Remote teaching’s golden opportunity for improving teacher practice.

Effective Remote teaching

Remote teaching certainly has its challenges, but it also provides us with an array of wonderful benefits as well. One of those benefits is a gift to teachers- a golden opportunity to develop effective teacher practice- so what is this golden opporutnity?

If you’re anything like most teachers, the first 2 (and maybe even 3 weeks) of remote teaching have (understandably) been all about survival: you’ve thrown your students a bunch of tasks they can work on independently for the twofold purpose of 1) assessing their access to and capacity for remote learning and 2) buying yourself precious time to work out how the heck to teach in this new world.

Now that you’re 3-4 weeks into this gig, you’re hopefully starting to move out of the panic zone, back into the learning zone, and you’re ready to start refining and evaluating both your teaching and the work you are asking students to do.

Enter the framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility…

Yes, I know. I bang on about the Gradual Release ALL. THE. TIME. But I’m bringing it up again because remote teaching is PRIME TIME for living and breathing this framework.

So, is Gradual Release the golden opportunity?

Well, not exactly. But it IS related, so hear me out…

Let’s start with a visual recap:

Gradual Release of Responsibility
Fisher and Frey’s (2014) adaption of the Gradual Release of Responsibility

Now, there is no rule that says all good teaching starts with focused instruction and works its way down to independent learning, but there IS a rule (or at least a reminder) that we can’t pitch all our teaching in one phase and expect it to be enough:

“All four phases of the gradual release of responsibility framework are necessary if we want students to learn deeply, think critically and creatively, and be able to mobilize learning strategies”

(Fisher and Frey, 2014).

Crafting learning experiences for students that allow them to engage with multiple phases of the Gradual Release is the difference between assigning and teaching. It’s the difference between giving students a comprehension worksheet to do independently (and hoping it teaches them something about reading), and videoing yourself modelling a specific comprehension strategy that you want students to replicate in their own independent reading.

Adding more ‘focused teaching’ to the remote learning experience of our students is also one of the big requests from parents. – I’ll help my child but can you please do the actual teaching part first.

So what IS this ‘golden opportunity’ for teaching practice?

Never before have teachers had a stronger reason (or more authentic sense of urgency) to fast track improvement in the ‘focused teaching’ phase of the Gradual Release of Responsibility. The remote teaching environment is ripe for it!

Why now?

Because the distractions inherent for students in remote learning force us to keep minilessons short, focused and engaging. (The very qualities of effective explicit teaching).

Short

All of a sudden, teachers have found themselves hanging in the same playgrounds as popular youtubers and vloggers (video bloggers). These people know what they’re doing when it comes to engaging audiences and one of their key tips is to keep videos SHORT.

There are differing views on exactly how short videos should be, from those who say 2-9 minutes, to those who say 6-12 minutes.

Either way, the advice conveniently fits with what we’ve been trying to achieve in classrooms for a long time- minilessons of no longer than 15 minutes!

Anything longer than this and students either won’t watch the video at all (when participants in online courses hover their mouse over the video and see that it lasts too long, they often won’t even click to start the video in the first place) or they’ll tune out half way through.

In order to film yourself conducting a 10-15 minute minilesson, which could include modelling, think-aloud or demonstration, it will need to be super focused.

Focused

According to John Hattie, Teacher Clarity has an effect size of 0.75. (That’s higher than feedback, learning goals and instruction in problem solving.)

When you only have a limited number of minutes to get your point across in a short video lesson, you have to be crystal clear on exactly what it is you want your students to know or learn by the end of the video.

You can’t be tempted to throw in a couple of extra messages for good measure. You need precision focus.

Remember: Clarity limits ‘curriculum creep’.

This is really what learning intentions are all about- the teacher knowing with total clarity, what they’re trying to get the kids to work towards in the lesson. This then becomes the guide to ensure all tasks they set in the lesson move their students closer towards this goal.

Focus is also about having a clear purpose for your instruction.

If you’re taking the time to film yourself doing a read aloud for example, you need total clarity on the purpose:

  • What are you wanting the students to get out if it?
  • What is your learning intention?
  • What is the purpose? Is it to model decoding strategies or fluency or are you wanting to develop use of comprehension strategies?
  • Is your method serving your purpose or should you use another method, such as a think-aloud, instead? (See the bottom of this post for a PD opportunity around think-alouds).

The final reason focus is critical in teaching (both offline and online) is because it is directly related to effective feedback.

When you know exactly what your instructional focus is, you can plan activities that enable students to learn, practice and demonstrate this focus. Your feedback can then be more specific and targeted on the focus of the lesson.

If your lesson focus is “crafting engaging introductions to narrative writing”, the activity might be for students to read first pages of books to gather some models and then have a go at crafting their own narrative beginning. Your feedback for this task would be tied directly to the lesson focus; not the end of the story, not their terrible grammar, not their handwriting, but their ability to craft an engaging introduction.

Tasks that lack focus make effective feedback much harder to provide; to borrow a phrase from the data world, rubbish in = rubbish out.

Engaging

Lessons that are short and focused will, by their very nature, be more engaging. Other online-specific tips for engagement are:

  • Make sure you have super clear audio and video
  • Remove all background noise (usually wearing a headset to record your voice fixes this)
  • Be yourself
  • Speak naturally. Pretend your kids are right in front of you (some people go all robot like or super formal when they record themselves, this can be highly disengaging for students).
  • Practise!
  • Always show your pet(s) at the end of the video (ok, so there’s no research on this one, but my dogs seem to think it’s really important)

Final words

We won’t be teaching remotely forever, but the lessons learned about delivering short, sharp, focused minilessons in the online world are directly transferable to teaching in the offline world. Time spent honing skills in delivering effective and explicit minilessons now, will pay dividends even after teachers return to schools.

Try it! Adapt your teaching, monitor your video watch counts and track your video engagement (if your software allows).

Grab this opportunity!

Do you have any tips or ideas for better focused instruction in the online world? What have you tried or had success with? Share your advice, experiences and tips in the comments below or join in the conversation on the Oz Lit teacher Facebook group.

PD Opportunity

Update: I offered an online webinar on ‘Effective Think-Alouds’ after writing this post. A recording of this webinar is now available in my fancy new online shop. The webinar covers:

  • The what, why and how of effective think-alouds.
  • How to plan for effective think-alouds
  • How to make your own think-aloud recordings.

The one hour recording costs $27.50 (GST inclusive) and comes with a copy of the PowerPoint slides, a supporting resources pack and a PD participation certificate.

Note: 5% of all online PD sales will be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation to support the purchase of culturally relevant books for students in remote indigenous communities.

References:

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2014). Better Learning Through Structured Teaching (2nd ed.). ASCD.

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