might help you either now or in the coming months.

So I think the biggest thing that we need to start with, the biggest thing that we need to keep in mind, are ways to help yourself because as we are all experiencing, as we all know, this is not easy. And so you have to do what you can to take care of yourself. And a lot of that goes back to just making sure you’re doing things right. I know this is tough to do, but health wise, you have to make sure that you’re getting enough rest, you are drinking enough water, you exercise when you can, you take your mental health breaks as needed, and just do the right things to take care of yourself. And that can be really difficult, especially as stress and anxiety build up, as you’re pressed for time, but it is very, very important for you to make sure that you are able to do everything that you can to take care of yourself.

And then, as you are teaching, there are certain things you can do, just in breaks to kind of keep track of your health. Making sure that you’re changing positions, making sure that you’re stretching, like you can take a break every once in a while, hopefully, because staring into a screen all day is really, really difficult. And so if you are changing positions, if you’re getting up to walk around, if you can fit in just little bits of exercise, little bits of stretching, little bits of meditating or mindfulness throughout your day. Even just a few minutes here and there really, really help. And like I said, continuing to make sure that you’re drinking enough water.

And I would encourage your students to do the same. Don’t be afraid of taking breaks. Don’t be afraid of stepping away, letting your kids step away and making sure that you’re doing everything you can to keep yourself healthy, both physically and mentally.

And there are other things that you can do throughout the course of the teaching day to just make your life a little bit easier, a little bit less stressful. A few weeks back, I talked to Karen Kiick about all of the great 3D things that she’s doing with her students, with online learning. And she is set up in this crazy model where she, like a lot of people are, is teaching in-person and online at the same exact time. And I’ve heard from so many teachers who are doing this, that the second monitor is just vital because you can do so much more at once with demonstrations and sharing things, getting more hands-on. It makes your demos, your examples, your teachable moments so much more fluid because you can just jump back and forth between the second monitor with your overhead cam or with your screen being shared, or whatever it may be. However you may want to use that, it makes things so much easier. It makes your teaching so much more fluid. And when your teaching is more fluid, when you don’t have those awkward pauses, those awkward transitions, it’s easier for kids to stay engaged, it’s easier for you to keep them engaged.

And so if you can have a second monitor, that’s helpful. But I was talking about Karen, and she actually has three monitors, she said. Or she’s signed in three devices in the same time, where she is talking to kids through one, she’s doing demos and a second. And then the third device, she walks around the room and shows kids what’s happening to give them the feel like they’re in the classroom. And just being able to make that connection and give kids that feel, I think, is a great idea. And if you can do that, I think that’s spectacular. I think that’ll make your life a little bit easier in the long run. And yeah, I would recommend if you have time, going back and listening to that episode and just kind of hearing about what she’s doing with all of her online/hybrid/in-person teaching all at the same time.

And then, speaking of just keeping kids engaged, making sure that you’re doing stuff that helps you keep kids focused, to keep kids in your class. I think it’s worthwhile to ask for feedback. Ask kids, “How are things going? What’s working? What’s not working?” Because we’re all still learning about this. We’re all trying to figure out best practices and the best way to do this. And it can be as simple as asking your kids, “What do you like? What do you not like? What would you change? What would you improve?” You can do that as a chat. You can send them a DM. You can do a poll. Whatever might work with your online teaching, just to get a little bit of feedback from them.

And then if they know that you’re working to make things more exciting and make things more engaging, they’re going to be more invested as well, especially if they see those changes. And I know for me personally, asking for feedback was really tough as a teacher, especially in my first years when I was young and strong and thought I could do anything. Luckily, I’ve matured since then. I’ve outgrown that and I’ve realized that feedback is an incredible gift. And so if you can get that feedback from your kids, that’ll help you do things a little bit better. It’ll help kids be more invested, more engaged in your class, like I said. And when they are more invested and more engaged, all of your lessons, all of your presentations, all of your demos are going to go so much better. So don’t be afraid to ask for feedback because it can help you and it can definitely help your students.

