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Online Teaching and Learning: Classroom Management and Instructional Strategies

The pandemic has led to the abrupt closure of schools and has left millions of teachers and students in a lurch regarding continuing education. In order to bridge the gap of teaching and learning, the entire world seems to have turned to online/blended learning modes. While it has become a norm and a necessity, millions of teachers have been pushed into uncharted territory with little or no training. If you are a teacher and have figured out a way to navigate through the technical challenges, and are thinking about classroom management and improving your online instruction, this blog is for you.

Recently, I had the privilege to conduct an online teacher training workshop for about 100 enthusiastic teachers through Teacher Champ – a COVID response project conducted by Madhi Foundation. The execution of the course led to research on the differences between online and face to face classes. Having had the experience of teaching in a classroom for 2 years, the idea of an online class seemed somehow strange and scary. I am sure a lot of teachers out there feel the same. But here is some good news, the research points that the similarities outweigh the differences between the two modes of teaching. In this blog, I will summarise the comparison between the two and dive into classroom management and instructional strategies that work well in both online and face to face classrooms.

Whether over a computer or in a classroom, every day of teaching remains an adventure! I’m sure a lot of teachers will agree with this statement. Even as the points laid out above assure us that there are many similarities between the two modes of teaching, it is a challenging undertaking to teach without the physical presence of students. There are, therefore, some principles we need to follow to set up a good online class:

Strive for presence: social, cognitive, and teaching presence.
Interactivity is the heart and soul of effective asynchronous/online learning.
Let the students do (most of) the work. The more time students spend engaged with the content, the more they will learn.

Does it sound familiar to face to face teaching? I thought so too. With conscious effort, a teacher can build their online teacher presence and interact with the students without needing to be loud or being physically present. All the three principles are not to be seen in isolation but must instead be employed as a means to improve student learning outcomes in entirety.

Let us look at 8 classroom management and 9 instructional strategies that will help you establish a strong teaching and learning environment for the students.

Here are 8 Classroom Management Strategies
This refers to the wide variety of skills and techniques that teachers use to keep students organised, orderly, focused, attentive, on task, and academically productive during a class.

1. Establish Norms

It’s important to establish clear rules and expectations regarding student discipline, participation, the study process, deadlines, etc. To do so and build accountability, encourage all students to help you build classroom rules and reason out with students the need for such a rule while making norms.

For example, rules can be such as:

Check in with your teacher. Gather your materials
Be on time
Stay engaged (nod or thumbs up) if others are talking
Mute your mic if you are not speaking

2. Establish a Routine
Students feel more confident and comfortable when the study process is well established and the procedures are predictable.

For example, a typical routine for study hour could include instructions like the following:

Set a schedule and stick to it
Meditate for 5 minutes
Share one good thing about the day

3. Clear Instructions

The teacher needs to give clear instructions at the beginning of every task, for the student to engage in an activity with clarity and manage time efficiently.
For example, the following image shows the detailed instructions that could accompany a simple writing activity.

4. Positive Reinforcement

Teachers could observe the students who follow the instructions and expectations set in the classroom and acknowledge their efforts. Another way to appreciate the students is by writing positive individual messages and by making phone calls. These techniques will not only encourage student participation but can also help in building a stronger relationship between the students and teachers.

For example, the teacher can say encouraging messages such as:

“I saw how you were helping other kids. I’m so proud of you”
“I like how Suresh is answering questions, I want others to also answer.”
“Thank you, Kanniammal for sending your homework.”

5. Call and Response

To regroup the students or get the attention of the students, a teacher can use the Call and Response technique. Teachers can say aloud the first part of a phrase and the students should immediately look at the teacher and say the second part of the phrase. Please note that it Is not necessary to turn on the audio of your virtual classroom as that might create chaos.

For example, the teacher can establish a ‘call and response’ routine where when the teacher says ‘One Two’, the students respond loudly with ‘Eyes on You!’.

6. Energiser

Energisers help regain students’ attention, take a brain break and prepare them for the next task.

