Reaching Students In The Virtual Classroom With Dr. Salina Gray

February 9, 2021

It can be difficult to connect with students when teaching science virtually. But, Dr. Salina Gray does a fantastic job of building relationships online. Listen to Dr. Salina Gray discuss how she reaches students in her virtual learning classroom.

Dr. Salina Gray

Dr. Salina Gray is a middle school science teacher in her 24th year of teaching. She has experience working in both traditional and charter schools from third grade and up. She is an adjunct faculty member at Mount St. Mary’s University where she teaches education courses.

Building Relationships Online in a Virtual Science Classroom

Setting the Tone in a Virtual Learning Environment

Dr. Gray wanted to create a greeting that reflected her practices when she teaches in person. Each day, she starts the class with music. She has an opening “board” that is reflected on her screen as student arrive. Students type greetings in the chat and she responds by greeting them out loud.

Dr. Gray believes that the this opening routine and the the relationships that she builds with her students are a contributing factor to her high attendance rate. “They love coming to this class,” says Gray. “They use terms like ‘we’re family‘ and ‘theres a vibe in here’.

Quote from Dr. Salina Gray on building relationships online. "They love coming to this class.  They use terms like 'we're family' and 'there's a vibe in here."

Supporting Student Non-Academic Needs

Dr. Gray works at a school comprised of traditionally underserved and marginalized communities. However, her students continue to attend class. She notes that many students participate in the chat during class time even though they aren’t completing their assignments.

According to Gray, “They’re coming, in part, because something is being met in terms of their socio-emotional health.”

Being Trauma Informed

Dr. Gray notes that being trauma informed is part of why her classroom is successful. She understands that predictability is a key to student success. Therefore she has created well-established routines to make her class run in a predicable manner.

Routines and Predictability

There are several well-established routines in Dr. Gray’s classroom. For example, she leads the students in wellness activities every Wednesday. She does a check-in with students everyday.

Also, she uses predictable formatting and lessons structures to improve predictability. She always organizes her Google classroom in a predictable way. And, she even uses a common format for assignments.

Meeting the intent of the NGSS While Building Relationships Online

Dr. Gray discusses many strategies that she uses in the classroom that ensure that she is meeting the intent of the NGSS. Here are some of the strategies that she uses in her online classroom.

Intentional Use of the Chat

In her classroom, Dr. Gray sets clear expectations about the chat feature. She does not require that students have their cameras on during class. However, she established the norm in her classroom that each student will say something in the chat. She keeps track of students who respond so that she knows who is participating.

She explains to student that if feels weird if no one is responding and she is the only one with her camera one. By expression her feelings, she believes that more students are willing to engage.

Formative Assessment by “Dropping it in the Chat”

When she asks a question, students are expected to respond in the chat. They are allowed to respond publicly or privatelyWhen students respond privately, she doesn’t use their name when sharing their response. This anonymity helps students feel more comfortable participating in the virtual learning environment.

Letting go of a lecture-driven classroom.

Out of necessity, she has minimized the amount of lecture that she does in her classes. “I ready have had to learn how to minimize my direct instruction and lecture. I think is making me or more effective instructor. ”

Quote from Dr. Salina Gray 
"I really have had to learn to how minimize my direct instruction and lecturing more than ever.  I think this is making more a more effective instructor."

She explains that the format of the online learning environment has forced her to stop doing things that aren’t the best use of her time. For example, she explains that she no longer front-loads vocabulary.

Utilizing Individual Breakout Rooms for Formative Assessment

Dr. Gray notes that she is not able to have students work in groups by utilizing breakout rooms. However, she often puts students into individual breakout rooms. This allows her to check-in with individual students, check for understanding and provide support.

More Resources to Help You in Your Online Science Classroom