All right. And speaking of your students, let’s chat about a few ways that you can help your students with this online learning. I think the first thing that I think of, the first set of ideas that I gravitated to, when I was thinking about how to help your students is a collection of ideas that Janet Taylor published in the AOEU magazine. She has a laundry list of ideas on how to make things work. And that article is definitely worth reading. But I think what it comes down to is a sentence that she put in and it said, “Essential needs are more than just art supplies.”

And we need to figure out what our kids need. Like, yes, we got through the logistics part, where maybe you made the little box with oil pastels and the drawing pencils and the nice eraser, or the pound of clay or whatever you had for the kids. And that’s awesome. That is absolutely necessary to get things going and making sure that kids have the tools they need to create art. But it goes beyond that. Once we have that figured out, you need to also figure out what else your kids need help with. What else is blocking them from learning? Maybe they need help with wifi. Maybe they need a consistent connection. Maybe they need support from their parents. Maybe they need help figuring out organization and skills and a space to work. Maybe they need help balancing their workload between what they’re doing at school, what they’re doing at home, all of their online classes. Maybe they need help with social and emotional issues. There are so many things that kids are fighting and battling right now that that make things really, really difficult.

So if you can find a way to check in with your kids, maybe you let them in from the waiting room a little bit early and just say, “Hey, how are things going?” Maybe you have a quick chat. Maybe you send them an email and just kind of check in and say, “How are things going for you? What can I help with?” Or if you’ve noticed an issue, say, “Hey, I noticed you’re struggling with this. Have you tried this?” And just coming up with some ideas on how to help them, how to support them in the ways that they need can be really, really beneficial. And just building that relationship with kids or continuing to foster a good relationship will make them a little more likely to open up and to share with what they need, what might help them and how you can help them. That’ll go a long ways.

And then also, I just mention this really quickly, but for a lot of art kids, encouraging them to set up a workspace for their art can be really beneficial. That might be part of a table where they keep their supplies, or a desk. That might be a box lid that their drawing stays in, but they can make sure nothing’s getting stacked on top of it, or they can keep their supplies in there along with it. Maybe it’s a folded up newspaper, just random piece of paper that they keep their art stuff on and they set it on a particular part of their dresser or wherever. But just having a dedicated space where they can work, they can draw, can be really worthwhile, especially if they have their supplies somewhere where they know sketchbooks drawings, projects are all going to be safe. That can go a long way to encouraging them to continue working, to keep focusing on things that are worthwhile, things that you’re wanting to do you in class.

And then I think a battle that we’re all fighting, not even a battle, I guess, just an idea of whether or not we want kids to have their cameras on when they are in your online class. And I don’t have the answer. Nobody has the answer. Obviously, the learning is going to be more effective if you can see your kids and they can see you. But in all honesty, that may not be the most important thing for everyone right now.

And so rather than diving into that argument deciding whether or not kids need to have their camera on, I think it’s important to, instead, think about other ways that we can engage our kids. And for a lot of them just typing is much easier than responding, than speaking out loud. And so just getting them to chat, to answer questions. Even simple, like, “Give me a thumbs up icon,” and “give me a thumbs down, if this…” You can create polls. You can have them respond to a question or even just type in the chat some of their favorites. “What is your favorite color? Who’s your favorite artist? What’s your favorite art medium?” You can do would you rather questions. You can do this or that questions. Like, “What do you prefer, inside or outside? Hot dogs or pizza? Breakfast or dinner?” And just all of those things can kind of get kids engaged, get them active, get them participating in what they can do.

So I think you do what works for you and what works for your students as far as cameras and the best approach for all of you. But I think there are a lot of other ways to engage kids as well. And it doesn’t hurt to think about other ways that may work for them.

And then lastly, today, I just wanted to chat about a few other good ideas I’ve seen, a few other best practices, instructional strategies, all that kind of stuff that I think works well and that kids have responded to. I think the biggest thing for instructional delivery for everybody is just realizing that it needs to be very step-by-step-by-step, just because you don’t have a regular classroom environment. You don’t have kids able to look over each other’s shoulders. You don’t have them as willing to ask questions. It’s tougher to check for understanding. All of those things are working against you. So the more you can make things step-by-step and almost over-teach, I think that’s going to be better.

