Virtual Classroom Management: 6 Experience and Research-Based Tips

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

So we are almost halfway into the “new normal” of this school year. For many of us it feels like the first year of teaching! Some of us are teaching virtually, while others are in a modified traditional context, such as hybrid. Some of us are click and brick teachers! This means that our organizational and classroom management skills have been kicked into overdrive in order to manage new and old problems of practice! Those first-year survival instincts are also in full gear as we attempt to navigate an obstacle course with multiple moving parts constantly competing for our attention.


Trial-and-error plus more error …and (you guessed it) a little more error have been major themes of classroom management this school year. While frustrations runs high, the good news is that just like our students we learn from our mistakes. Educational psychologist, Dale Schunk confirms that the greatest learning emerges from failure. As we adapt to and cope with the newness of this teaching and learning context, we become models for our students, who are also coping with these major adjustments.


Teachers all over the world are – just like you - learning from their experiences and those of other teachers. Here are six of the top tips that teachers and educational researchers are hailing as essential for effective classroom management in the virtual learning and hybrid space. Whether you are click, brick, or both, these experienced-based tips will give you an edge on managing your time, technology, resources, and – most importantly – your students’ learning! I have personally used all of these strategies, and it is hard to choose a favorite!


(A list of all classroom management tools and resources mentioned throughout is available at the end of this article).


Tip #1: Engage Your Students’ Virtual Senses. The traditional classroom requires teachers to engage learners in multiple sensory experiences in order to enhance student learning (Schunk, 2020). This principle remains relevant in the virtual settings. That means that teachers should tune into students’ visual, aural, and kinesthetic contact with learning content. Try breaking up your lecturing with vivid graphics, audio and videos. The benefit of the virtual context is that we now have direct access to many of these tools that enhance learning. Science and Math teachers may use the Simulations tool in Nearpod to allow students to experiment with bending light as well as circuit construction. Math teachers can use the same tool to allow learners to engage in building fractions or exploration of the area model. Researched based principles for brain-based language acquisition for English Language Arts (ELA) and Second- or World-Language instructors emphasize the importance of allowing learners to see, hear, speak, and think about the language. Language acquisition teachers might employ platforms like Flipgrid, which allows students to practice speaking the language as they record videos of themselves applying it. Opportunities for cognitive reasoning (i.e. thinking) about the language are enhanced through authentic virtual simulations (i.e. virtual field trips, Total Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling [TPRS] props and backgrounds) that require students to appropriately apply the language in order to interact with and solve problems in the target language.


Tip #2: Transition Like a Boss. Our most important teaching resource remains the same in this “new normal” context. That’s right! It’s TIME. Funny thing is that although the demand for time is constant, the supply of it seems to be dwindling, under myriad old and new responsibilities. Efficient transitions, then, remain an important component of classroom management, even in the virtual context. Transition aides are staple for managing time between activities. Audio and visual aids work effectively as cues in both virtual and in-person contexts to establish familiar routines that save time. This is a familiar stimulus-response principle of behavioral learning and classroom management (Hoy & Hoy, 2013; Shunck, 2020) that even establishes a sense of agency for learners. I often use countdown timers like these to switch between activity types. I have even found that these timers are useful for in-class timed activities, such as timed writings and virtual scavenger hunts.


Tip #3: Simply Innovate. If you are like me, you LOVE technology. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that technology always loves us back. So how do we balance this unilateral relationship? Innovate, but keep it simple. This does not mean that you have to limit the amount and range of technology that you use. Instead capitalize on the synergy of platform integration. Many online learning platforms have responded to the emergent needs of “new normal” teaching by collaborating so that they work in combination. With a little exploration you might find that some of your favorite platforms now have new features that allow them to operate together. Here are some examples or new and familiar platform integrations.


  • Nearpod allows users to integrate YouTube videos with its interactive questioning feature.

  • Google Slides may be downloaded as full PowerPoint presentations.

  • Nearpod incorporates Microsoft Forms for quick student surveys and assessments.

  • Boom cards may be integrated with PowerPoint.

  • Google Slides may be embedded (published) into multiple sections of a Moodle course. This way, when you update homework, objectives, or announcements, these updates automatically populate into each of your course sections.

  • Nearpod lessons may now be built directly Google Slides.


