Online Office Hours are a Potent Source for Observing Student Talk

online office hours can reveal student thinking via more student talk. this is valuable for instructional coaching

Teachers are constantly seeking information sources about their students’ learning. One key way to do this is to hear from students and, quite literally, try to hear their thinking out loud. This creates opportunities for confirming that students are developing the correct understandings from the lessons.

This interaction can be strained when students are not in classrooms full time. Online office hours are one form of distance teaching that teachers are implementing as a result of the pandemic. Instead of a meeting with students during lunch time, now it’s a Zoom-meeting during “Office Hours” time.

Teachers can conduct virtual office hours by inviting students to join them to ask questions during an established window of time. This is 100% the same idea as when professors offer office hours to college students.

In the distance teaching world, the teacher can set up a video conference room where they are available throughout the hour for any student to join. This allows students to have more direct interaction as they can have one-on-one time with the teacher if no other student is present in the meeting.

Holding office hours is not an uncommon practice for educators. K-12 educators have long-held tutoring and work-space time for their students after school, and the idea of virtual office hours is comparable to this.

Similar to meeting students during lunch or individually during a planning period for extra help, virtual office hours are a chance to supplement instruction. It is an important ingredient to building relationships and closing small gaps in individual learning, but it is not a replacement for teaching everyone.

The benefits of holding online office hours for your students

Virtual office hours give students the flexibility to complete assignments and check-in with teachers when important questions arise. Not only can office hours positively impact students, but it can also positively impact the parents of the students. Parents can efficiently plan out their week being aware of certain times in which their kids can connect synchronously with their teacher for questions. This will alleviate a lot of the back-and-forth questions that are directed to teachers through email and other asynchronous methods if office hours are available on the schedule.

Teachers can also use this time to check in on their students’ emotional well being versus focusing solely on their academics. In some instances, office hours may end up being a time in which a student can connect with their teacher in a one-on-one setting, providing space for an emotional check-in. In a time in which students are facing various forms of uncertainty, it can be beneficial to have a space with the teacher in which student needs are the primary focus.

Not only can an online office hour provide flexibility for students and parents, but it can provide flexibility for a teacher as well. A teacher could set up a 7 p.m. video conferencing office hours a few times a semester. That way, parents could attend with their kids. If you want parents to sign up in a more structured way, there are online tools for scheduling office hours that can connect a form to your calendar. For example, JotForm has a tutorial on this, and we’re fans of which can offer custom calendar pages for scheduling into available time slots.

Like with many other forms of distance teaching, one positive is the ease of recording capabilities. Since online office hours will take place on a video-conferencing platform, a teacher can press record, and just like that, an artifact of a type of distance teaching has been created!

Instructional coaches can provide feedback on virtual office hours

Admittingly, it seems obvious that office hours can be impactful for students, but how can an instructional coach or principal observe this type of instruction? More importantly, what type of feedback can be given on this form of teaching?

Recording the artifact is one thing, but using this artifact to improve your practice is much more significant. By using a platform like Edthena, teachers can reflect on this specific type of teaching by leaving time-stamped comments throughout their recording. Instructional coaches, principals, and other school leaders can also view this video to see the type of interaction taking place during office hours.

How to use online office hours for reflection and feedback

The type of feedback provided on a video displaying online office hours is ultimately what is going to improve instruction and thus impact students. Since the participants in an office hour meeting will vary, instructional coaches can examine how their teacher responds to student talk, in both a singular and group setting. Fans of John Hattie’s Visible Learning should be perking their ears up right now.

By observing student talk in an office hour session, a teacher and an instructional coach can uncover how students are solving problems with skills taught during instruction earlier in the week. Consequently, the instructional coach can help their teacher interpret the root causes behind certain student questions or explanations.

An instructional coach might spot that a teacher poses a challenging set of questions to one student in the office hours session, but then differentiates these questions for another student regarding the same objective.

The types of questions and number of participants in a virtual office hours will vary, but this is not a barrier to using the recording to glean useful information. In the end, teacher self-reflection and colleague feedback can happen on any artifact of an interaction between a student and teacher, regardless of how that interaction occurred.

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