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Sharing Remote Learning and Traditional Classroom Strategies

Illustration concept of an online video call.

Will any teachers still be required to offer remote learning in the 2021–2022 school year? Yes, no, and maybe.

New Jersey schools and New York City schools will offer only in-person classes next year, according to the New York Times. Illinois and Massachusetts will limit remote options. Connecticut won't prohibit remote learning but won't require it either. California schools will require in-person learning but allow remote as well.

Further Reading: Classroom Management and Remote Learning

It's unclear exactly how many students will return to school and how many will learn from home. Plans will probably continue to develop as the year progresses.

One thing is certain, however: teachers returning to the classroom will have more tech skills than when they left. And they will continue learning about the best ways to work with kids either remotely or in person.

Conflicting Perspectives on Remote Learning

Some say schools that continue online learning will be better equipped to respond to school closings in the future, according to Education Week. Others say schools that abandon or limit online learning are missing a big chance to improve instruction through technology.

But teachers already know how to teach remotely if it's again necessary, and there's nothing to stop them from using their tech knowledge in the classroom. However, research has shed light on the academic difficulties students and teachers encountered over the last year.

A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that remote teachers estimate student absenteeism at nearly double that of in-person learners. Students failed to complete assignments at a similar rate.

Remote teachers, of course, cannot control absences or student participation. So it's not surprising that 88 percent of teachers in a recent Education Week survey said they prefer to teach wholly in-class next year rather than remotely.

Improving Remote Learning

One student in a hybrid program last spring told me being in school was like being at home. The teacher taught her lessons to the screen, so students both at school and at home sat in front of their computers. She decided to just stay home.

But we learn from our mistakes, and teachers now have their collective online experiences to tap into. Here are just a few suggestions to make online learning more effective and less stressful, according to Education Week:

  • Make connecting with kids the first priority. Amber Chandler, who teaches English language arts (ELA) in Hamburg, New York, said, "I use a survey to find out their perceived strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, and provide a section where they can tell me anything I might not have asked but need to know."
  • Give all students the same deadline for work whether they're at home or at school. When Tara Dale, a high school science teacher in Gilbert, Arizona, began teaching hybrid, she tried giving every class its own due date for homework, papers, and projects. It didn't work, she said, and it was a "logistical nightmare."
  • Seek student feedback. Holly Spinelli, a New York high school teacher, said, "They will help you navigate the kinds of activities and strategies that work best for them in the hybrid platform." Also, Spinelli says, don't assume that students are familiar with the technology. "Not all students 'know' how to use technology for educational purposes," she says.

Some schools have adopted systemic plans to improve online learning. Niles Community Schools in Michigan, for example, hired outside providers to teach the 20 percent of their students who chose to remain remote, according to Chalkbeat. And schools in Fort Wayne, Indiana, will offer online classes taught by teachers specifically designated to work only online.

Crossover Teaching Strategies

Most teachers who taught remotely when schools closed discovered their usual classroom strategies needed to be modified or adjusted. But when teachers return to the classroom, are there remote strategies that would be effective if applied to the in-person classroom?

Since teachers are more fluent in technology now than they were before, they may be more comfortable helping students to use it for research, presentations, and projects. Here are a few more practices that could be useful in either the traditional or hybrid classroom:

  • Post assignments and due dates online to minimize confusion. Some schools have a website that students and their parents can access for the latest on assignments and grades. If your school has a site, just make sure you keep information current.
  • Help students set up small workgroups online so they can share information and cooperate on projects.
  • Establish "office hours" online so that students or their parents can contact you without playing phone tag. This strategy is only effective if the hours are limited, well-defined, and consistent so you can protect the rest of your time.
  • Build on and practice tech skills so anything you use in your classroom is easily available and ready to go.

In addition, a director of special education told me that meeting with parents and teachers to develop a student's individual education plan (IEP) has been more effective online than trying to schedule everyone for an in-person meeting. It's been particularly helpful, she says, in allowing both parents to participate in planning.

Returning to a Better "Normal"

So remote learning in some form may be an integral part of education for the long term. And while most teachers and kids would rather be in school, both groups have a better idea of what it takes to be successful remotely.

Further Reading: Remote Learning Isn't Going Anywhere. Here's How We Make the Best of It.

It seems likely that more students will return to school as sports, theater, clubs, and other social activities are added to school life. Still, keeping remote learning in our tool kit is assurance that education will continue even under trying circumstances.