The consolidation of multiple platforms into a simple product also enhances clarity and ease of use for your students. It helps you to stay organized, by keeping your curriculum components in one place. Check out this video tutorial of how I turned my Bitmoji Classroom into a PowerPoint Presentation, using the Zoom Sections feature of PowerPoint and YouTube.


Tip #4: Two-For-One: Log in Twice. While we are on the topic of technology (Did you see that transition?), raise your hand if you have ever been kicked out of a Zoom meeting. Raise your hand if your microphone or camera have ever suddenly stopped working in the middle of your virtual class (or never worked for the length of meeting). Raise your hand if in the middle of a meeting your entire screen has frozen. (I raised my hand for all of the above.) This common problem has a simple resolve shared by several of my colleagues. Log in two times for the same meeting. You heard right. After initiating your meeting for one device. Join your meeting from a second device (e.g. second laptop, phone). Leave your camera and microphone off for the second device, which has now become your backup. Make your second participant a co-host for the meeting. If your first device malfunctions, start your video and microphone for the second device and continue teaching without losing valuable classroom time!


Tip #5: Brain Breaks for You and Your Students. Every teacher knows that time is of the utmost importance… but so is our mental health. Be sure you give yourself and your students a break during virtual instruction. Research supports the importance of recess and play for children’s learning and development (Sahlberg, 2018). I have found that this is true even in the virtual context – likely even more. In practice, I intentionally place activities inside of the lesson to allow students to break from the target content. I often use games that build community and camaraderie across the virtual context, such as Find Something (an in-home scavenger hunt) and Me, Too (Similar to “Never Have I”). You will want to find games that allow students to discover connections, while having fun. GoNoodle is a virtual and traditional classroom favorite to get kids up and moving. Keep in mind that if this new learning context is a lot for you, it may also be a lot for your students. Be intentional about self- and student-care and give yourself a break.


Tip #6: Incorporate E-book Video Breaks. Instructional variation is important in both the virtual and traditional context. Enhancing variation with technology is a definitely a win! Electronic books or e-books are combined video and questioning techniques (Hwang & Lai, as cited in London, in press) differentiated to the pace and performance of the learner. E-books allow for a break from the traditional lectures so that students can engage learning content in a new way. I often use Nearpod (also Edpuzzle) to create interactive videos for the student-user. These interactive videos sustain learner engagement, while allowing the teacher to check student learning in the knowledge, comprehension and application cognitive domains (Hoy & Hoy, 2013; McMillan, 2018). You can use ready-made videos from sites like Khan Academy or YouTube. I usually make my own recorded videos - using ScreenCast, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Zoom – and embed the saved video into Nearpod or Edpuzzle. I can then add questions at any timestamp or checkpoint across the length of the video. The great thing about these interactive videos is that they provide immediate feedback for the student (McMillan, 2018), which guides and enhances the learning process. Edpuzzle has a feature that prompts the student to review a specific segment of the video before proceeding if a question is missed. As students are working through content, I am able to gauge their progress in real time, as well as run a secondary check for students in the waiting room, parent emails, and texts.


I hope that you found these tips useful. I would love to hear from you! Do you plan on trying any of these out? Would you like to learn more about any of these tips? What are your experiences? Do you have any other tips, tricks, or strategies that have worked for you?

Let’s Grow Together!

References

Hoy, A. & Hoy, W. (2013). Instructional leadership: A research-based guide to learning in schools (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson

London, C. (in press). Transitioning the Flipped Classroom Model from the Traditional to Hybrid and Virtual Learning Environment. Journal of Global Literacies, Technologies, and Emerging Pedagogies.

McMillan, J.H. (2018). Classroom assessment: Principles and practice that enhance student learning and motivation (8th. Ed.). New York, NY: Pearson

Salhberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four big, inexpensive ideas to transform education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Schunk, D. H. (2020). Learning theories: An educational perspective (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Classroom Management Tools and Resources

Boom Cards https://wow.boomlearning.com/

Edpuzzle, Inc. edpuzzle.com

GoNoodle gonoodle.com

Google Slides google.com/slides

Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/

Microsoft Flipgrid Flipgrid.com

Moodle https://moodle.org/

Nearpod.com Nearpod.com

Screencast-O-Matic https://screencast-o-matic.com/

YouTube youtube.com