How to Help Prepare Teachers to Thrive in any Learning Environment
As learning environments remain fluid at the mercy of COVID-19, it is important for teachers and coaches to have some tools that will facilitate instruction in any type of learning environment. One thing I always tell teachers – especially those that are technology adverse – is that good teaching practices will always be good teaching practices no matter the environment. It is important for teachers and coaches to remember their instructional foundation and pedagogy when transitioning from face-to-face to remote instruction and back again.
The same best practices that work in the classroom will continue to work online – you might just have to get a little creative. Here are five best practices for teaching and ways to address these instructional strategies in any environment.
Best Practice #1: Teacher Clarity
Whether teaching face-to-face or online, clarity of instruction is essential to good teaching. Anyone who has spent even five minutes in a classroom knows that as soon as the teacher finishes giving the instructions, students will ask “What are we supposed to do?” When facilitating learning face-to-face, teachers often have the lesson instructions posted in several different places. Teachers will verbalize the instructions, they are likely written on the board, as well as printed at the top of the assignment page. Teachers are taught to deliver instructions in a variety of ways to suit a variety of learners, in addition to the hopes of avoiding the dreaded “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do” after explaining the task for the seventeenth time.
As facilitators of remote learning, clarity of teacher instruction will be just as – if not more – crucial to the learning environment. The same multimodal instructional approach from the classroom can easily be adapted to the digital world. Teachers can post the instructions on the assignment or task itself, but can also include a video of themselves reading the instructions out loud. If students need to click on something or navigate to a particular page, teachers can make a screencast showing themselves following each of those steps so students know exactly where they need to be and what they need to do when they get there. Another advantage of video instructions is that students can go back and watch the video as many times as they need to accomplish the task. Many instructors have begun including video instructions even during face-to-face courses as it is easy to point students to the video, rather than having to repeat yourself all the time.
As an instructional coach, you can help your teacher navigate this process by showing them tools that would work for this type of strategy – Screencastify is one of my personal favorites. Maybe you create a video of yourself making a screencast so teachers have those instructions in their toolkit for reference later on. Additionally, you as the instructional coach can help teachers become more clear and succinct in the way they deliver instruction by viewing their videos and trying to accomplish the task. If you can follow the instructions easily, it is likely that the students will be able to as well. The ability to give clear, concise instruction is an essential element of teaching no matter what learning environment the students are in.
Helping teachers set up a folder in their learning management system or website for housing their collection of instructional videos creates a one-stop-shop for students to access coursework. This also allows instructors to have curated content ahead of time that can be reused in later courses. Over time teachers will develop a vast library of instructional videos that will make it easier to differentiate for the needs of each student.
Best Practice #2: Classroom Discussion
Another essential element of good instruction is the facilitation of classroom discussions. Many educators feel that when instruction becomes remote, the ability or opportunity to engage in meaningful class discussion becomes unreasonable. Though classroom discussions are an important element of face-to-face learning, they are increasingly essential during remote instruction. It does not matter if the class is meeting synchronously or asynchronously, there are many tools available that can help teachers provide these opportunities for conversation.
If your school or district allows or expects students to meet with their teachers at a designated time, facilitating a class discussion becomes as easy as it was in the classroom. Teachers can have students meet on a video-based platform like Zoom or Google Meet and facilitate a discussion through video.
For asynchronous learners, the discussion board becomes the most popular means to facilitate classroom discussions. There are several different types of discussion board tools available online that allow users to post content and reply to others. If your school or district uses a learning management system like Canvas, Google Classroom or Blackboard, a discussion board feature is already built-in to those programs. If your school does not have a designated LMS, there are a plethora of tools you can choose from (you can still use these tools with an LMS, too).
Flipgrid is one of the most popular asynchronous discussion board tools as it allows students to record their responses via video, and in turn, reply to their classmates via video as well. Flipgrid is very user friendly and was designed for educators, by educators. Other tools like Padlet and Linoit also provide opportunities for discussion, but in a more “parking lot” style. In these programs, students can type a response, or insert a video. Students can then like or reply to others using text or other multimedia tools. If external tools just aren’t your thing, using collaborative documents like Google Docs or Slides is another way to facilitate discussion. Teachers can pose a question at the top of the document and each student can reply on the same page. The downside to this method is that sometimes students start editing or deleting content that isn’t theirs, but that can be addressed in the teacher’s behavioral expectations.
