Spotlight on practice: lesson planning for online classes
Dr Janet Dutton (School of Education) has been teaching for years, but in 2020 she found new ways of working with some old systems. In this follow-up post, we share some of the ways that Janet and her teaching team have adapted their usual lesson planning to meet the needs of their students now learning online. An example of Janet’s lesson plans is available for download at the end of this post.
Janet says: My students are pre-service teachers in the Master of Teaching course so we need to model what good practice looks like in terms of lesson planning. I’m a big fan of planning – I have been teaching for many years now, and I still do lesson plans so I know exactly what I am doing when, in tutorials and workshops. Now we have Zoom tutorials and our students work mostly in small groups so we’ve really amplified the planning we were already doing. Below, some of the things that have worked really well for our team.
Share your lesson plans and timings with students
Every tutorial, we give students a really detailed lesson plan which shows them exactly what is happening: when they will be in breakout rooms, when they are going to move back into the full group. We give timeframes, show them the tutorial exit points (below), and show where all the resources are in iLearn (below). This gives students clear, explicit expectations, not only on what they will be learning, but what will happen when during the class. Sharing lesson plans also really helps to back up any verbal instructions given during class and acts as a reference point and prompt for both teachers and students, when they are in class together.
Create multiple exit points in your online tutorial
Tutorials in some of our Master of Teaching units are normally 2-3-hours. Moving online, we kept the Zoom tutorials that same length but we created multiple exit points. What that meant was that students could opt to not come to the Zoom tutorial at all and work independently, or they could come to the Zoom meeting for a period of time, and they could exit and continue to work individually, or they could stay for the whole time. We generally created 2-3 exit points where there was no shame or embarrassment if a student had to leave. We all took a break at these points and some students would stay, and others would come back later to join us. It also means that if anyone has to leave during a tutorial or they lost wifi or whatever, they can easily return to the class at these regular break points. For our purposes as educators, this was just modelling good practice in terms of meeting students where they were and allowing for flexibility. Surprisingly, most of our students stay to the end. At the end of each meeting, we also stick around and have a bit of chat – people can follow up with us then if they need to.
Limit your full-class teaching (also known as ‘lecturing’)
We have a teaching team of three, with some quite large groups – up to 60 students online at a time. So we don’t do much full-class teaching. On the rare occasions where I need to do a lecture, I will record it and ‘flip’ that session so the students aren’t sitting there online, just listening to someone talk at them for hours. I have a student daughter at another university so I know what happens when you have long, online ‘lectorials’ – you can bake a cake during some of them!
Vary the configuration of your breakout rooms
We play around a lot with the configurations of our Zoom breakout rooms for each session, so students aren’t always placed randomly into groups. Sometimes they are organised based on whether they’re primary or secondary teachers, sometimes blended, or according to interest or subject areas.
We don’t have less than 3 in a group and we sometimes use larger groups depending on the task. Groups of 2 in a breakout room can be a bit uncomfortable so we don’t do that. We try to mix it up and we also don’t spend any more than 10 to 15 minutes in breakouts.
Prepare to use iLearn in class and with the class
Online I certainly make wide use of iLearn. In a physical classroom, we would give handouts or provide verbal instructions on an interactive whiteboard. Teaching online, everything is on iLearn, so that means using iLearn as a teaching tool in our Zoom tutorials. We say things like ‘Now we would like you to open the folder here’ then give them time to open the folder, ‘Thumbs up if you’ve found that resource’.
Create processes for students to feedback to you during the class
We developed protocols around using Zoom so that students could let us know when to move faster or slow down, for example. The students are very good at using the thumbs up and letting us know when to move on. We would normally establish that on the ground in a physical classroom and adjust or fill in as necessary while in the room – but that’s much harder to gauge online and in a group of 40-50.
Ask student presenters to set-up or co-facilitate sessions on Zoom
My students have oral assessments on Zoom now and we have them organise everything for these. They set up the Zoom meeting, make the booking and they invite us.
They have host and convenor responsibility, they make me as unit convenor the co-host so I can always get access, and they sign up for these Zoom meetings under their tutorial groups. I also make another student an alternate host and they can maintain the meeting if they choose to after the formal assessment part is over. I think this positions students differently, especially when they are presenting: they have control of the screen, they are the meeting host and facilitator, they run the session, and it actually puts them into a role that is important for their transitioning into their profession as professionals.
Janet has kindly provided an example of an online lesson plan (for a class on lesson planning!) for you to use and adapt to your own teaching context.
If you have a lesson plan for your unit that you would like to share, let us know in the comments below and we’ll add it here.