For example, rhythmic clapping, following dance videos, etc. are great energisers.

7. Count Down

Teachers can use a countdown to help children re-group after an activity/discussion.

For example, the teacher can count backwards from 5 to 1 to get the students’ attention.

8. Hand Signals

Teachers and students can co-decide hand signals to make a discussion purposeful and engaging.

This video shows some useful hand signals that teachers can incorporate in their classrooms.

Here are 9 Instructional Strategies

Instructional strategies are learning techniques a teacher can use to help students learn or gain a better understanding. It allows teachers to make the learning experience more fun and practical and encourages students to take more of an active role in their learning.

1. Check for understanding

Teachers can ask questions after teaching a concept to see if the students have understood it. These questions can be thinking questions or direct questions from the concept.

Correct Example: “What are the two types of ….?”
Wrong Example: “Did you understand?”

2. Tell me what to do

The teacher can also check if students have understood the instruction by making the students repeat what was just told to them.

3. You can answer

If a teacher finds that a student is not able to answer, he/she can ask another student to say the answer loudly. The teacher can repeat the question to the first student and encourage them to repeat the answer. This helps the students develop a sense of community and inclusion because of the opportunity presented to them.

4. Graphic Organizer

This is an important tool that allows students to visually categorize new information or review old information. It helps to conceptualize the information given to them during the class. When students look at the information that’s organized, it’s easier for them to retain and remember that information.
For example, simple flow charts like this or this with boxes and arrows do a marvellous job of communicating structured information that a paragraph of text may not be able to.

5. Gamification

We can also use games to make online learning fun and engaging. Games can be used to make assessments and classroom interaction more interesting. It is important to align the gamified elements with learning objectives. You can incorporate gamified elements such as points, levels, badges and leaderboards.

Some tools for gamification are Kahoot, Quizizz, Khan Academy and Microsoft Math Solver.

6. Continuous Assessment and Feedback

Having continuous short assessments can help teachers gauge the students’ progress and keep the student motivated. These assessments need not be lengthy and can entail just asking 5 questions relating to the concept. It will help the teachers decide the next steps for the learning outcome/concept.

7. Cold Call

In order to make participation the expectation, call on students regardless of whether they raised their hands to answer a question. This will encourage students to always be attentive in the class and will provide equal opportunity to all students to participate in discussions.

For example, the teacher can write down the names of each student on one ice cream stick or a piece of paper each, and show the names on the video to call on individual students and check their understanding.

8. Word Drill

Select a word wall from the textbook and do a drill every day. This can be a routine for your class. If there is no word wall available in the syllabus textbooks, you can use Dolch sight words, CVC words or curated wordlists from the syllabus textbooks.

9. Spell Check

Give five words every day as homework and ask the students to learn the spellings. You can conduct a spell check for the students regularly. This can be followed for all the subjects.

I hope these strategies will help you take an online class. As a teacher myself I would recommend using 1 or 2 strategies consistently for 8 weeks and then add or change them accordingly. It also helps to make a conscious choice to use these techniques regularly, as many teachers might be new to these strategies.
Let us make learning possible even when it is difficult and seems impossible!

Works Cited
McAleavy, T., & Gorgen, K. (2020). What does the research suggest is best practice in pedagogy for remote teaching? Education Development Trust.

Angelo State University – Instructional Design. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.angelo.edu/instructional-design/online-teaching/section_12.php

College, N. C. (2020, August). System’s Principles and Techniques of Online Education.

Lemov, D. (n.d.). Teach Like A Champion.

(2012). Online Student Engagement Tools and Strategies. A Magna Publications. Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/newsletters/online-classroom/

Webster, J. (2019, May ). The 49 Techniques from Teach Like a Champion. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/techniques-from-teach-like-a-champion-3111081

 

An article written by Bansidhara Elia James and Jiss Mary Thomas

Posted by Bansidhara Elia James
Blog

Storytelling – An underappreciated art

If someone asks me whether I am a storyteller, I’d say no.