Similarly to instructional strategies, each of these discussion board tools are applicable in all settings. There may be a time in the classroom when you have some students who are out for various school events – athletics, band, college visits, etc – and miss what discussions go on in the classroom. The teacher could record the discussion that occurs live and then post that video to one of these platforms, thus allowing those absent students to listen to the conversation and respond with their own thoughts. Too often when students miss school they just go without the conversation from that day, but digital tools have allowed for opportunities to keep them in the conversation even when they can’t physically be present.
Best Practice #3: Feedback
No significant learning has ever occurred without feedback. I cannot count how many times feedback is addressed in conversations with students, teachers, and administrators. In face-to-face classes, students get feedback from their teachers about their behavior, their thinking processes, and their academic work. It is just as critical for teachers to continue providing feedback to students even when working remotely.
While some teachers may find it easier to provide feedback in face-to-face settings, there are some tools that help provide feedback even in remote settings. Some teachers have started to integrate computer adapted programs into their lessons like NoRedInk.com or CommonLit which provide self-grading practice questions at the end of a lesson. Teachers can also use tools like Google Forms which has a feature enabling certain feedback depending on the answer choice the student selects.
If verbal feedback is what you’re looking for, there are tools that will allow teachers to record voice notes they can then link directly to the student’s assignment. Teachers could screencast themselves reviewing student work and share the video with students. Teachers can use the Talk and Comment extension to create voice notes that leave a link directly on the document or assignment being viewed. Teachers could even use their phone to record a voice note and email the link to students. Many teachers have found the ability to talk through their thoughts while reviewing student work to be more efficient and effective regardless of the learning context. These voice notes allow students to review the feedback multiple times as well.
Best Practice #4: Formative Assessment
In addition to providing feedback to students about their progress, teachers need to also collect data to determine how students are grasping the material. The best way to gather this data is through formative assessment. In the traditional face-to-face context of the classroom, this data can be collected via exit tickets, quizzes, written assignments, and other learning activities. Similar to the aforementioned best practices, there are a growing number of formative assessment tools designed specifically for digital learning.
Flipgrid can be used as a discussion tool, and a formative assessment tool. Many teachers pose questions at the end of the lesson like they would a traditional exit ticket. Edpuzzle is another popular tool that allows teachers to embed video content into a Q&A type platform so students are prompted to answer questions as they watch the video of the lesson. This is a great resource for teachers to record themselves facilitating the lesson and embedding some check for understanding along the way. Google Forms is a popular formative assessment tool, in addition to traditional discussion questions facilitated by tools like Socrative.
Many teachers typically opt for digital formative assessment tools because of the data they are able to collect and interpret from students. Many tools allow for opportunities to provide instant feedback to students, so both learners and teachers are getting an accurate picture of the learning that’s taking place. These formative assessment tools are available and applicable in both face-to-face and remote learning settings, and many will seamlessly integrate with your school’s learning management system to create a one-stop-shop for students.
As an instructional coach, you may spend a lot of time researching the best tools to elicit the data each teacher is looking for, in addition to providing instruction or resources on how these tools function. Oftentimes teachers need their coach to model how these tools can be used for learning in their classroom, so don’t be afraid to get creative. You can use Flipgrid in PE and Foreign Language classes, you can use Edpuzzle in athletics and math – remote learning provides you as the coach more opportunities to introduce tools to teachers who may have never used them before.
Best Practice #5: Metacognitive Strategies
The final best practice to remember, regardless of the learning environment, is to incorporate opportunities for reflection. As an instructional coach, reflecting on the challenges of our teachers and the strategies they implement is part of our practice. As teachers, reflecting on our lesson plans and student data is required. As a student, having an opportunity to reflect on your learning is essential.
During times of crisis like COVID-19, students need the chance to talk about their thoughts and feelings as well as their learning. Students are thrown into an unfamiliar environment and expected to succeed as they always have. Students do not innately know how to learn, learning is a skill that needs to be taught, especially in a new environment. Remote learning provides teachers with an opportunity to teach students how to manage their time, how to use the resources available to them, how to problem solve, and how to adapt to new environments.
Students, teachers, coaches, administrators, parents – everyone will be feeling anxiety during this time. Providing opportunities for reflection will help students understand their own progress through this journey, as well as provide teachers with a clearer perspective on their student’s learning. Too often teachers forget to build in these opportunities which does a disservice to the students. As an instructional coach, constantly encourage your teachers to reflect on their teaching and remind them to provide reflection opportunities for students as well.
No matter what this year throws at us, we can conquer anything. With your help as an instructional coach, teachers can be equipped to thrive in any learning environment. At the end of the day, good teaching is good teaching and remembering these best practices will lay a strong foundation upon which learning can occur.