Sunday, August 30, 2020

Avoiding Synchronous Video Fatigue During Remote Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in some monumental shifts to practice.  Educators have taken a critical lens as to why they teach the way they do and how it can be done more effectively.  For virtually every school that is, or will be, implementing some sort of remote or hybrid learning model, you can bet that videoconference tools will play an enormous role. While it is excellent that educators now have a variety of options at their disposal, there is a growing concern that has to be addressed if learning is the goal.

I need to get something off my chest.  Have you heard of Zoom fatigue? It is a real thing I assure you, and it applies to Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or any other similar platform.  Facilitating professional learning using video conferencing tools is exhausting.  I have experienced this firsthand over the past couple of weeks as I have worked with numerous districts on remote and hybrid pedagogy through all-day virtual workshops.  Being put in this position empowered me to critically examine how the day would playout for the educators I was working with.  In the end, I went with shorter sessions, longer and more numerous breaks, loads of collaborative activities, and asynchronous tasks where I remained on-hand for individual coaching and feedback.  

I bet many of you have experienced the same thing in meetings and professional development since the pandemic began. Now we need to see ourselves in our learners' shoes to provide experiences that both engage and empower them. It becomes harder to do this if we miss the mark with the synchronous component. Heather Marcoux recently shared this:

Experts say it's understandable that kids are just "over Zoom" as the Huffington Post put it. Just like adults, kids are feeling what experts are calling Zoom fatigue. It's a real phenomenon that experts like Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at Insead who studies sustainable learning told the BBC. "The video call is our reminder of the people we have lost temporarily," he explains. "What I'm finding is, we're all exhausted; It doesn't matter whether they are introverts or extroverts. We are experiencing the same disruption of the familiar context during the pandemic."

Below are some strategies to consider in order to get maximum impact from any live video tool.

  • Interactivity during synchronous sessions in the form of discourse and collaboration are vital as is being laser-focused in terms of the content that has to be delivered. 
  • Less is more in this case, and brevity combined with sound instructional design can work to create impactful lessons.
  • Co-create norms with learners for behavior, attentiveness, and interaction.
  • Don't teach every standard. Prioritize those that are the most important by grade level and content area.
  • Begin with a short anticipatory set to infuse relevancy and get learners fired up about the lesson or activity.
  • Infuse routine breaks that incorporate movement and social-emotional (SEL) activities.
  • Achieve a balance through the use of asynchronous learning tasks that can empower learners both on and off the screen. Remote blended learning and authentic challenge problems always work well.
  • Try to keep the direct instruction component between 10 and 15 minutes with at least two checks for understanding to break up adult talking.
  • Bookend the synchronous component of the lesson with 10 minutes in the beginning and ten at the end for closure.
  • Seek feedback from learners and families on how they feel about synchronous video lessons.
  • Build-in time to reflect on whether the synchronous component of the lesson was successful or not. Ask yourself, "Would I have been engaged and empowered if I was the learner?"

Fatigue is yet another challenge that educators need to overcome in a remote or hybrid world. Most of us know all too well how this feels, which compels us to act. A healthy combination of sound pedagogy, professional learning support, feedback, and reflection will help any educator grow and improve their craft.  

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Developing Asynchronous Remote Learning Tasks

Over the past couple of months, I have written extensively on the topic of remote learning. As I continually work with more and more districts and schools on an ongoing basis, ideas keep percolating in my mind as to the pedagogically-sound strategies that educators can use now.  Modeling on my part and active application on their end, make these learning experiences that much richer.  Many readers have noticed that many of the strategies I have shared are also effective for face-to-face learning.  The significant shifts in adapting to remote learning involve how time is used, providing flexible pathways, ensuring there is regular feedback and the purposeful use of digital tools when appropriate.

In my last post, I focused on engagement in synchronous lessons. If kids aren't engaged during the instructional component, then it is quite difficult to empower them later on, regardless of whether they are offline or online.  Technology plays a huge role, which is why all efforts need to be made to eliminate the digital divide. The key, however, is balance.  To create empowering opportunities for all kids that involve more ownership over their learning requires us to think beyond synchronous learning that is just online.

