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The Best Distance Learning Synchronous Class Framework According To Science

What would be the best way to structure an online class meeting so students get the most out of it? How can I make online meetings as engaging as in person ones? Online meetings have different challenges as in person but the ultimate goal is the same, students hit the learning target. Here is what I’ve put together as the optimal class meeting structure after reading numerous case studies and research on learning.

Open with a growth mindset activity. Thank you Carol Dweck for all your amazing research! These activities will prime learners with the right mindset before class. The idea here is to remind learners that learning is hard, it’s full of setbacks but that hard work is what helps us learn better.

Formative assessment on assigned content from homework. After the priming for growth mindset, open with a short low stakes quiz on the assigned reading or videos from homework. This is known as generation where students must try to generate the solutions to problems before they are shown to them. This has been proven to strengthen the learning and show learners what is most important from what they viewed from homework. Make it fun and light, a “quiz” can take many forms.

Reflection on assessment and present learning goal(s). Taking a short quiz is useless if there is no reflection. Ask students reflect on how they did and what they need to learn based on their results. After present the learning target for the class. For example after today you will be able to multiply polynomials and combine like terms. Make the target clear, fuzzy targets don’t get hit.

Motivation for today’s content. Make this motivation concrete and personal. Why are we talking about what were talking about today? What is the benefit to the learner if they hit the learning target today? This is where knowing your students comes in handy. I’ll say something like “for all the future nurses out there, you will be tested on this in nursing school” or “for those of you who want to be mechanics, you’ll need this in your business.” If you know your students future goals this is where you can call them back to them. You can also tie it to importance of future concepts.

Content delivery. This is a small part of the lesson, direct instruction. This direct instruction aligns with the videos or content that was assigned for homework but it’s delivered live. Make it into a story or a narrative whenever possible as this is how humans intake new information best.

Reflection and elaboration. After content delivery which should not take up the bulk of the meeting, have students reflect and elaborate on what they just saw. Ask questions such as “how does this connect to what you already know?” When people reflect and elaborate on what they just read, saw, listened to, etc… they internalize the material for themselves and start forming connections.

Varied Practice. Next comes practice of the new concept(s) but be careful not to drill and kill the exact same thing. This drilling of the same thing over and over again only gives the illusion of mastery. What is happening is students are forming connections to their short term memory only. In order to beat this, have student do a variety of practice. Have students do problems of different types. This may appear to make learning slower but the spaced retrieval practice will form stronger connections for their long term memory.

Assessment. Yes there should be another low stakes quiz of some kind at the end of class. The quiz should be on the direct instruction content that was presented prior to practice. The constant retrieval of information is shown to help students learn better. Will they like it, probably not if you exclude the growth mindset piece in the beginning of class. If you teach students that assessment is for their learning benefit they will get on board. Again a “quiz” can take many forms it just has to be students putting in effort to retrieve knowledge without any notes. Use an assessment form that can provide feedback to the learners as soon as they are finished.

Habits class reflection exit ticket. This last activity is short but it’s for learners to reflect on their learning habits. There are four basic questions “what did I do?” “How did it go?” “What will I keep?” “What will I dump?” This brings awareness and accountability to the learner. It’s also a way for the learner to write down “ok this worked I should keep doing it,” or “oh this behavior doesn’t work out for me very well I should dump it.”

This structure has 9 parts to it and each part can be as long or short as you want. It will keep learners moving and not just doing busy work. Each piece is deliberate in it’s order and intentional in its goal. Every piece of this structure is to ensure students are staying engaged and hitting their learning goals. This high structure also teaches students the most effective way to learn when they go on to less structured classes in their future.

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