The 5 Structures of Virtual School - Sharing Strategies Globally

  • Elementary School
The 5 Structures of Virtual School - Sharing Strategies Globally

In the future, when we look back on 2020 and the various challenges brought upon our communities, we hope that we will also remember the outpouring of support that peers, colleagues, friends, and strangers showed one another around the world. 

In a recent blog post on Middleweb, a site that has been providing teachers, principals and parents with resources for teaching since 1996, SSIS 5th grade learning support teacher, Tan Huynh, shared our school’s process in establishing structures for virtual school success. Structures that he knew would come in handy for other teachers, and maybe even for parents who might not be receiving adequate support from their own schools, yet.

The key, Tan writes, is to remember that a virtual school is built on the same blocks that support a physical school. The “how” of virtual school looks different, but the “why” must remain the same. 

At SSIS that means:

  • prioritizing curriculum planning

  • investing in relationships with students, colleagues, and families

  • intentionally integrating technology when appropriate

These foundational blocks are embedded in the five pillars he shares. 

1. Create a “Week-at-a-Glance” Document

Tan suggests creating a document that houses all the work students are supposed to do for the entire week. Initially, virtual schooling was going to be just a two-week experience, so teachers did not add it until later. However, as the school closure became prolonged, everyone - students, teachers, and families needed a structure to organize links and documents.  

An example of a Week-at-a-Glance document from a co-teacher.

A “Week-at-a-Glance” document houses all of the assignments for the week and is used to embed links to videos, assignments, and other documents, where possible. Students and families appreciate the big picture of the week, which allows them to anchor their daily and weekly schedules. An example of a Week-at-a-Glance document from a co-teacher.

2. Host Office Hours

For Tan’s grade, teachers blocked off 9 am to 11 am as teachers’ “office hours”. Online Google Meet conferences with students are scheduled during this time. In the meets, the fifth grade teachers:

  • Model instruction 

  • Teach content 

  • Gauge student wellness 

  • Host book clubs

  • Provide small group or individual tutoring 

Because the office hours are at a consistent time it helps students structure their day. And families know, that after 11 am, they are free to schedule their day as they see fit. 
Twenty to thirty-minute small-group meetings of no more than eight students are ideal. A whole-class virtual meeting allows those less inclined to engage, to “disappear” more easily. In general, larger groups result in less engagement from students, while keeping meetings short, tends to increase student-engagement.

Most of the time, these meetings are scheduled and assigned. At other times, students are given a time frame and can select an appointment time that suits them. 

The key to virtual learning success is to not lose the personal element of the physical classroom. By holding frequent weekly online conferences, students retain a connection and a semblance of what makes the physical school such a special learning community. One day of virtual school for Tan that includes times with students and team members.

3. Collaborate with Colleagues 

Tan shares that at no other time in his teaching career has collaboration with colleagues been so essential to students, families, and collective well-being. That is why Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 - 2 pm are blocked out for collaborating. During this time teachers divide the work, share strategies, and support each other. One of the key deliverables from these meetings is a completed “Week-at-a-Glance” document for the following week. 

At these meetings, a language specialist like Tan can provide strategies that work for language learners, or team up with another colleague to ensure that virtual learning is accessible for language learners. 

Since facilitating virtual learning off-site, as of March 17, the collaboration sessions are done virtually, using Zoom. The “Week-at-a-Glance” document structures the teachers' online collaboration.

4. Leverage Technology

The following programs are used to facilitate virtual learning:

  • Screencastify: Create a slide deck or a document used to teach a lesson.  A teacher can record themselves narrating the slides or the document, and then sends the video to students.

  •  Edpuzzle: Embed comprehension questions or audio notes in a video recording.  As students watch the video, the embedded question or audio note will appear, and either plays the message or asks students to answer a question. On the dashboard, teachers can check students’ responses if there is an embedded question. 
Google Suite: Teachers use a host of the
  • Google Suite products such as Google Docs, Slides, Google Drawing, and From for students to demonstrate their understanding and for teachers to share content.

  • Non-Google Suite creation apps:

    • Book Creator – users can publish their writing electronically
    • Flipgrid – users can record video responses

    • Buncee – users can create a presentation and infographics 

    • Adobe Spark – users can create animated videos, graphics, web pages

5. Send Physical Work Home 

Teachers prepare physical packets of work for students, every two weeks, and families come to school and pick up the packets. The contents of the packet align with the assignments on the Week-at-a-Glance document. SSIS also organizes library book pick-up to keep students engaged in reading.

With these structures in place, we know that it is possible to create a great Virtual School experience for students. We are so grateful for our teachers, who truly exhibit what living the SSIS Core Values looks like, by sharing their knowledge and insights with others across the world. 

Other teachers recently sharing experiences in the media:

Author: Tanya Olander
Communications Officer


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