Reflections on Teaching from Home

Since 2013 I have tried to open my classroom more. I have applied different methods of teaching to engage my students and hopefully let them build skills which will be needed in the future. When our schools in Norway closed because of the Covid-19 virus the 12th of March, the digital classroom was front and center like never before.

First, we are very lucky to live in Norway! Our government has handled the virus well, and we are a developed country. In my county, Bærum, our students have the advantage of having an iPad each. They are digital natives. In addition, my colleagues and I had the infrastructure necessary in terms of learning systems, like itslearning and Showbie. My challenge is thus not so much reaching my students, which have been hard for a lot of teachers since the lockdown, but instead teaching online for an extended period with no fixed end in sight.

During the first weeks, my students and I settled into a sort of rhythm. We greet each other in the beginning of lessons. I learned to divide the content into smaller parts, and to adopt a step by step approach, instead of publishing a flood of information all at once. I provide booklets with material, and those who want to can listen to a recording instead. When they hand in tasks they receive a comment, and their work is registered as accepted in our learning system. So, in tandem, we managed to achieve structure and accountability quite fast.

Feedback from students and parents has been vital. Our culture of open dialogue between teachers and students, and a quite flat organisational structure is important. Teaching online can feel like walking around with a blindfold. I depend heavily on observation in my classrooms. By watching my students, I can tell what I need to repeat or change in a lesson, and if someone looks very happy or maybe sad. This is much harder when we are teaching online. One might be inclined to think something is working well, until we ask directly.

It is hard to replace face-to-face meetings!

Getting to the point of talking directly with my students proved to be a stumbling block for me. We didn’t have a reliable and safe online tool for meetings at my school. A tool surfaced, but half of my students had trouble of some kind when trying it. Hence, we were back to talking on the phone. We talk once a week or so and these are opportunities to listen to any grievance. We have tested the online meeting, and I learned that only half of them could see me, while the other half could hear me but they didn’t see anything. However, what also manifested was grief, the awareness of everything we are missing!

In Norway we are onto week six of teaching online for Grades 5-10. Grade 1-4 will start tomorrow, and if all goes well, I hope we might get back to school before soon too. I know now that I will be able to teach online if it is needed another time. I am grateful beyond words for our situation of worrying about lesson design and the quality and safety of online meetings. I know colleagues all over the world have much more pressing concerns to deal with. My hope is that we will bring what has worked in this lockdown into our work on site. By sharing our experiences we can learn from each other and improve as educators. I have learned that the digital classroom has worked beyond expectation, but it is not everything. I miss teaching at school!

My school: Ramstad Secondary School in county Bærum in Norway.

End of term reflections 2015


This last term I went paperless in class. My students opened notebooks in Google Docs, and we hardly used any textbooks at all in any of my subjects (English (ESL), social studies, religion and an elective called international cooperation). This was a new approach for my 8th graders, but they didn’t bat an eye before diving into it.

All my students bring their smartphones to class. We have a BYOD policy (link to Edutopia), and I have embraced this a few years already. Now it was essential! Without notebooks, they had to use their phones to access their Google Docs, and of it meant starting our journey together on digital citizenship (Edutopia).

Needless to say, some time was lost due to lack of battery, wifi troubles and password confusion when working with new tools and apps, but I believe we encountered these obstacles earlier, and have learnt from them, rather than thinking we could have avoided them altogether.

The tools and apps we have used the most are Google Docs and Google Slides. This has allowed my students to work collaboratively in groups and as a class without regard to time and place.

Creating a global classroom is something which has been important to me for a long time. All my classes are involved in eTwinning projects, with project partner schools in Italy, Portugal, France, Lithuania and last but not least; Lillesand, my hometown in the Southern part of Norway. Activities differ according to the topics of the projects, but they are communicating and they have a real audience for sharing their work. They will experience collaboration across time zones and borders next term, and increase their cultural understanding, which are some of the primary goals when using eTwinning.

This term my students also used Soundcloud and shared stories in Padlet. Sadly not everyone managed to access Soundcloud from their device, but the lesson was a powerful one: recording and sharing their best work. Audacity might be a smoother working alternative, so I will continue exploring tools for this kind of work next term.

Kaizena proved to be almost exactly the sort of tool I was looking for when grading English texts. My students add their Google Docs in Kaizena, and I can edit their documents in Google, and give feedback on their skills, and post lessons which are relevant to each student according to their needs to improve. One drawback is that Kaizena is not compatible with Microsoft Explorer, so when using the school computers we came up blank trying to connect to Kaizena. This meant that we had to rely on the smartphones, or our computers at home to use it. The upside is that the students can keep track of their skills and play posted videos or read articles about skills they need whenever they want to.

We started out enlisting in Curriculet for reading novels online. It was easy to set up the whole class, but the available books turned out to be a bit hard for my 8th graders, and the free classics only appealed to a few of them. I have to explore other apps and reading experiences for them this term, and maybe come back to Curriculet next term, when we have classics lined up as a topic in our English classes.

Formative assessment (Edutopia) is something I have used always, to some extent, but I haven’t been conscious of the term or how to best use it to improve my student’s learning. This term I used Socrative and Answergarden more and shared it with parents. These tools have lit up my understanding, and I recommend them to everyone!

A new tool I have tried in my English classes this term is noredink. It assesses each students’ grammar ability, and gives them new tasks according to their skill level. A gift for any teacher! It is calibrated for native speakers, so choosing the grade level with care is important. I look forward to exploring this tool further in the upcoming term.

My school, #Ramstadskole, will start giving each student an ipad 1:1 this next term. Before this happens our broadband facilities will be improved, and the teachers and students will get some training. I hope that the experiences we have gained so far; going paperless and using edtech tools will make the transition to ipads easier.

Which experiences, ideas and tools were the most important in your teaching this last term? Inquiring minds want to know!