For millions of Americans, the abrupt shift to remote learning last Spring due to COVID-19 relied on a haphazard jumble of virtual solutions – most of which fell decidedly short of the mark.
The summer offered a short breather for educators, students and parents to rethink their approach to digital learning. Even for students in schools that are reopening this Fall, remote learning will likely continue in one form or another. That means it’s time to move the conversation from how to merely implement distance learning to how to make it successful.
Quality instruction is not reliant on the physical classroom, nor does learning at home mean we must lower our standards. I have spent years analyzing how to create an effective digital learning environment for students of all backgrounds and income levels. High-quality virtual instruction shares these important characteristics:
- Sequenced Lessons
The first thing I look for in an online learning experience is whether there is an order assigned to the material presented to students. Just like in-person teaching, virtual lessons should be laid out sequentially, building skillsets gradually and laying the foundation for more complex material.
- Active Learning
The greatest risk in the shift to online learning is students will passively watch lessons, going through the motions without building knowledge. Taking notes, highlighting text, and writing questions in the margins are all signs that a student is paying attention and engaging with the material. Teachers can still encourage these hallmarks of active learning in many ways, including providing guidance on taking notes – an important skill for college and career! – or having students turn in their notes for feedback.
- A Growth Mindset
In any quality learning experience, students should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes. This could mean students are asked to re-do questions they got wrong, write every single step to a math equation, or revise an English paper several times to ensure every spelling and grammar mistake is fixed. Another effective technique is having students explain a concept in their own words or teach it to a sibling. This process pushes students to review material until they feel confident that they understand it well enough to explain to others.
- Teacher-Student Connections
Creating opportunities for teachers to connect with students is critical in the virtual format. Recorded lessons can be paired with discussion groups moderated by a teacher to give students an opportunity to ask questions. Students should take advantage of “Office Hours” opportunities to connect face-to-face with their teacher to ask questions, seek help and get timely feedback.
- A Structured School Day
In an ideal world, students would engage their minds for the same amount of time at home as they did when they were at school, roughly 6-7 hours per day. This should include a mix of computer-based learning, pen and paper study, and reading.
- An Optimal Learning Environment
Once school resumes, it’s important that students actually sit at a table or desk, with as much natural light as possible, and not attempt to complete assignments from bed. They should put phones and other distractions away and be prepared to take notes.
As the school year starts with some form of distance learning, let’s set our sights high and recognize that quality education doesn’t need to stop when we exit the classroom. The wonders of learning abound, even if we have to dig deeper to overcome some of the challenges posed by learning remotely.
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