Instructional routines for remote learning

Remote learning has sucked the life out of me this fall. With schools closing this week, there appears to be no end in sight. It’s been hard for me to find bright spots, but I have landed on a few instructional routines that I like. To help me cope and take my mind off everything else on this sinking ship, I want to write about them.

Ungraded Student work
Since my curriculum is problem-centered, I have my students scan their handwritten work to 1-3 problems per day and upload it to Google Classroom. The next day, I carefully select a few pieces of anonymous work and place them in our “Work Analysis” Google Doc that is shared with students. The bulk of our time together on Zoom is spent discussing the work from this doc in our breakouts. What’s cool is that the doc has correct (and incorrect) work from every problem we’ve ever discussed. As a running total of what we’ve learned, it’s a resource that kids are beginning to rely on more and more.

2. Feedback
When students scan and upload their handwritten solutions to Classroom, I give feedback on specific parts of their work using the comments feature. It creates a box around the area of the image that I need to provide feedback on and opens up a comment box. This effectively allows me to annotate student work like I would in-person. I have yet to see another solution for commenting of student work that is this efficient or precise. A screenshot:

3. Revisions and Resubmissions of Graded Work
Instead of administering traditional exams, which I’m struggling to see the point of in this context, I am assigning students 2-3 problems on Monday which are due Friday on Classroom. (These are the exact problems I would give on an exam. Students scan and upload their work, just like the daily problems.) I call these weekly assignments “Turn Ins.” Though they are due on Friday, if students submit their solutions before Thursday, I will give them feedback on their work with a grade and return it. If they didn’t earn full credit on the problems, they can revise their solutions and resubmit them as many times as they want for a higher grade. I like this because it builds in revision as a core component of our class that is far more meaningful than “test corrections.” It also opens up a line of communication between individual students and myself that is always buzzing. Plus, there is a steady stream of work I’m receiving throughout the week instead of one lump sum that can take forever to get through.

4. Self-Assessment
Instead of creating some complex system of accountability when it comes to participation and engagement, like tallying how many times a kids speaks, shares their screen, or even submits the daily homework problems, I let the kids do it. They decide their grade. I have a rubric that the kids use to assess themselves on Fridays based on how active they were in class that week. I glance through their self-reported grades, but I extend trust to them and find that the students are overwhelmingly honest.

5. Google Forms Self-Graded Quizzes
In the spring, I wrote about my love for this assessment tool and I appreciate them even more now.

6. DeltaMath
A priceless commodity even before remote learning. I post one assignment every Monday that aligns with the problems that we’ll be studying that week. It’s always due Friday.

7. Desmos
Desmos Activity Builder is an invaluable tool, but I don’t think I use it nearly as much as other math teachers I know. For many, they use it to format and structure all of their lessons and content. Even with it’s souped-up features, I’m more strategic when I opt for it. The Desmos grapher gets used all the time in class, but I prefer Activity Builder for only specific concepts.

8. Zoom Polls
Maybe it’s just me, but these have been getting far less attention than they should be from teachers. They’re built right into zoom, quick to set up, and provide me a quick, real-time check in whenever I need it. Sure, not every student responds to them, but I usually get enough data to pass judgement. All of the polls I set up are generic and designed for kids to respond to whatever question I have on the current slide, which often pertains to a piece of their scanned work.

9. Pre-assigned breakout rooms
In Zoom, there’s an ability to place students in breakout rooms before the session begins. When we were in person, I used to change my students’ seats every Monday. I loved doing this to inject fresh energy into discussions every week. With remote learning, because there’s so much missing, I think having consistent groups for long periods of time is important if I want students having meaningful interactions with each other. (I keep students in the same breakouts for six weeks.) It helps kids get comfortable with one another and establish informal roles — like who is going to screen share or annotate. In some cases, I strategically put friends together to help ease the awkwardness. Kids have to sign into Zoom for this feature to work seamlessly, but even when they don’t, I spend a few minutes at the start of class to put kids in their rooms. Many of my breakouts are still deathly silent, but I have noticed positive changes as a result of doing this.


5 thoughts on “Instructional routines for remote learning”

  1. Useful post. Your methods look sound from this end, Brian. What looks impressive is that you’ve got students buying in to your trust/accountability mindset. I, for one, am one of the teachers who have gone head first into Desmos AB. I’ll check out Zoom polls, though, on your recommendation.

  2. Thanks for sharing Brian. I know virtual is not ideal. My school has remained open (for now) with students (and now me) sometime being sidelined for Quarantine purposes. I really like your “depository of student work”. When you have the students discuss this in breakout rooms, do they comment on the Google Doc?

    1. Thanks, Joseph. I was doing that at the beginning of the year, but it ate up a lot of their breakout time (I have 40 minutes with them M-Th). I found that instead of actually speaking with each other and debating the work, everyone was in their own world typing away. If I had more time with them, I would reconsider.

  3. Luis M. Iglesias Albarrán – Bollullos Par del Condado, Huelva, Andalucía, España – Profesor de Enseñanza Secundaria y Bachillerato de Matemáticas. Director del I.E.S. San Antonio (Bollullos Par del Condado). Me divierto haciendo muchas cosas distintas :-)
    Luis M. Iglesias Albarrán says:

    Thanks for sharing, Brian.
    I’d like share with you some practices with Graspable Math.
    Best, Luis M. Iglesias (@luismiglesias)

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