Truth is, stories pervade the cracks of all our everyday lives. We narrate incidents, needs, and hopes, amusing and informing anyone who would listen. Almost unconsciously, our brains stitch together disconnected events, transforming them into personalised tales of interest. Aren’t we all, then, storytellers?

For NGOs like ours, stories are the translators we rely upon to communicate to you the inspiration and impact that drive our work. Every poster, every proposal, and every conversation, needs to perform this storytelling function for us to be able to expand our reach and build support for our vision. This of course means that storytelling is an essential skill to hone, especially for those of us working with communications, fundraising, and partnerships.

Here are some storytelling challenges and opportunities I’ve encountered through my experimentation with writing and design.

Having a clear intent
Every day, through each poster and document, I am aware of our vision and conscious of aligning every collateral to it. In fact, rarely do we encounter doubts in our minds of the vision behind our content, having passionately committed to work towards the purpose of our organisations. A broad rationale alone, however, is insufficient to successfully tell stories.

It is perhaps useful for us to approach storytelling as a tactic and be purposeful in incorporating its elements into the different strands of our work. This clear intent can lift our communications strategy from its shadows and accord it the attention it deserves.

Making connections
Bring in the human element. Evoke emotions. Build empathy.

Oft heard suggestions as these are, I have always struggled to imagine them beyond the inclusion of emotive photographs while creating communications collateral. I suspect though, that in attempting to communicate the problem, the solution and the impact of our work in disjointed parts, we tend to miss out on an opportunity to elevate the interest of our audience. Instead, building an impactful story arc, and using a central character, emotive language and sensory details, are some tricks that could transform mere words into the beginning of a relationship.

Having just completed my nth reading of the Harry Potter series, I am inclined to take inspiration from JK Rowling, and explore how these gripping elements that built personal connections between millions of readers could be brought into the relatively drab world of PPTs and funding proposals.

Choosing characters
Of course, perhaps the most successful elements of Rowling’s magical masterpiece are the characters. The readers empathise with and root for them, willing the story to an ending we all anticipated, and yet waited for with bated breath.

Could storytelling for nonprofits be that much different? Can we not also be more purposeful in building the characters that carry the story forward, and uncover the layers of emotions they may convey to different demographics of audiences? What a name, a context or an identity can do for a data point is, to stick to the theme, almost magical. The Girl Effect video, is a lauded example of this use of a single character to tell the story of millions.

Marking trends
A lot of the work within the development sector is highly nuanced, and spread across months and years of experimentation. Condensing all that we want to communicate into single posters or paragraphs is not just difficult, but also impossible to do as we touch base with our audience mid-way through a project. How then can we persuade the audience to remember the bits of information they received across a span of months, and understand the trends of growth or improvement conveyed through them?

Carrying forward the tone and characters of a story across multiple collateral could aid in this, even through the subtler aspects of storytelling like the use of brand colours, consistent tone of design and recurring themes. Charity Water, through their social media accounts, does this extremely well through simple yet memorable visuals, and impactful captions.

Every blank page is overflowing with the expectation to be memorable. We want our audience to remember what we said, understand it and be personally impacted by it. In writing and reading for this blog post, I have been re-energised to pinpoint my attention towards telling stories through my work in the development sector. Through the humdrum of a busy work week, it is easy to get lost in the minutiae and spend hours analysing the exact positioning of a line or a dot on a Google Slide deck. Perhaps you can join me in taking a step back every once in a while, reading the stories we tell, and wondering if it is indeed a page turner.

Posted by Urmila Reghunath
Blog

Surviving the Pandemic: On Leading, Planning, and Communicating

When murmurs around lockdowns and slowdowns started doing the rounds in India around early March, I must admit I was in denial. Or perhaps it was the eternal optimist in me that believed that it could not get as bad as was being predicted. I still believed a complete lockdown was untenable for a country like India, and the COVID-19 pandemic was going to gradually disappear sooner rather than later. And yet, we had to be prepared.

