Sunday, August 9, 2020

Keeping Kids Engaged in Remote Learning

With the pandemic not letting down in many places, schools are beginning to focus less on re-entry and more on starting the year with remote learning. Even in countries where COVID19 is under control, there is still a certain level of nervousness and anxiety that a second wave could perpetuate a shift to either a hybrid model or remote instruction. No matter the situation, lessons learned have to be acted upon in order to provide a valuable learning experience to all kids regardless of demographics. One of the most prominent obstacles encountered was getting and keeping kids engaged.  A recent Chalkbeat article highlighted the results of some surveys that alluded to this issue:

And engagement with schoolwork was relatively low across the board, reflecting the challenges of keeping students engaged in a chaotic time and of teaching from a distance. Teachers in two separate surveys estimated that only about 60% of their students were regularly participating or engaging in distance learning. (Individual district reports of daily "attendance" varied widely, as districts defined the term so differently.) Two-thirds to three-quarters of teachers said their students were less engaged during remote instruction than before the pandemic, and that engagement declined even further over the course of the semester.

Engagement begins with a focus on sound instructional design that leads to pedagogical techniques that foster active learning.  There are many successful remote teaching strategies that can be employed, which I have included in this post. A balance of digital and non-digital activities is preferred, but you might have to lean one way or another depending on the availability of technology and WIFI in your respective community.  No matter the situation, the key to empowering learners is to create valuable and meaningful experiences that they want to engage in every day. Below are seven concrete areas to consider when developing any type of remote learning activity for maximum student engagement.


Without relevance, learning many concepts doesn't make sense to students, which is supported by research. The why matters more than ever in the context of remote learning. What one must do is step into the shoes of a student. If he or she does not truly understand why they are learning what is being taught, the chances of engagement and improving outcomes diminish significantly. Each lesson should squarely address the why. When it is all said and done, if a lesson or project is relevant students will be able to tell you:

  • What they learned
  • Why they learned it
  • How they will use what was learned.


Social isolation is a real issue impacting many kids, thanks to quarantining and extended school closures. There is a dire need for students to interact with their peers, especially during synchronous lessons facilitated through live video tools.  Discourse can easily be achieved through the purposeful use of technology.  In this previous post, I outline important pedagogical aspects as well as tools that can be seamlessly integrated into remote lessons to foster conversation. If kids are just consuming content and completing activities in isolation, then chances are many won't be engaged.


Another way to counteract social isolation and potential SEL issues is through collaborative experiences. These leverage the power of discourse while empowering kids to work together to solve a problem or complete a performance task.  Using the elements of well-structured cooperative learning (accountability, timeframe, equitable roles, equal opportunity to participate) activities can be designed as part of a remote blended learning experience.  In the end, it is about creating the conditions for positive interdependence, group processing, and interpersonal skills. For specific online activities, click HERE and for tools visit this link.


Rigid schedules and expectations didn't work particularly well prior to COVID19. They sure don't facilitate an engaging learning experience for kids. Having kids meet at the same time for a synchronous Zoom session as they would for a traditional face-to-face class just doesn't make sense and is counterproductive, in my opinion. Any successful remote learning implementation ensures that flexibility is a core component in both attending lessons and completing work. Asynchronous workflows that are set up with some content can lead to higher engagement if there is some flexibility aligned to getting assignments done over a specified timeframe.


Many of the areas I have already discussed are integrated throughout a personalized experience. It represents a shift in focus from the "what" (content, curriculum, tests, programs, technology) to the "who" to create a more personal learning experience for all kids. At the forefront is developing and sustaining a culture that imparts purpose, meaning, relevance, ownership, and various paths that cater to all students' strengths and weaknesses.

High agency strategies such as voice, choice, path, pace, and place typically in the form of pedagogically-sound blended learning lead to high engagement levels. I encourage you to check out this post that provides a deep dive into effective personalized learning.


Most kids want to know how they are doing and what can be done to improve.  If there are no mechanisms for timely, meaningful, and specific feedback, then the motivation to complete any type of remote learning activity wanes. Feedback justifies a grade, establishes criteria for improvement, provides motivation for the next assessment, reinforces good work, and serves as a catalyst for reflection. The assessment determines whether learning occurred, what learning occurred, and if the learning relates to stated targets, standards, and objectives. In reality, formative assessment is an advanced form of feedback. Consider developing digital feedback logs as an engagement strategy.

If students aren't engaged, then the chances are that they won't complete remote activities. The result will be widening learning and achievement gaps that will impact disadvantaged kids the hardest. A compelling reason to learn, coupled with meaningful experiences, is the best recipe for sustained engagement to avoid this potential pitfall while developing the motivation to learn. 

