Planning My Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work? by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Planning my Distance Learning Lessons- Who’s Doing the Work?

By Dr. Sam Bommarito

The building I am working in has both in-person and distance learning for its students. Last week I described what I am now doing for classroom teachers to carry out my distance learning. I push into large groups once a week via Zoom.  I also carry out virtual guided reading groups for selected distance learning children, helping to reduce the classroom teachers’ workload. I continue to provide individual tutoring to selected children using Zoom. Now that I have the first month’s experience under my belt, I’d like to share key takeaways about the resources and ideas I’m using to support my distance learning implementation.

The three books I’m making the most use of are these:

I found module 6 of The Distance Learning Playbook especially useful. That module deals with engaging tasks. It includes a planning sheet that helps you think about how you can draw on your own expertise to find tasks that include behavioral engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement. The sheet is available for download at the resources site, which is accessible to all book owners. So is the sheet designed to help you find tools to use in both distance learning and face to face learning.  You can find tools to be used to help students find information, use information, create information, and share information.  Read the World has a similar set of online planning tools, including a lesson planning page, a digital feature think sheet and a learn-wonder think sheet. As one example of how these planning tools helped me think about using online programs, let’s talk about the distance learning program that is the granddaddy of them all- Zoom.

One way to use Zoom is to have the teacher mainly be a talking head.  The teacher creates a PowerPoint or Slide Deck and then spends most of the time presenting that. Let’s look at using this resource this way through my go-to book’s lens for implementing guided reading instruction. My go-to book is Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less so Readers Can Do More. It is clear that this way of teaching results in mostly teacher talk with very little student engagement. Not exactly what we’re after.

Let’s look at a different way to use Zoom, a way that follows the fundamental advice from Who’s Doing the Work. To do this we have to ask how we can implement the lesson so that the teacher says less, and the reader can do more. The Zoom feature that lends itself to this kind of implementation is the breakout room. In this case, I begin my small group by doing a BRIEF review of the reading strategy we are currently focusing on. We try to stay on the same strategy for at least three weeks. The main part of the strategy’s teaching is done in large group, in advance of the small group. That teaching is done using a gradual release model:  I do, we do, you do.  Teaching reading strategies through gradual release is a research-based method- see Nell Dukes extensive research in that area. In this example, the small group is mainly used for the “you do” part of the gradual release process.

After I do a brief (2-3 slides, 1-2 minutes) reminder of what the current strategy involves, I ask the students to think about how they used it with their current book. I then send the students into the breakout rooms in groups of 2 or 3 to talk about this.  I tell them that each student will get a chance to report on what was said in the room. However, they are not to report on what they said. They are to report on what their partner or what other group members said. This encourages active listening during the breakout groups. As the session’s moderator, I can (and do) drop in on each of the breakout groups. My function is mainly to observe and listen, though I sometimes help clarify things or gently nudge them into carrying out the assigned task.

When everyone returns from the breakout room, they each talk about what the others said. My role in that part of the lesson is to facilitate. If I notice that one or more students are unsure or reluctant, I note it and then spend a little extra time in their breakout group the next week.  Over the past month, all the students have become active participants in this process.

So, that is one example of how I use the ideas found in various professional books to inform my distance learning. When I talk to the classroom teachers about their teaching, I remind them of the importance of designing all their lessons, including their distance learning lessons, to maximize student participation.

I would love to hear how some of my readers are implementing distance learning lessons in ways where students do most of the work. Back when I did my reading workshop training (and my trainers included folks like Katie Ray Wood and Isoke Nia), my most important take away from that training was that you should know what work you are leaving for your students and why. The book Who’s Doing the Work reinforced that idea for me. It is a powerful lesson planning idea that can be used on all your lessons, including your distance learning lessons. So, until next week, this is Dr. Sam signing off.

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- a teacher who tries to talk less so the kids can do more)

Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

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