By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
Last month, I wrote on the first three of the six Cs of virtual learning (connect, confidence, chunk). In this post, I will share the remaining three Cs (communication, check-in, consistency). The six Cs of virtual learning are adapted from The Science of Learning, a summarization of the cognitive science on how people learn.
Learning has not changed even though the platform has. Students need effective feedback communication to acquire new knowledge and skills. An essential characteristic of quality feedback is that it is clearly stated and focused on the task rather than the student. In other words, it is descriptive.
Here are some additional suggestions for providing descriptive feedback:
- Feedback should be an ongoing process throughout learning.
- Use student-friendly language in your feedback.
- Direct the feedback toward the learning objectives. (“Your use of descriptive language helped me clearly see your characters.”)
- Use the “sandwich” model for providing feedback: the first comment is positive, the second tells where the student needs to apply effort, and the third tells what the student is doing well overall.
- Focus on improvement. (“Consider using more figurative language in this next section.”)
- Provide examples of exemplary work so the student can see how it looks in comparison to their work.
- Give feedback in small chunks or brief comments—too much may overwhelm the student.
- Use affirmative language—positive remarks are more helpful—even when pointing out a mistake.
- Do not compare one student’s work to another student’s work.
- Eliminate the fear that some students have of assessments and evaluation by making your comments to students as conversational as possible. Keep the focus on the work rather than the child.
- Make comments that are focused on growth mindset. (“I was impressed by how hard you worked on this essay.”)
- Provide resources, websites, descriptive rubrics, or other materials from the beginning of the learning all the way to the final product. This can help alleviate the stress on students and parents alike.
Especially in the virtual learning world where we may not have as close contact with students as we would in the classroom, immediate and specific feedback is extremely important to bridge this divide.
Practice is an important part of the learning process, but not all practice is equal. In Part 1, I discussed the need to chunk lessons in the virtual setting. Typically, your lessons will start with a mini-lesson on what will be learned. This mini-lesson should last no longer than 10–15 minutes. After the mini-lesson, you can allow up to 15 minutes for practice time. During practice times, you will want to check in on how students are progressing.
Here are some ideas for checking in on students during practice times:
- Space practice sessions over periods of time, reviewing and reinforcing what has been learned across weeks and even months, so students continue to recollect what has been covered in the past.
- Memory is enhanced when students are asked to remember things over time. Use low- or no-stakes quizzes during learning time, or provide students with self-tests to help strengthen their memories.
- Use different types of practices throughout the learning time. The Science of Learning gives this example: “[I]f students are learning four mathematical operations, it’s more effective to interleave [alternate] practice of different problem types, rather than practice just one type of problem, then another type of problem, and so on.”
- Interact personally with your students on a regular basis via email, text, chat, phone, or video conferencing.
- Interact with parents and caregivers as well. All adults in students’ lives have taken on the additional task of supporting them during virtual learning. Check in on how your students’ parents and caregivers are doing emotionally as well as how they are doing in supporting their child’s learning.
- Be sure to offer office hours or check-in times for your students and their parents and caregivers. Check-ins can either be by appointment or drop-in. They can be for 1:1 time, small group time, or larger group time. Make checking in as easily accessible as possible.
Students are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and successful when they know what to expect. Consistency not only includes consistent times of lessons and learning, but also the mood in and management of the virtual setting.
Here are ways to ensure students feel a consistent sense of safety in the virtual setting:
- Set norms for large group discussions, group work, and independent work in which all students’ ideas are valued and intellectual risk-taking is encouraged.
- Be sure to apply classroom/virtual rules or norms equally and equitably. In Part 1, I shared the need to set rules or norms for the virtual setting—now it is important to reinforce their use so that all students feel secure.
- Refer to your essential question and lesson objectives at the beginning, throughout, and at the end of the learning time. This will keep you and students consistently moving in the right direction.
- Make sure your emotional responses are kept in check. Be even-keeled when dealing with the stress and anxiety of the virtual setting. When you encounter disruptions, show students how to deal with them in a calm manner.
- Stay organized yourself. Students need to see you with your materials ready, your background decluttered, and your space cleared.
- Provide your students with tips and ideas for how to be ready for each learning session. At the end of every lesson, give your students a preview of what’s to come in the next period. Give them a list of materials and resources they will need. Being ready can help your students reduce stress and increase confidence.
There are many things we have learned over the past few months about learning in the virtual setting. Some of what we have learned has been the challenge of not having the physical closeness we had before. We also learned that not everything translates from our classroom practices to the virtual setting. However, some things continue to stay the same before, during, and after this change:
- Students need to be connected to the learning.
- They need to feel confident to take control of their learning.
- Instruction needs to be chunked for better learning.
- Students need us to check-in on them routinely.
- We need clear lines of communication to support student learning.
- Students need consistency in their lives.
Please share your ideas for how you are making the best out of virtual learning.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:
We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.