– Dan Jones –
For the moment, conducting classes online is the new normal, but many are diving into the unknown when designing lessons for remote learning. When students engage with content asynchronously (working independently), they need more built-in support than when they work synchronously (working at the same time) with their peers. Let’s look at how we can manage and adjust the level of student support to match the level of asynchronous versus synchronous instruction we’re using.
Based on Jon Bergman’s interview with Paul Hennesy, an online math teacher, and administrator from Australia, Jon and I developed a chart to help explain the degree of support teachers need to provide their students regarding the group space (our face-to-face time with students) and the independent space (students working independently through the content). Hennesy shared that we need to evaluate how much support we are providing students when they are working independently.
As you look at this chart, you’ll determine where your classroom design falls. Is it 100 percent asynchronous (you never have any face-to-face time with your students, and they complete all of the work independently)? Is it 100 percent synchronous (your students meet with you 100 percent of the time and there is no homework)? Or does your classroom design fall somewhere in between?
If your students are functioning in a 100 percent asynchronous environment, you will want to build in the greatest amount of support for all work that students are expected to complete independently. Every worksheet, assigned reading, slide deck, and activity needs to be thoroughly stacked with detailed supports. Beth Hennington, author of the article Tips for Creating an Engaging Asynchronous Online Learning Environment, offers a list of great suggestions for making this type of online learning environment highly engaging. She recommends building in a lot of interaction through video and auditory activities. She highlights that it is important to design learning modules with multiple due dates within each topic (i.e., to use scaffolding). It is essential that educators set due dates for individual components within a module, and not just an end date for everything to be due at once. This provides a structure for students and assists them in managing their time effectively. One of her final points is that you need to model what you want to see from your students.
Jon Bergmann shared how he builds in specific support for PDF documents that he gives his students via goformative.com. Jon is able to add voiceover or videos addressing specific questions that he anticipates in areas that the students may struggle. One of the things that we discussed was that you have to put in supports that enable students to keep moving forward. He said,
“You don’t want a student to get to a problem and then give up on the rest of the assignment just because they couldn’t figure out the second question.”
What if the assignment is a reading selection? I was challenged a few years ago when discussing my Flipped classroom with a peer. They said, “That all sounds great, but what do you do if a student isn’t reading on grade level? How could they be expected to read things on their own?” Great question! I pondered this and decided that I needed to record myself reading every passage I assigned. I used Screencastify to record and upload my voice for all reading materials easily. Check out an example of Jon’s informative strategy here.
Jake Habegger, an 8th-grade history teacher in Tennessee and fellow contributor for FLR Magazine, provides his students with various options when it comes to interacting with the content. His students can choose to watch a video or use a slide deck. With the slide deck, he builds support into the slides to address potentially complex topics that Jake feels could be confusing for the students. He notes that he only does it for the slides that he would expect students to ask questions about. Here is an example of one of Jake’s slide decks. You will notice in certain slides that there is a video button down in the corner. Students click on the video to hear a more detailed explanation of what is on the slide.
Another approach to reading assignments is the use of Perusall. Perusall was developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard University. This free program (there is a paid version as well) allows students to engage both synchronously as well as asynchronously with a piece of reading. Students are able to comment right on the document and ask questions.
Many classes have fallen into this category due to remote learning. Students are expected to engage with content independently, and the face to face time, whether through Zoom, Google Meets, or other video conferencing software, is used for a variety of purposes.
Andrew Swan, an 8th-grade social studies teacher at Bigelow Middle School in Newton, MA, shared that his remote face-to-face time is used to check-in with students and see if they are having trouble accessing the content and also to monitor their understanding of what they have been learning. Joy McCourt, a math and science/chemistry teacher at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute in Toronto, has expressed that her face-to-face time has been met with numerous challenges due to it not being mandatory. If this sounds familiar, know that you are not alone. So how do we get the most out of our face-to-face time in a mostly asynchronous (and sometimes optional) setting?
We can begin by positioning our students to be successful by clearly communicating our expectations for when we meet. Because we are in a mostly asynchronous setting, we do not have much time to meet with our students, so we have to get the most out of this time. Provide your students with as much information as possible prior to meeting with them. This will reduce the amount of time spent explaining what you are going to do or the things you want them to think about during the face-to-face session.
Jenny Pieratt, author of the article Five Tips for Designing Remote or Asynchronous Learning, notes when “a student is working independently in what can easily feel like a silo, their learning experience can remain interactive.” She suggests developing visual thinking processes that allow students “to reflect and jot down ideas.” These are things that students actively do as they watch a video or take notes. Pieratt notes that “If a student waits until the end of watching a series of videos or reading texts to complete a task, the chances of their ‘spacing out’ is pretty good.” Finally, Pieratt suggests building in midway checkpoints that allow you to gauge the depth of understanding. “These checkpoints can be online quizzes in Schoology or Quizlet to check for comprehension, performance-based assignments in Flipgrid, or a Zoom or Google Hangout to talk through content and check for understanding.” Additionally, questions can be embedded directly into the video itself using a tool such as EdPuzzle.
Swan and McCourt both recommended streamlining the mostly asynchronous experience. The fewer apps, passwords, or platforms that students have to work with, the greater the results. Swan said, “Students need to know exactly what is expected of them (quality, deadlines, and expectations).” By building these supports into your classroom, you will yield greater results from your students and deepen their understanding of the content. McCourt reminded me of the importance of training students how to access content. She said, “You have to train them not only in how to access the direct instruction materials (such as videos and pre-class learning checks based on them) but also how to participate in any group activities that they now have to do online rather than in class.” When the school year starts back up again, it is going to be essential to have these training opportunities well planned before the first day of school.
Classrooms that are able to meet with a larger amount of face-to-face time can engage in the higher Bloom’s categories with less support from the teacher. This scenario is what a traditional flipped classroom looks like. Students are able to work independently, but a large portion of time is dedicated to the group space where teachers can walk around and have micro-conversations with students, problem solve in real time, and work with students as they develop their creative outlets for their understanding of the classroom content. You will still need to build in support for students as they work independently, but your time spent with your students will require less front-loading due to the amount of time you get to see your students. There is a caveat to having a lot of group space time with your students in an online environment, though. According to Alan Robinson, a History teacher at Tekura School in New Zealand, you should not try to mirror your traditional classroom online. Paul Hennesy expressed, “The more group space you have, the more flexibility you have.” Matt Villano, author of the article Combining Online, Traditional Pedagogies May be Key to Better Learning, suggests that one of the reasons for failed remote learning experiences is the expectation that every child has someone at home that will keep them on track and help guide them through the lessons. He offers the following as a solution, “Just having people (staffed with real-live educators) around to help students stay on task can make a huge difference in the amount of material students actually get through.” Think: a customer service chat window, but for students with questions.
It is safe to say that most remote learning situations were not well-oiled machines this spring; we were all building the plane in the air. This next school year offers educators a chance to fix that. Planning the degree of support your students need is critical, not only to the success of the class, but the educational success of the student. And to quote Benjamin Franklin, “Success is the residue of planning.”
Join us as we discuss the ideas in the article with educators around the global at the Second Wave Summit | 2020
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