Diane Bell: ZOOM’ing in on disruptive students

Tribune Content Agency

SAN DIEGO — With many classroom teachers holding virtual classes on Zoom these days, it didn’t take long for the emails to start flooding in to San Diego educator and classroom management specialist Michael Linsin.

How do you handle kids eating in class? Starting “school” in their PJs, flinging comments at one another, butting in without raising their hands, texting during a lecture, playing video games, being disrespectful to the teacher and to fellow students or using inappropriate language?

Sound familiar? These problems aren’t new to many school teachers. But the fact that the misbehaving student is most likely miles away, is novel.

Linsin, a Kearny High School physical education teacher, jumped into action. He writes a national weekly classroom management blog and has authored numerous self-help books with teacher tips on managing classroom chaos and inattention.

When his wife, Jackie Linsin, who teaches third grade at Curie Elementary School in University City, was trying to resolve some of the Zoom issues triggered in her class, the couple decided to join forces and harness their expertise to help other teachers.

Together they worked out answers to some of the common problems, took screen shots of their solutions and, in about five days, put together “The Smart Zoom Classroom Management Plan,” a downloadable 14-page e-manual. (It’s available for $4.99 on smartclassroommanagement.com

One of the e-book users is Barbara Pitts, an instructor in Austin, Texas. She and four other fifth-grade teachers had a troubleshooting meeting after their first Zoom class and shook their heads over how predictable the online behavior of some of their students had been.

Pitts told me she discovered Linsin’s work in 2014 and has been reading his weekly blogs ever since. She followed his e-book advice on establishing class rules at the start of her next Zoom session. “That turned everything around,” she reports. “What a relief.”

Linsin didn’t create a “Zoom for Dummies” tutorial but focused on dealing with online classroom behavior.

His advice includes:

— Emailing notes to parents in advance to inform them of the Zoom session rules.

— Muting students as they join a class until directions have been given.

— Activating a setting that prevents students from unmuting themselves.

— Notifying students before class begins of penalties for breaking the rules.

Penalties can include a 10-minute virtual timeout and escalate to placing the offender in a “waiting room” while his or her parents are notified. In a worst-case scenario, a disruptive student can be dropped from that day’s class.

Linsin stresses that he, by no means, is endorsing the group meeting app, Zoom, for which makers have been scrambling to update software to deal with criticisms that it is a hacker’s paradise.

“I’m just trying to solve a problem,” he explains. “Teachers didn’t know what to do when a student was lying in bed, playing with toys, sharing their dog, sending messages to each other and yelling out (online) to their friends.”

There are other video conferencing programs out there: Microsoft’s Teams, Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting, to mention a few. But Zoom was the one about which he was receiving the most queries.

No doubt about it. There is a new classroom world out there. That is the virtual reality.


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