It helped that the nonprofit community sprang into action and started nudging organisations and teams to start ‘scenario planning’, something we’ve all done in some measure in the past but not with so many unknowns and with absolutely no historical reference to go by. But ‘scenario plan’ we did. We had no choice but to rely on the many theories and predictions flying around on how bad it was going to get or how long this was going to last. But we knew we were bracing ourselves for a long winter.

Slowly, panic gave way to a sense of purpose and the team got down to pulling itself together and embracing the challenge and the reality that lay in front of us. Expectedly, as the CEO, the team looked to me – some for direction and others for messages of optimism. At no point during this testing phase did I ever feel that I was fighting for survival alone, and for this and more, I would always be grateful to this team. I have laid down here some actions and thought processes that helped us survive and thrive as a team, and hope that it helps others tide over this crisis.

Prepare for the worst, hope for the best

“When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”. You may have to work with several unknown variables and anticipate many different likely and unlikely scenarios. But being prepared for the worst even when it sounds apocalyptic allows you and the team to brace for impact and prepare a contingency plan in the interim. Don’t be in denial about how bad it could potentially get even while you hang on to all the optimism you can muster. Balancing communication with the team around the worst and best-case scenario may be a hard task, but one that must be done. It helps to draw inspiration from other leaders in your industry on effectively displaying to the team your resolve, and on letting them know that as the leader, you have a plan.

Be unabashedly honest

The only thing worse than being in an anxious situation is being lied to by the leadership. Even while you want to put up a show of strength and confidence, strive to remain honest and transparent throughout. A team that appreciates this honestly and sticks it out, is the team you want on your side when the going gets tough. Whether it be a messy funding situation or the fact that you may not have all the answers just yet, lay out as much information as you think is healthy for your team to consume. Being conscious about not giving false hopes, even when you’re absolutely certain of things turning out a certain way, is a critical aspect of this transparent approach to scenario planning. Provide your team the entire spectrum of information on what might go well and how bad it can potentially get. The team has to see you upholding the organisation’s values even at a difficult time and the leadership’s approach has the potential to transform and model organisational culture around planning and communication.

Team before self

Remind yourself every so often that a time like this is not just about survival of the organisation but also of its core team. When all this is over, you will get a chance to start afresh and you will need your team to roll up their sleeves and stand with you as you fight back. As a leader, you must spend as much energy and emotion as is required to build an empathetic approach to sustainability and to make decisions that are in the best interest of the team.

Mental health and personal challenges can overwhelm us at some point, and it’s best to anticipate them and formulate organisational policies that balance accountability with empathy. We at Madhi thought about the team’s well being even before we started looking at programme pivots. From being one of the earliest organisations to mandate work from home in the early COVID days to allowing people to take time off during working days to run errands or attend to personal responsibilities at home, there was a paradigm shift in what we considered ‘professional’ and it yielded tremendous results. We were more productive than we had ever been and we scored a 90% satisfaction rate on an employee survey that asked the team if they were happy with the COVID response measures the organisation had taken.

Don’t fight it alone

It is perfectly all right for you not to have all the answers as long as you are willing to make an effort to learn from others, including your peers, mentors, advisors, and team. After all, this is the first time any of us is handling a pandemic! Don’t feel compelled to fight it alone and to put up a steely resolve to a point where a personal breakdown is imminent. Consult with your team often, quickly put together a core team that will act as your sounding board, and thought partner as you navigate something as chaotic as this year has been. Delegation is a valuable leadership skill, and you must use it to leverage the experience and capabilities of your core team. Take the time for an occasional mental health day off or plan to be unavailable after a certain time of the day to attend to personal chores. Just as you need to be empathetic to your team’s emotional well being needs, be gentle on yourself, surround yourself with people you trust and conserve as much mental energy as you can for the long haul.

Communicate often

There is nothing more unnerving than radio silence from the organisation’s leadership during times of uncertainty and stress. So even while you decide how much information is too much information, make sure the team hears from you often and feels cared for. It could be in the form of cheery emails or team calls where you do nothing but a round of virtual pictionary with some casual updates thrown in about when things may be getting back to normal. Make those interactions happen and provide a safe space for the team to share their anxieties and questions around what is next. The greater the touch points with your team the less you are going to be bombarded with anxious questions, which in turn can overwhelm you and your capacity to plan effectively.