Asynchronous learning provides much-needed flexibility that better meets the needs of both students and teachers by relinquishing the familiar rigidity of school. It also supports both independent and collaborative work when structured the right way while supporting critical competencies such as self-management, creativity, inquiry, and teamwork. There can also be a mix and match of both digital and non-digital activities that allow students to actively apply what has been learned in relevant and meaningful ways.  It is here where learner empowerment can be emphasized. To get started, consider these tips:

  • Determine how content will be disseminated (synchronous or asynchronous).
  • Map out activities in alignment with priority standards
  • Establish learning targets
  • Determine how much time students will have to complete the tasks
  • Consider developing scaffolded formative assessments for students to complete after a series of asynchronous activities as a form of closure and to check for understanding.
  • Provide a few assessment options and allow students to select which one is graded.
Below are some of the most practical strategies to develop asynchronous tasks. Keep in mind that some rely on technology, while others don't. 

Self-Paced Activities

The sky is the limit here, which is why I am addressing this strategy first.  It could include independent reading with reflective questions, scaffolded question sets, inquiry or problem-based performance tasks, or virtual pathways.  In the case of the latter, check out this PreK – 12 curricula from Khan Academy.  Another great resource to incorporate self-paced activities is CK-12.  Be sure to click on the "explore" tab on the top toolbar and check out the adaptive practice, simulations, and interactive games that can all be done in a self-paced format.

Choice Boards

Giving kids a choice as to the activities they engage in is a great way to empower them to learn while providing greater ownership.  Choice boards represent a solid blended learning strategy where tasks can be scaffolded, differentiated, and contain a mix of digital and non-digital options.  To get started, view examples, or take what you have already created to the next level by checking out this post. One of my favorite examples I saw during a coaching visit to Wells Elementary School was a Tic-Tac-Toe board that included formative assessment, purposeful use of technology, and differentiation, which you can read about in detail HERE. Choice might be one of the most uncomplicated components to integrate daily. If creating a board is not your thing, simply start with "must do" and "may do" activities.  


Sometimes flexibility can be as simple as letting kids pick the order of the tasks during asynchronous learning.  Unlike choice boards, all of the activities in a playlist or menu are completed by a student at their own pace.  For more details on this blended learning approach, give this post a read. The majority focus on individual work, but there is always an opportunity to include some collaborative tasks using digital tools where kids would be empowered to reach out to peers.  

Adaptive Technologies

Nothing replaces sound instructional design and pedagogy. However, these powerful tools can help close achievement gaps and limit learning loss as part of a teacher's asynchronous arsenal of strategies and supports.  In a nutshell, adaptive technologies use computer algorithms to orchestrate interaction with the learner and deliver customized resources and learning activities to address each learner's unique needs. Some solid options free options can be found using this link while paid solutions can be located HERE.

Flipped Lessons

If there was ever a time to try to develop a flipped lesson, it's now.  This strategy is not new by any means and can easily be adapted to a remote word. Be sure to check out how one of my former teachers implemented this approach. Teachers can record their direct instruction component of the lesson in short clips, typically 10 or 15 minutes. Concepts can be explained using mini whiteboards, slide decks, or digital tools like Educreations. These can then be uploaded to your learning management system (LMS), such as Google Classroom, Schoology, or Canvas.  If you don't use one of these, no worries - the videos can be added to a class Google Site.  After watching the video at a preferred pace, students would then complete a series of asynchronous activities to construct new knowledge and apply what was learned from the content presented.

A major benefit of asynchronous learning activities are their inherent flexibility, which can be a benefit to students, educators, and parents alike. Tasks and assignments can be completed over a specific time period using strategies addressed in this post as well as more traditional options such as research papers or projects. They can also free up the teacher to work with those learners who need targeted instruction or extra help.

