This is the second in a series of blogs presenting our latest issue brief, Mere Engagement: Reflections about the Connections Between Online Learning, Student Agency, and Student Engagement. Find the first post here.
There needs to be an abundance of communication that gets to the heart of what you want the students to know and be able to do. Great teaching is about much more than delivering content and ensuring content coverage. It also involves support, feedback, encouragement, and identification of next steps in learning.
Providing a clear overview of what is expected, with timeframes and guidance on how to allocate time for learning, is essential. The design of the learning sequences should focus on the purpose of the activity and what needs to be demonstrated to achieve success—with links to appropriate resource material, including readings, videos, samples of work, recommended timelines, deadlines for submissions, and so on. Because the work may be supported by family members who are not professional educators, the clearer and more concise the communication, the better chance that students will respond.
Whatever tool you use should define week by week or day by day what is expected from the student. This should include a clear indication of the tasks to be completed asynchronously and the timing and purpose of synchronous connections. This allows students and families to plan ahead and manage very complicated home, work, and school schedules.
You cannot simply rely on verbal information presented during the class time. Kid-friendly language (which is parent-friendly, too) about learning expectations is critical. This is the time to keep the main thing the main thing—explicitly state the essential learning progressions in small chunks. State the specific expectations in writing regarding assignments supported by a rubric, and provide essential questions to guide reading assignments.
Repeat the important information in as many ways and places as you can. It may be useful to carry on conversations in print to clarify assignments and answer other questions in a timely way. Keep in mind that with online learning, our ongoing conversations in print will be needed by both the student and the parent; thus, the great need to make the implicit, explicit with clear, direct language.
Finally, make sure you understand the ability of your students and their families to access and understand directives, directions, and all communications. You may have students who are still learning English, but you also need to know which languages are commonly spoken at home. Find ways to check in and ensure your messages are received and understood.
Laureen Avery is the director of the UCLA Center X Northeast Region office and focuses her work on supporting classroom teachers working with English learners through the ExcEL Leadership Academy. Marsha Jones, was formerly the associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction with Springdale Public Schools and is presently an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas. Sara Marr is a TESOL teacher and ExcEL coach at the Shelton Public Schools. Derek Wenmoth was until recently a director of CORE Education, a not-for-profit education research and development organization in New Zealand. He is now working independently as an education consultant.