And I hear you. It’s frustrating when you say, “Oh hey, I put your assignment online. Let me explain that. Here’s a video that explains it as well.” And you can give them like four options for understanding what’s going on and they still or saying, “Oh, what are we doing today? What are we supposed to do?” There’s no end of that frustration. And yeah, bless all of you teachers who have the patience to deal with kids like that, because I’m not good with patience when it comes to that. But I think we just need to focus and remind ourselves that kids need our support. And a good way to support them instructionally is just making sure that that everything is really step-by-step.

Second good idea that I think is worthwhile, that I think is worth exploring, is just introducing some mindfulness activities. We talked about, real briefly, back at the beginning about mental health, doing the things you need to do to take care of yourself. But all of those things can also work their way into your instruction, to your lessons, to the activities that you’re doing, whether you are doing some visual journaling, whether you are having kids respond to some prompts, or even just practicing creative thinking. All of those things can be really worthwhile to get them in touch with what they’re feeling, what their emotions are and giving them a chance to reflect and respond to those things, I think can be really worthwhile. So if you can find any ways to just kind of incorporate those practices into what you’re doing, then I think that will be good for your students.

And third thing, we talked a little bit earlier, too, about how we need to be willing to receive some feedback. We need to be willing to change up what we’re doing. We need to be willing to try new things. And so when you are doing that, it’s important that you model a growth mindset. Because this is hard. This is hard for teachers. This is hard for students. And the more you can guide them through, especially when things get frustrating, you can say, “Hey, we’re learning together.” You can say, “Hey, this is frustrating, but here’s what we’re going to do.”

And you don’t need to run away from your frustration. You can talk through it with your kid and say, “Wow, I’m really frustrated by this technology not working. Let’s try this.” And just being able to model for them what it looks like to respond to difficulties, to respond to roadblocks and how you deal with that, that’s going to help them in your class and in a ton of other classes as well.

I already mentioned this on ways to make your life easier, but I think it’s also important to revisit it here. I think a really good best practice here is to listen to student suggestions. Like I just said, this is new, this is difficult. You’re doing hard things. But you can do hard things together with your students. And so if you can incorporate that as part of the conversation and say, “Yeah, this is difficult, but we’re going to get through it together.” And you can say, “Yeah, this is difficult. How would you guys deal with it? How would you like me to help you with this? What is working? What is not working? What can I do to support you?” And just incorporate that feedback in what you’re doing. And that’s going to work out better for you and for your students.

And then lastly, I would just say, make sure that you’re consistent and make sure that you’re keeping things simple. You don’t need to try a new app every day to entertain your kids. You don’t need to try all of these things out of left field. Like every once in a while, yeah, bring something new in. But kids crave consistency, especially now. The more answers we can give them, the more things that you can do that are helpful for them and give them a sense of normalcy or a sense of balance, then you’re going to be much better off. And so if you have your weekly routines, even if it’s just like Monday is sketchbook day or Friday is art history day. We’re going to talk about an artist, we’re going to view some things. You’re going to respond to some of their artworks, whatever. If kids know what to expect coming in, that can be really helpful. So even just those little routines can do wonders for you. So even just a little bit of consistency, keeping things simple, keeping things in a position where kids know what to expect from you will be incredibly helpful.

All right. I think that is all. And I know there are going to be a ton more ideas that continue to pop up, a ton more ideas that you’ve seen. But I hope what I’ve shared today can be worthwhile for you. I hope you heard a couple of pieces of advice that are worth trying, either right now or in the future. And if you have any other great ideas, shoot me an email. I love to hear from people. I love to hear what’s working, what you’re experiencing and how everything is going for you. But good luck to you, no matter what your teaching situation now, no matter what is happening with you in the future. I know that we do amazing things as art teachers. And I know that we’re all doing everything that we can to make it work.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.