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series

Sunday, August 2, 2020

5 Keys for Successful Remote Learning

There is a lot to consider as schools either begin the school year or reassess where they currently are based upon the current COVID19 situation. Here in the United States, many school districts are adopting a hybrid model when they open in the fall, while others have made the decision to start remotely.  With the latter, it is imperative that any challenges and mishaps from the spring are addressed now to ensure better implementation at scale. The fact of the matter is that there were too many examples of how it didn’t work across the country.  Time is of the essence to get it right so that all kids can benefit from a quality learning experience that pushes them to think while limiting learning loss and achievement gaps.


Remote learning does not mean piling on excessive amounts of work on our learners. It also should not require them to be on a device for all of their learning activities. Non-digital assignments have just as much value and can give kids a much-needed break from screens.  When technology is used, sound planning ensures there is a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning while building in breaks for movement, mindfulness, and other essential brain breaks.


There have always been issues with equity when it comes to education. However, the current pandemic and social justice movements across the globe have brought a more unified focus on the work that needs to be done.  In a previous post, I shared these thoughts:
COVID19 has unveiled the harsh reality of the inequities that plague learners in virtually every country. Where you live, in particular, has had a direct correlation to whether or not remote learning has been successful in many schools. The “haves” have tended to prosper while the “have nots” have suffered. We can ill-afford not to address this fact. Additionally, the digital divide is wider than many perceived. Access to devices and reliable WIFI needs to be emphasized.
Kids also need access to equitable resources and learning experiences. 


Let’s begin with engagement. If students are not engaged, then they most likely are not learning.  Herein lies why it is crucial to make sure that passive consumption of content and low-level activities are followed with more opportunities for active learning.  Successful remote learning is dependent on the consistent utilization of effective teaching strategies and pedagogy that empowers all kids to think and apply their thinking in relevant ways. The Rigor Relevance Framework is a fantastic tool for teachers to develop pedagogically sound tasks, both with and without technology. It also provides school leaders with a lens to provide valuable feedback to teachers when it comes to addressing priority standards, implementing scaffolding techniques, creating performance tasks, and developing quality assessments. 

From here, schools can begin to focus on a remote blended learning model that can serve as a foundation for all K-12 classrooms to create a more personalized experience.  

Professional Learning

Many schools were not prepared when the pandemic hit. Going forward, this excuse cannot and should not be used.  Over the summer, there has been ample time to support both teachers and administrators to plan and implement remote learning successfully. However, this has also been a time of considerable fluctuation and flip-flopping on opening plans in relation to COVID19 infection rates. If professional learning was not emphasized, it’s definitely not too late.  Think about experiences that reflect the conditions where your students will be expected to learn remotely. Foundations workshops and deep dives that address the areas noted in the pedagogy section above represent a solid start. For success, though, a commitment to job-embedded and on-going support in the form of coaching, mentoring, advising, and consistent evaluation of the remote learning plan is needed, with refinement and improvement being the main goals.

Family Engagement

It goes without saying that parents and guardians have many questions and concerns regarding how schools will effectively implement remote learning in the near term. Begin with meticulous planning using the information provided in the key focus areas previously covered above. Then think about strategies to inform and educate families as to what their kids can expect. Digital leadership compels us to meet them where they are and engage in two-way communications using a hybrid approach. Also, consider providing opportunities for them to experience remote learning actively. I have worked with many schools and districts, facilitating webinars for parents on the topic since the pandemic hit to ease concerns and illustrate validity in the approaches being embraced.

To dive deeper into various remote learning elements, please visit this comprehensive Pinterest board that covers teaching, edtech, and SPED strategies as well as abiding by privacy laws.  It is essential to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to remote learning. Each district is unique in terms of resources and demographics.  Success hinges upon taking and applying the key focus areas listed above and aligning them with your respective classroom, school, or district culture. 

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Preparation for What Comes Next

It is a stressful time for everyone.  COVID-19 cases are increasing in many places, and social distancing measures are being extended. Through it all, there is anxiety and fear as it pertains to what comes next. Will kids go back to school or continue to learn remotely? How will safety be ensured for all people in a building? What will be the impact of budget cuts? How will educators get the professional learning support they so desperately need? These are just a few of the questions being pondered, where there are no clear or definitive answers.  The result has been unprecedented stress on anyone associated directly, or indirectly, with education.

Every day it seems a curveball is being thrown at educators.  One minute, schools are being given guidance to open up for face-to-face instruction, and the next, they inform the masses that they are starting the school year with remote learning. What comes next remains a mystery for some. Strong leadership in times of uncertainty is critical to not only get by but also set the stage for success.  For those who have more clarity, the time is now to ensure needed pedagogical change takes hold. Lessons learned since the start of the pandemic can pave the way to create a new normal.

