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Making Learning Visible in a Remote Classroom

You can feel energy in a classroom and teachers can see learning happen as they circulate to observe student progress, note trends, and ‘read the room’; magic happens when you see learning in action. Teachers look for not only the students’ practice on paper, but students’ nonverbal cues and facial expressions as they work through a problem or engage with a text. How are teachers recreating that magic in their virtual classrooms?

In our work in schools across the Midwest, we have seen teachers in different grade levels and content areas demonstrate an incredible level of flexibility and creativity as they learn to ‘read the room’ in a remote classroom. It is harder to do through a screen, yet teachers are making the magic happen, even with so many factors working against them. From the music teacher whose students upload videos of themselves practicing scales with homemade instruments to the reading teacher reviewing her students’ text annotations to the math teacher who created student kits of manipulatives and homemade whiteboards to practice with at home - learning is indeed visible across all platforms.

Through both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, teachers utilize strategies and tools in order to observe and gather information on student engagement and learning. Here are two key principles that teachers embrace to successfully ‘read’ the remote classroom:

Invite All Students to Respond: Teachers provide each student with the opportunity to think, write, and/or respond before discussing or sharing as a whole class. This is particularly important when students are only seen through a small box on the screen. While not an exhaustive list, below are some examples of how this works in a remote classroom:

  • Everybody writesStudents all write down an answer to a question or prompt, either in their notebooks or virtually via a ‘chat’ feature or shared document.

  • DiscussionStudents share their ideas, explain their thinking, respond to a classmate, and/or build off another classmate’s written or verbal answer.

  • “Show me”Students show their work by holding up or taking a picture of whiteboards, manipulatives, sticky notes, workbook pages, etc. to the camera so the teacher can see.

  • AnnotationStudents have a virtual copy of the text and highlight the pieces of evidence that best support a claim or idea in the text, add a comment, or identify pre-taught story elements.

  • PollsStudents respond to a digital poll to check for understanding or provide feedback on teaching and learning.

  • Self-AssessmentStudents describe how they are feeling about their learning in writing or verbally. A quick self-assessment and/or explanation of their confidence levels, an area they are feeling proud of, and/or an area they are struggling in, can provide a window into the student’s perception of their self-efficacy.

If learning is occurring asynchronously, teachers don’t see the learning in the moment, but they can intentionally make learning visible by asking students to share evidence of their thinking and learning with the teacher as they engage asynchronously. Students can take a picture of their whiteboard/notebook and send it to the teacher or upload a video/audio recording of a response to a teacher-posed question. Teachers can add "faux engagement" where they ask students to pause the asynchronous video and jot notes or chorally read/count along with the video.

Use a Variety of Strategies: Teachers vary the types of tools and strategies used throughout remote instruction. Students benefit from demonstrating their learning in a multitude of ways - it increases student engagement and ensures that skills and strategies are transferring. Teachers might find themselves leaning heavily on the ‘chat’ feature to elicit student response. If so, consider mixing it up by using a poll, whiteboards, or shared documents -just as we do during in-person instruction to allow students to show their current understanding in different ways.

In remote classrooms, teachers are utilizing a variety of strategies and tools to make student learning visible. What strategies do you use to make virtual learning visible that you would add to this list?

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