Finally, while we’ve now had months to absorb and adjust to this new reality, it’s a natural reaction to feel hampered by the absence of traditional in-person instruction. On the other hand, now is the time to embrace the upside of this moment, let go of some of the old baggage and self-imposed limitations around what we think school really is, and expand our idea of what teaching and learning can be. Creative, asynchronous learning opportunities are a vital way to keep remote learning dynamic, impactful, and even more equitable.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Strategies to Foster Discourse and Collaboration in Remote Learning Environments

The past couple of months have been challenging for educators, to say the least. However, in the midst of it all, there have been opportunities to take a critical lens to practice in the efforts to effectively pivot to a remote world and successfully implement hybrid learning models in the near term.  No matter the current focus, changes implemented today will pave the way for ushering in more personalized approaches that focus on high-agency strategies as schools settle into a new normal.

Let’s focus on the short term.  For many schools, especially here in the United States, the school year has been pushed back, or students will begin remotely. Even for the schools that have started face-to-face, COVID-19 could force an abrupt change of course. Thus, there is a pressing need to develop and implement pedagogically-sound strategies that work in a remote environment.  I recently facilitated two intensive virtual workshop days with educators from the Shaler Area School District in Pennsylvania.  The series will conclude with a third day in a few weeks. First off, they were a fantastic group to work with virtually.  The dialogue, openness to new ideas, and willingness to take risks was apparent each day.  What made it even better was how much I learned from the experience.

One of the main challenges with remote learning has been student engagement, something I addressed in a recent post, where I provided six elements to consider. As I planned out my activities for the two days, I really wanted to create a meaningful experience that included numerous opportunities for discourse and collaboration. Using Zoom breakout rooms and an array of digital tools (Padlet, Linoit, AnswerGarden, Mentimeter, GoSoapBox, YoTeach!, Google Forms, Thinglink) interactivity was extensive. You can also use Google Meet to create breakout rooms in Google Classroom (learn more HERE). 

When designing lessons for learners here are some tips based on what I learned:

  • Establish behavior and conduct norms
  • Mute everyone during synchronous instruction to start. I have found this to be extremely beneficial in setting the tone and attentive behavior.
  • Have an interactive ready to go every 10 – 15 minutes
  • Add the question prompt or task in the chatbox (I just copy and paste it from my slide deck)
  • Unmute everyone and then place them randomly into breakout rooms.
  • Provide regular updates to students by broadcasting messages to all rooms
  • Remind students that there is an “ask for help” button (top left). This is a great way to combat cyberbullying or to respond to group questions.
  • Jump into rooms to monitor.
  • Upon closing the breakout rooms mute the entire class again
  • Provide a digital tool for all kids to share their responses to the question discussed or task completed.
  • Encourage ongoing dialogue and questions using the chatbox.
  • Encourage the use of earbuds or headsets if you are managing both face-to-face and remote learners at the same time. 

Collaboration during synchronous lessons is crucial to keeping kids engaged. It also sets the stage for structured cooperative learning activities that could occur live or asynchronously as part of remote blended learning. Below are some of the most common strategies I use to help educators implement remote learning using the tips above.

  • Think - Pair - Share (in a remote situation it would be think, randomly group in a breakout room, and share)
  • Turn and Talk
  • Jigsaw (check out this blog post if you want to see how I implemented this strategy using a digital tool)
  • Station Rotation
  • Brainstorming (HERE are a list of some great free tools)

I need to give huge should out to Esther Park. She really took the virtual breakout room to a whole new level. Below are her tweet and associated image. 

I made breakout room choice doors where Ss will "go" to during their work time. We're using Google Meet & I plan to link different Meet links to each door so students can collaborate, work alone, or get extra help. Honoring differences & personalizing instruction! 


It is essential to be intentional about planning for discourse and collaboration in any remote learning lesson or experience, just like we would in a face-to-face setting.  Students desperately miss and need interaction with their peers to create some sense of normalcy while increasing attentive behavior and engagement in the learning process.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series. 

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 COVID-19 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 six 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 COVID-19. 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 into 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