SIP 13.11 Help! My Tricks Aren’t Working Anymore!

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Smiling student sitting outside while working on a laptop computer.It is usually impossible to make sweeping statements about the state of teaching for everyone across disciplines, across levels, full-time and affiliate, etc. However, it is pretty safe to say teaching has changed for pretty much all of us since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

2020 was a year of learning to “pivot” and quickly acquiring new strategies for immediate survival. But 2021 has started off as a year of taking a look at our age-old go-to practices and our new online and virtual strategies to try to understand what is working and what is not – just in time to return to face-to-face teaching in the fall. Some of our practices have been continuously successful throughout this challenging year. But what do we do when our favorite methods and tricks just don’t work anymore?

Take a SIP of this: My Tricks Aren’t Working Anymore

There is a palpable sense of exhaustion among faculty around reinventing the wheel every. Single. Week. Understandable! But here are a few tips on how to examine favorite best practices as paradigms that can be quickly and easily adapted to meet our students where they are, right now, at the end of another tiring and sometimes-discouraging semester of isolation and struggle:

  • Does everyone look at one another with dread or turn cameras off at the beginning of yet another Zoom session? Try an icebreaker to lighten the mood and set the tone. Check out SIP 2.1, “Icebreakers,” or SIP 12.3, “Building Community Online,” for some ideas. There are many fun Zoom icebreakers to be found simply by Googling “Zoom icebreakers.”
  • Do you feel disconnected from your students? Even teaching online synchronously can feel isolating without the true human contact of a face-to-face session. When you teach in person, you do a lot of things to help students feel welcome. You greet students, smile, make eye contact. Try this to improve that human touch in your online class: Comment on the fun background they have in Zoom or notice if they have something new in their home office (a.k.a. bedroom) that day. Ask about their dog or about the sister you see wandering in and out of your Zoom view. Compliment their outfit (a.k.a. pajamas) or just ask how they are feeling. Bridge the gap by showing personal interest.
  • Another great way to add a human element to your class is to simply call students by their name. Set a goal of saying each student’s name at least once during your class meeting: “Thanks for that comment, José!” “I agree with what Alexandra said, but what do you think, Max?” Hearing their name aloud will help students know that their voice and their presence matter in your class.
  • Do you find attention waxing and waning (for your students and for you) during a class session? Try involving students as experts in the survival of remote instruction. Ask your students what has helped them pay attention and address those individual suggestions. From quick yoga breaks to varied instructional methods to a dance party, let them know you hear them and that you are willing to do what it takes to keep everyone engaged.
  • Another fun way to increase attention is to follow the 20/20/20 rule in your class. Every 20 minutes, take a break from the screen by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Assign the task of keeping track of this to a different student every class period and watch their focus improve.
  • Did you once do a lot of group work but find that breakout rooms are onerous? We might not be able to avoid breakout-room work altogether, but consider changing how you do it: Change the group size; change the way you form groups; assign roles in groups (like note-taker, timekeeper, etc.). Or change the way you debrief after group work in breakout rooms: One person from each group reports; each group posts a summary in the chat; each group shares the most surprising thing that came out of their discussion, etc. Check out SIP 4.9 and SIP 11.8 on group work and imagine how you can tailor these activities to the virtual environment.
  • Are you a die-hard whiteboard fan who likes to illustrate your lecture with notes for the students to see? Try using the chat function in Zoom or Teams. While drawing or doodling is out of the question, you can still write words for your students to see, just as they would in a classroom with a blackboard or whiteboard. Even better: The students can join in. Open the chat function and let them know they can send public or private messages or add notes to your notes for a truly collaborative discussion period.
  • Have you consistently relied on a particular format such as lecture, active learning, etc., to engage your students with the material? That might not work this semester in the virtual classroom. Instead, try using a variety of visuals, short videos, media and interactive tools to connect your students to the content in your class. YouTube is an amazingly rich resource, and free web apps such as (available through Canvas), FlipGrid and Kahoot can spice up your instructional delivery. Contact the Center for Teaching, Learning and Design to learn how to use some of these tools.
  • When we say goodbye to our students at the end of a virtual class period, we “check out” by turning cameras off, and that’s it – no hallway conversation, no “follow me to my office,” no seeing each other in the coffee shop or bathroom. How can we let our students know we will be thinking of them and of our connection until the next time we meet? Try adding a weekly wellness tip, inspirational story or motivational quote to your goodbye to keep them thinking about you and one another until the next class.

Remember that your attitude will be the most pervasive one in the classroom. If you are energized and excited by your methods and pedagogy, your students will follow suit. If your pedagogy is falling flat on its face and you can own that out loud and engage your students in remediation, it can be a game-changer.

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:

Try some of these fun “Zoom-friendly Icebreakers” to start off your next class!

Check out this article on how to maximize your time in Zoom breakout rooms.

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