Delivering Minilessons in Distance Learning: Live or Pre-recorded?

Each of my daily 80 minute blocks of 7th grade humanities begins with a 5 minute class meeting and then 20 minutes of independent reading. Next, I deliver a 10-15 minute minilesson, which is followed by 30-40 minutes of student work time. I approached this year with a personal preference to pre-record the minilesson that developed over my distance learning experience last year.

To give some context, students leave our Zoom meeting to watch the video and start their work, but I stay in Zoom. If they have questions, they return to Zoom and I answer questions or help them if they are stuck. It is common that students return for questions or help. At the end of the 30-40 minute offline work time, we come back to Zoom for 5-10 minutes as a class to share how the work went and ask questions.

Behind the scenes, I’m in an apartment with 3 school-aged children who have basic human needs and homeschooling needs. This means that my attention can be pulled away unexpectedly.

Second, the Internet, as we are all learning, is fickle. I have lost my connection or frozen in the middle of delivering important information. I find this super frustrating. I often don’t realize I’m not connected for a few minutes. Then there’s the frantic router switching, restarting, etc. It adds to my overall discombobulation. The internet is also fickle for my students, who may get kicked out in the middle of a lesson and have to return and then need the info to be repeated. Much time is lost.

In addition, I find that the pre-recorded video helps me iron out my lesson. I realize that maybe I need an example in my first take, so I add one. Then I realize that I need to create a checklist or graphic of the instructions, so I add that. What about a non-example? I add that to my lesson and record again.

Finally, I prefer pre-recorded lessons because they can be filmed after my children are asleep and I know that I won’t be interrupted. I start the next day feeling ready and calm–always good.

Curious about these video minilessons? I use Screencastify to record them. Our school has purchased the professional “Unlimited” license. I’m a big fan of the program. Here are some examples:

But what about how the students feel about video vs live minilessons? I decided that I would try both and then survey the students. I told them in advance that a survey of their feedback was coming. The first day, I used a pre-recorded video lesson and stayed in Zoom to answer questions, then called everyone back after work time.

The second day, I gave a live lesson in Zoom, then sent them offline to work, calling them back at the end of the class to share. During my live Zoom lesson, I was interrupted by my children 3 times and had to change wifi routers once. 2 students were kicked out of Zoom due to dropped WiFi and had to return, and then be re-taught during the work time. I felt significantly more stressed out.

At the end of the second lesson, I sent the survey out. I have 41 students and 22 responded. Here are the results.

1=Strong dislike, 5=strong like

Here are their comments on the first question about pre-recorded video lessons. (I have not edited or removed any comments.)

Video mini lessons dont give me a chance to ask questions and participate.
I prefer video mini lessons because there is no like, poor connection, no interruptions
I like it a lot it is very good because you don’t have to spend so much time on zoom
because I can pause, go back etc
its good and fun
Its better when there’s a lot of work but not as good when you want to give a mini lesson.
i think i like it because i take notes while the video is playing
Because its already recorded so that means that I can’t ask questions.
I liked because you could go back and re watch
I don’t loveee it but I like it
Because prerecorded we can rewatch how many times we want.
I really like pre recorded classes because i can rewatch as many times as I want and I feel more free when its a pre recorded video
I liked it cause it helped me.
I do like it because we get to rewatch if we have any questions or what to do.
I like being able to watch it at my own pace and going back if I didn’t understand what the teacher says.

Next, I asked this question, with 1 being a strong dislike, and 5 being a strong like or strong preference.

Here are their comments on the question about live Zoom lessons. (I have not edited or removed any comments.)

I really love them!
Poor connection, interuptions, and talking, not paying attenton.
I really liked it cause you can ask questions
Its good because I can ask questions
its better to understand and can ask questions
There good because you can interact and ask question.
i think it is hard because there are internet problem and etc
Then I can ask questions to the teacher and clarify my questions.
I liked because you could interact with us
Because we can ask questions.
I really like the part where we get to talk and read together but having a zoom lesson for me is a bit distracting because i will zone out often.
I like it equally because, I like that we can interact with you and our other classmates!
it is nice because if I have a question, I can ask you right there in the moment.