 

Uncertainties can unravel the best of us. But with a little bit of bravado and lots of planning, even the worst can be overcome!

Posted by Merlia Shaukath
Blog

Public Education: Using the Eisenhower Matrix to Examine the Who, What and Why (Part 1/4)

Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has catapulted our understanding of welfare economics through his seminal work on capabilities. He argues, firstly, that poverty is multidimensional and secondly, that freedom from poverty can be obtained only when people’s capabilities are enhanced; thereby increasing one’s freedom of choice. If one were to make the primary argument that education is a basic means of augmenting long term human capability, it would stand to reason that resource allocation within the public education system is a key lever towards poverty alleviation. This series of thought pieces will use the Eisenhower Matrix to suggest how resources could be allocated from the perspective of state provision of education.

This first piece will serve as a thought inducing introduction to the concept. Part 2 will delve into the nuances of the lifetime human need for education, from the perspectives of equitable delivery and uniformity. Part 3 will place components of the National Education Policy 2020 into the matrix, and part 4 will conclude by proposing a rationale for the strategic stance discussed through the series.

Let us make the following broad assumptions:

Firstly, that the state wants to do everything it can for its citizens, so that we grow and become poverty free as quickly as possible.
Secondly, that education is a key lever by which a nation can grow and become poverty free.
Thirdly, that resources are constrained and there is a significant opportunity cost to all allocation decisions. It therefore becomes necessary to have a system by which one prioritises and allocates resources.

We could further take the stance that the objective of state-provided education should be to ensure that citizens are provided with an academic/intellectual base through which they can gain lifelong agency of choices. It then becomes the education departments’ primary responsibility to ensure (by means of policy and provision) that citizens are able to build and maintain an adequate livelihood, which provides for their basic necessities (or today’s version of roti, kapda, makan) at least. Practically, this means that the 15 odd years of education which a child obtains today should meaningfully support the subsequent 45 years of their working life.

Additionally, assuming we seek to live in an equitable society, the opportunity to build such a livelihood should be equally provided to all citizens. It should be noted that while equity is not essential to the conceptualisation of resource allocation, it becomes essential in deciding the executional strategy for the education provision within a society.

Therefore, keeping the aforementioned goal of a poverty free, equitable society in mind, we can agree that state resources should be allocated towards education provision. Then, the questions before us are:

How does one decide to what end funds should primarily be allocated?
How does one decide what needs to be done first versus what can wait?

If we choose to use the Eisenhower Matrix aka the urgent/important matrix as a prioritisation tool for potential policy items that will determine the trajectory of public education provision, a blank matrix may look something like this.

In our context, deciding where funds should be allocated from is the importance component; prioritising the chronology of expenditure is the urgency component. Thinking through each potential action item can allow us to place it along the matrix.

Before we move onto the next part of this thought piece, consider the aforementioned questions yourself. What do you think? How would you allocate resources? Where do you think the different aspects of the NEP 2020 should sit on this matrix?

Posted by Aparna Shankar
Blog

Multigrade Classrooms: A Forbidden Reality

Multigrade classrooms, for many of us, is like an exception to the standard monograde classes. My belief in this, however, was challenged when I started observing classrooms as a part of my work and realised that 8 out of 10 schools visited were all multigrade. This observation made me question the constructed reality in my head and challenge the kind of training given in all teacher training courses where multigrade isn’t given due importance.

It is crucial to understand the multigrade classroom setup in great depth because most of the classrooms in the country are multigrade. Unified District Information System for School Education (U-DISE) data from the year 2016-2017 shows that around 10.2% of primary schools in India are single teacher schools. Madhi Foundation’s extensive engagement with Chennai and Thiruvannamalai government schools indicates 80% of schools are multigrade. A mismanaged multigrade classroom could be one of the significant reasons behind reports suggesting that every year 40% of the children drop out of school (GOI, 2012). Around 70% of students of 8th Grade can only read a Standard 2 level book (ASER, 2018). It could also be one of the unaddressed reasons that prevents India from providing good quality education to all even ten years after the implementation of the Right to free and compulsory education, and from not being able to achieve the millennium development goals of universal primary education.

