I've previously admitted that when I first started teaching online, I completed failed and hated online teaching. I could not understand how I had all of this great teaching knowledge, but I could not be successful teaching online. My first student, a floppy-haired kid, shut me off, hid under the table, and would go and make a sandwich. Little did I know that he would be my best teacher.
Think back to when you went to college, you took all the courses, studied everything you were supposed to, and when you went into the classroom... BAM!, it's not like anything you expected. Unfortunately, as a teacher, we have to fail a little bit to succeed. We have to get a lot of on-the-job learning making spontaneous decisions. Curveballs need to be thrown our way in order for us to figure out the best strategy to help.
If you're frustrated with teaching online, I've been there. I was there for over six months teaching one student one hour a day, so congratulations for teaching so many already. What I started to learn was that I was using too much language online, and it needed to be simplified. Read on for my top five code phrases that I use during an online lesson to redirect a student and keep them in the screen and maintain control of the classroom.
How Do Code Phrases Work?
Code phrases eliminates overuse of language that can get you involved in a power struggle. Phrases are consistent, concise, and predictable. I practice code phrases before I even begin a regular lesson with a student. Basically, I hit the ground running with some fun role playing.
Head, Shoulders, Neck, & Face
Why does it work? Kids have a difficult time of knowing how to sit to stay in the screen frame. When you finally get them exactly where you want them, they wiggle right out of that position. It's hard not to say, "Sit up" or "Where did you go?", but as soon as we say that we get into a power struggle with our students. Using the code phrase, our students predict us to say it, and it also redirects students quickly without seeing their name and without getting into a power struggle.
Let's face it, it's really hard to monitor our students on the other side of the screen. On top of that, if you were standing right next to them, we would know when they were finished with their activity. We have to teach our students online how to advocate for their own needs. It’s so easy to use phrases like, "Are you done?", but you really want the students to be in charge of their own learning even from across the screen. Using the phrase "Teacher check" means that they are finished and ready to show you their work. This phrase particularly works well during writing activities so that you can give them some thinking time.
Little Problem, Big Problem
This phrase works very easily. It can work for tech glitches, if they can’t see you for a second, if they’ve dropped the material on the floor, really any time our students start to overreact. These situations can send them reeling in another direction and take the focus off our lesson. It can be really hard to restart or reset and get back into the flow of our lessons. Using the terms "A little problem big problem", from Michelle Garcia Winner's change social thinking curriculum, allows you to have a predictable phrase. It prevents you from saying things like, "Are you OK over there? Everything alright?" If we use these terms, we're involved in a power struggle with our students. We get into a back-and-forth conversation. This happened to me recently when the puppy jumped on the table of a student I was working with. All I had to say was, "Is it a little problem or big problem?" If it’s a little problem, then "OK, mom will take care of it". The more language we use with our students, the more they're going to be disengaged from our lesson.
Take five steps back and put it on your _____.
We’ve all had these moments online, a student has something that they want to play with, it’s very close, and they pick it up and start playing with it right in the middle of the lesson. You do the right thing by telling them to put it away, but then they put it 2 inches away from the screen. Sooner or later, that toy is back in the screen. 😔 You can’t get into a constant competition with the toys because the toys are going to win. If they’re already in a room full of toys when this happens, I tell the students to stand up, put the toy above their head, take five steps back, and put it on whatever I can see. Whether it’s the bed, a bookcase, or even the floor, I always add at the end that I can’t wait to see the toy during share time. If they’re going to be fixated on this particular toy, at least it gives them a place to not have to think about it. They know they are going to be able to use it during another time.
Nothing extra is a great term to limit language online. A long time ago, I was working as a student teacher at a school, and I had to accompany the kids to a gym class. Boy, were they wild! Suddenly, the gym teacher yelled out, "Nothing extra!" and everybody stopped. It was simple because "extra" just means you’re doing something to take away the minutes of the learning. It redirects a student quickly. If a student is drawing on the screen, I say, "Nothing extra". If a student is playing with the toy, I say, "Nothing extra". It really works for everything. It’s a lot better than using the students name and pointing out what they’re doing, again entering a power struggle.
Think about the code phrases that you use at school; they will also work online. Anything that your students are used to you saying, you can take right online. We all have a way to set up behavior management. I would love to hear a tip about your system! 😊
Setting up behavior systems online really helps us maintain control of our lesson. Another way to maintain control of our lesson is to have a lot of tools on our side. My favorite to have on my side is the document camera. I hope you join me tonight, February 8th, for the free document camera training hosted by reading with TLC. It's from 7 to 830 Eastern time, and it is free and recorded!
Click HERE to register!
See you there!