Then I asked them to choose their preference: pre-recorded minilessons, live Zoom minilessons, or an equal preference for both.

And again, I gave them a chance to explain or give a comment on their answer. None have been edited or removed.

zoom mini lessons is the closer we get to normal. it also gives me a chance to be active and participate in class
I prefer that one because there is not interruption and like there wont be anything lagging no the vid,I understand better on video.
I thought both we’re very fun and nice to do
It’s better
Because on live we can ask questions, but prerecorded we can rewatch how many times we want.
As I said before I love getting to talk and revise my work with teachers on zoom but for the lesson itself I prefer videos.
because if its recorded and you don’t understand something you can rewatch the video.
I would do fine with both! I can learn in both ways without any problem.
I like both of them, it’s nice to be able to ask questions and get an answer in seconds, but it’s also nice to go back and replay the lesson as many times that I want.

My big take-away is that 77.3% percent of the students who responded are happy with a pre-recorded lesson. This matches with my preference and instincts about the best way to deliver instruction, and also helps me to manage my home stress and responsibilities. I will continue to stay on Zoom for the students who need further explanation or guidance, or even just a re-teach of the lesson. And there will still be times when I teach a live minilesson. Sometimes a teachable moment arises and I can do it on the fly, and sometimes I will even plan for a live lesson. But, for the most part, I am going to use pre-recorded minilessons. The day I did the live lesson, I had a student who had a doctor’s appointment and missed the class, so I went ahead and made the video lesson anyways so that she was able to watch the lesson after school.

I also hope that the video lessons are helpful to parents who may be trying to support their children, but unsure how. My videos can help to educate them so that they can better support their child.

I gave my own personal context during distance learning because I don’t want to imply that this is the right decision for every teacher or every class. However, I do think it’s worth noting that a student admitted to “zoning out” during a live lesson. I think this is pretty common, and for students this happens to, what are they to do when work time begins and they are lost? They must stay back, lose work time, and be re-taught. Or perhaps they just log off for fear of admitting that they didn’t pay attention. Even if I preferred live lessons, I think I’d provide video lessons for students to rewatch in case they “zoned out”, had computer issues, or were just confused.

A note about community building. There many be some teachers who feel that the community building of a Zoom lesson outweighs the other factors. I use my class meeting, Q and A sessions, independent reading time, and share-out at the end to build community. Community and connection is a strength of mine, so I feel good about my ability to nurture the bonds I have with students. I also meet with students outside of class time during office hours and afterschool, and I try to send frequent “Good work!” emails to students and parents when a student is doing good work.

Beyond that, we have to consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained

For many teachers–and students–we are focusing on securing our physiological and safety needs. Many international teachers and students are stuck outside of their country of residence. Some may be ill or have illness in their family. Even the fear of possible illness can be hugely challenging. Some of us may have changes in employment or income. Some of us may have limited access to physical activities and nature. Some of us may be grappling with fear, anxiety, depression in both ourselves and our loved ones–leading to a loss of sleep or eating changes, part of our physiological needs. I say all this because the “Love and Belonging” layer really matters, but we have to make sure we take care of our essential, primary needs before we attend to that tier. (The good old mask on yourself before you put the mask on the child.)

For me, that means making the video lessons the night before. I can’t build community and tend to the needs for belonging until I have met some of my basic needs. Video lessons allow me to do that. They allow me to help feed my children if that need arises during class, or put a band-aid on a booboo. That 10 minutes of pre-recorded lesson time might allow me to get some water, eat lunch, go to the bathroom.

We all have a different row to hoe right now, and I don’t want to disparage or belittle anyone else’s pedagogy, especially if mine differs from yours. I just wanted to share what is working for me, and–thankfully–a majority of my students. If this helps you, or if you are also using video lessons, I would love to hear about your successes, struggles and take aways.

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