To adequately prepare, schools should consider focusing their efforts and resources on the following three areas:
  1. Hybrid Learning Models: Hybrid learning combines both traditional and non-traditional learning strategies as well as digital tools to create a cohesive learning experience for kids.  Some key aspects to consider are face-to-face instruction, personalization, blended learning, adaptive tools, flex schedules, social distancing, health and safety, and remote learning. For more context, check out this post.
  2. Remote Learning: If schools are closed for any amount of time, it is critical to improve remote learning based on some of the challenges that were experienced in the past.  It focuses on both digital and non-digital pathways to keep realistic learning going. Now is the time to help educators hone their craft, so students are authentically engaged, empowered to think, provided meaningful feedback, and are able to showcase what they have learned creatively.  HERE you can find some specific teaching tips. For a variety of strategies and perspectives, check out this Pinterest Board.
  3. Blended Pedagogies – Prior to the pandemic, many schools implemented instructional strategies that incorporated digital but did not fully make the pivot to blended learning. There is a difference. Blended instruction is what the teacher does with technology. Blended learning is where students use technology to have control over path, place, and pace. Other high agency strategies, such as voice and choice, are also prevalent to personalize learning. Data is used to differentiate as well as group and regroup students on an ongoing basis to meet the needs of everyone best. Station rotation, choice boards, playlists, and the flipped classroom are the most practical pathways to implement. The use of digital tools becomes a seamless component. All kids doing the same thing at the same time the same way has to become a thing of the past.
In addition to the areas listed above, social and emotional learning (SEL) will need to be emphasized as a key component of what comes next. No one knows for sure what some kids experienced during the extended time schools were closed and the impact that this has had on them. My colleagues Venola Mason and Weston Kieschnick facilitated a webinar with me that dove into all of the focus areas identified in the post. You can view the 30-minute recording below.

Preparing for what comes next will take meticulous planning, flexibility, resolve, and bold leadership. Purchasing devices and mobile hotspots is great, but it doesn’t go far enough. It will also require research-based, evidence-driven professional learning, and provides educators with practical strategies that can be implemented right away. Teachers and administrators deserve needed support to usher in a new normal. Many are crying out for it now. Not the one and done or drive-by variety, but job-embedded, ongoing, and immersive experiences. One of the main lessons learned at the onset of the pandemic was how the majority of schools were ill-prepared for remote learning and the same can be said in terms of what lies ahead. The path ahead might not be crystal clear, but we do have a general sense of the direction schools should take both in the near and long-term. Invest in people now and reap the rewards later.

To learn more about what this could look like in your district or school, shoot me an email (

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Tracking COVID Cases to Better Safeguard Students and Educators

Safety is at the top of the minds of all educational stakeholders, especially teachers and parents. News outlets are flooding all channels with advice on what schools should and should not do.  The CDC has also released specific guidelines to help guide the reopening of schools and the subsequent re-entry of students.  There are no easy answers or solutions during these unprecedented times, but we can all agree that the health and safety of every child and adult are of paramount importance.  To that end, it is critical that all groups have a seat at the table to add input and suggestions to any plan being developed.  For some suggestions on how to do this in a meaningful way, check out this post.

All any district can do is meticulously plan while trying to foresee as many possible scenarios that could occur once schools are reopened. Many questions and associated challenges will undoubtedly arise. The key is to be ready for them.  A proactive approach entails the establishment of protocols to track and report COVID cases across a school district while abiding by privacy laws.   Doing so provides an additional safeguard for students and staff to complement social distancing, hybrid learning models, hygiene stations, and facemasks.  It is critical that everyone knows who has been infected or has come in close contact with people that have tested positive for COVID.  Access to this vital information will then allow for staff to quarantine as necessary.  

I recently wrote about a fantastic tool called ZippSlip that every district should consider as a means to streamline communications.  It is a cloud-based mobile app that supports all communication sent from the school to parents like student registration, athletic waivers, permission slips, mass notifications in multiple languages, dynamic use of video, and the list goes on and on. You can now add another essential feature to that list as Zippslip now can seamlessly collect data on COVID for tracking purposes that can assist with safety until the virus is eradicated.  Below are some specific highlights from a brief on their website:
ZippSlip offers a solution to electronically collect and track COVID symptoms and risk information from students' parents attending the school. Quickly deployed, ZippSlip allows parents to securely update their students' information from a browser or via the ZippSlip app. School administrators can track COVID risk information on customizable dashboards that include trend charts, heatmaps, and other relevant analytics. In one glance, administrators can monitor district-wide information and then quickly take mitigation steps. With a couple of clicks on ZippSlip's administrator portal, administrators can find students with symptoms, their siblings, and which schools and classes are at risk.

In addition to collecting data from families regarding students, districts, and schools can also report information related to staff infections or recent contact with others who have the virus.  Together, the data in the dashboard can be used to help adjust plans to keep in-person learning going or make the decision to move to remote learning. In the end, it is just one more resource to help ease the many concerns that are out there. For more detailed information check out this downloadable slide deck.

The decision to reopen schools is a contentious one, to say the least.  With infection rates rising in many states, educators and families are justified in their concern and fear for their safety.  If reopening occurs under duress, a solution such as ZippSlip can help ease, but not eradicate, some concerns.