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With intentional best practices, remote instruction can help students achieve their learning goals--and have fun doing so

5 steps to great remote instruction

With intentional best practices, remote instruction can help students achieve their learning goals--and have fun doing so

Remote instruction is new to a lot of teachers, but not to everyone–some of us have been doing it for years. I personally have developed curricula for 17 separate remote learning short courses.

Prior to teaching online, I taught face-to-face classes in every environment and structure to every age group. So I can tell you that there are differences in how to teach remotely versus face-to-face, but the majority of teaching principles do carry over.

Related content: Doing PD in a pandemic

The bottom line is that remote instruction is not as hard as you might be making it.

Best Practice #1: Teach first, tools second

We are lucky to have many innovative tools for device-based educational activities. Many are really useful. Some are marginally useful and others just frankly get in the way. No matter what tools you have at your disposal, always remember that teaching is what leads to learning. Teach first. Don’t allow pressure to use a bunch of apps to overshadow good old-fashioned teaching. I use very few of the available bells and whistles and it turns out that it works!

Best Practice #2: Break it down

Remote instruction requires us to be very intentional about giving our students bite-sized morsels to chew on at a time. The more you can break down your learning objectives into one skill at a time, the better and faster your students will meet the objectives.

Example: Instead of presenting your Spanish students with an exercise where they are making sentences with agreeing adjectives and nouns in different ways for 4 lessons (or worse for one lesson and then moving on), create: one lesson that has them practicing the vocabulary for the adjectives; one lesson that just matches gender with singular nouns that they already know; one lesson that adds number agreement; and one lesson that has them personalizing and synthesizing.

Best Practice #3: Allow for learning through failure

We know that the best learning opportunities present themselves not when we easily succeed at something, but when we fail. In order to create these moments, teachers must create safe-to-fail environments. That means a few things.

First, admit to being imperfect yourself. We all are.

Second, encourage a student who did not come up with the correct answer the first time to reconsider using additional information you give them and to try again until they get the correct answer. (This is not a waste of time for other students as it shows them a number of really important things. It shows them that you are willing to stick with them when they aren’t getting something right away, and how to try and try again while shifting strategy or including new information.) And then genuinely celebrate when they do get it–every time.

Lastly, don’t grade everything they do. Grades implicitly give a value judgment, and seeing a low grade makes students feel defeated about their efforts. Seeing good grades when students didn’t put in a big effort is just as damaging, as it gives false feedback to the student that they are “just smart” and do not have to work at learning, when the reality is that they probably already knew what was being taught. This has the unintentional effect of conditioning “high grade” students to not think they will ever need to try very hard, which leads to a rude awakening when they finally do get challenged.

Best Practice #4: Reinforce through questions

When you start a lesson by asking the class what you were all working on last time, it does two things.

First, it makes them all search their brains for the information you hope they learned. Whether or not they find it, their brains learn that this information was, in fact, important and should be held onto the next time. So when your students find the information, it is reinforced as being important and when they do not find the information, your re-teaching is more likely to stick.

Second, it shows them that the lessons are connected and that it is important to make a point of trying to remember what you are teaching. Believe it or not, it is not instinctual to all students to actively try to make a mental note of what is being covered in class. This is a way of making that point without a boring lecture about how to be a good student–because we all know how well THAT works.

Best Practice #5: Brains need breaks

Remember that our brains need breaks in order to sort through all of the information they have taken in. Adult brains can only function in intake mode for 10 minutes at a time maximum. Then they need some space to stop listening, looking, reading, note taking, etc., so that the sub-conscious parts can sort the information in order to be able to find what’s important again later.
Remember that our brains take in ridiculous amounts of non-essential information, along with what we do need to remember, and we have to have space to forget that non-essential information to take in more essential information. This means that giving students time to spend doing whatever they want is essential to recall. Shifting gears every 10 minutes will make your teaching way more effective. So if you are giving out information, limit it to 10 minutes (for your teens–the younger the student, the less time) and then have them shift to using the information. This can be discussion, small group problem solving, games that require recall of the information, etc. Also build in real brain breaks where they can socialize, doodle, get a drink, juggle, sing, dance, or do whatever they want.

These five simple remote instruction precepts will help you keep your students motivated and engaged. They will also help you achieve the remote instruction goals that have been set for you.

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