Multigrade teaching refers to a situation where typically a school has one or two teachers with classes that are heterogeneous in both age and ability. In multigrade education, teachers within a timetabled period are responsible for instruction across two or more curriculum grades, often seated in the same classroom. Multigrade teaching can operate in several conditions such as in schools serving in areas of low population density and are inaccessible (Benveniste & McEwan, 2000), when school enrollment percentage is very low, in schools where minimal number of teachers are employed, in schools where teacher absenteeism is prevalent and concept of supplementary teacher deployment is non-existent, or when many teachers go on leaves of different kinds and there is no mechanism to bridge the void (Little, 2001).

Multigrade classrooms play a vital role in helping developing nations achieve internationally mandated education for all and the Millennium Development Goals. Multigrade settings are the most cost-effective way of delivering educational access to children as resources are shared among more individuals and in areas that are geographically isolated. This model allows for a rational allocation of teachers per class when the schools do not have sufficient numbers of teachers.

The multigrade model encourages children to learn from their peers and breaks barriers of differences in the classroom. This kind of education promotes collaboration and a cooperative attitude among students, and develops healthy interpersonal behaviour. It also helps the teacher to plan their work with more efficiency and cater to children who need more time to grasp some concepts that are dealt with in lower classes (UNESCO, 2013). All these reasons make many countries like Europe, North America, and Australia consciously prefer to have multigrade classrooms as their first choice. Ireland and Peru have around 40% and 78% multigrade primary schools respectively, making it a successful reality for them. Multigrade classrooms help sustain a fluid environment, which aids in engaging the child as per their level. It gives immense scope to the child to learn at their own pace and rigour. The learning space becomes grade agnostic but learning level specific.

However, a program that caters to so many advantages and even economic benefits to the system can fail if the basic underlying needs are not catered to. Our ignorance of the majority of classrooms in India being multigrade and the systemic negligence of their specific needs are the core of the problems. No teacher education curriculum in our country focuses on multigrade teaching, and the in-service training hardly trains them to work well in this system.

Multigrade classroom needs strong administrative support to make planning and execution feasible for the teacher. A revised set of curricular expectations is necessary to lay a strong foundation for a multigrade system. Teacher handbooks to help teachers structure their teachings, workbooks to engage students in peer and individual activity, proper time management strategy to have equal engagement with all classes are all crucial aspects of the multigrade system. Moreover, acknowledging that multigrade classrooms are a reality is the need of the hour.

 

References

ASER (2018). ‘Enrollment and Learning Report Card’. Retrieved from h.pdf
Benveniste, L., & McEwan, P. (2000). Constraints to Implementing Educational Innovations: The Case of Multigrade Schools. International Review of Education / Internationale Zeitschrift Für Erziehungswissenschaft / Revue Internationale De L’Education, 46(1/2), 31-48. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.tiss.edu:2067/stable/3445426
Government of India (2012). ‘Class-wise dropout rates from 2011-2012’. Retrieved from https://data.gov.in/catalog/dropoutrate?filters%5Bfield_catalog_reference%5D=104538&format=json offset=0&limit=6&sort%5Bcreated%5D=desc
Little, A. W. (2001). ‘Multigrade teaching: towards an international research and policy agenda’. International Journal of Educational Development, 21(6), 481–497.doi:10.1016/s0738- 0593(01)00011-6
National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration. (2018). U-DISE flash statistics 2016-17, http://udise.in/Downloads/Publications/Documents/Flash_Statistics_on_School_Education-2016-17.pdf
UNESCO (2013). ‘Office Bangkok and Regional Bureau for education in Asia and the Pacific’. Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000220101

Posted by Jiss Mary Thomas