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Posts tagged ‘distance learning’

Distance Learning for English Language Learners

by Peter Suanlarm

Is it possible to incorporate distance learning with teaching English as a Second Language (ESOL)? By asking this, I realized that this question opened up an intended can of worms for me. For example, giving students a worksheet and then documenting their scores just does not work for someone who can’t understand you in the first place. Teaching ESOL students oftentimes requires a much more hands-on approach whereby any information delivered in class would have to be deliberate. This includes acting out every word, anticipating questions about the not-so-obvious nuances of the English language, annunciating clearly every syllable, reading every word very slowly, repeating directions over and over again, and so forth. Distance learning just seems incompatible with delivering effective instruction to ESOL students.

This past year was my first year as a teacher of English Language Learners. I wrestled with the steep uphill learning curve in tailoring a curriculum to 25 to 30 different languages and cultures over grades 7 through 12. My responsibility included skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking the English language. I had hoped my experience as a secondary English and History teacher and my own life experience as an ELL would help me navigate this new challenge, but I was only half right.

My educational background allowed me to know where the students needed to go, but it didn’t necessarily prepare me for how to give them the means to get there. My own experiences did provide me with an understanding for how difficult it is to acquire the English language. The process was long and quite arduous and was extremely personal. It was my choice to learn English. It is in my understanding of where ESOL students need to go and how difficult it is to get there that informed me on how to incorporate distance learning into teaching ESOL students.

Here are some insights from what I learned during the past month or so:

First, ESOL students must want to learn English for themselves. It really does not matter why they would want to learn English but, in the end, they must choose to learn English. It is the job of an educator to show reasons for the necessity of being able to communicate effectively. Self-advocacy and self-determination will go a long way to help students be responsible for their own knowledge in distance learning.  

Second, ESOL students and their teacher have to understand that learning requires the use of senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell). Lessons should be diverse and hands on. Although question-based lessons are great assessment tools, project-based assignments often produce the best results for me because it allows for asynchronous learning. Thus, students are able to take in information and express knowledge at their own pace. Perhaps, fluid or negotiated deadlines would allow students to take responsibility for their own time management skills.  

Third, ESOL educators must be available to answer questions by email, phone, and video conferencing office hours. Questions may come at any hour and educators must be ready at all times.

Lastly and possibly most importantly, clear and simple communication is the key to getting any student to do work in distance learning. If students cannot understand the directions, they will not do the work. This is even more important when it comes to ESOL students.

Although many of these insights may not differ much from other subject areas, teaching ESOL forced me to create lessons based on more tangible and reachable goals. I had to ask myself what do I expect students to learn during these unusual times and what kind of lessons will the students be able to do independently. Like most of you, I have mixed results in getting ESOL students engaged but will keep experimenting and growing as an educator.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? How has distance learning questioned or improved your best practices? How might distance learning improve and/or challenge your teaching in September 2020?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Emphasizing Multimodalities for Multilingual Learners during Distance Learning

by Courtney Knowlton

It is almost unbelievable that I entitled my Google Classroom assignments for this week, “Week 8. . . .” I have been teaching from my computer for eight weeks now? How is that possible? Although I must say that in those eight weeks as a virtual English language development (ELD) teacher, it seems I have learned a full year’s worth of strategies to support and enrich my students using technology.

Recently, I asked my multilingual learners to reflect on their distance learning journey so far and create an infographic of tips for students and teachers. This project helped me reflect on my own journey as well. First of all, it was eye opening to watch the students create their projects. It helped me understand the range of computer literacy skills present in our group. For some students, the task of searching for images and formatting them on the Google Doc took them a substantial amount of time. Asynchronous teaching takes away our ability to adapt in the moment, which is why it is so important for us to continuously reach out to our students, especially those in the ELD program, and ask them, “How long did it take you to complete this work?” Chunking the tasks appropriately is crucial for student success.

Our infographic project also supported my belief in the value of visual literacies. Did the students get a little frustrated when their image pushed their text around in weird ways? They certainly did, but haven’t we all been there at some point? More importantly, the use of visuals led to students identifying the main idea of their tips, thinking metaphorically, and comparing the usefulness of different images for getting their point across. Creating a project with visuals is a task that is accessible to students of all language levels and it is a skill that can be used in many different contexts. When I first started teaching from home, most of my assignments involved students interacting with texts. For the last few weeks of school, I want to intentionally plan more opportunities for students to create with visuals.

When the students completed their infographics, I noticed that a common thread within their projects was praise for the use of videos and synchronous meetings. These students are missing all of the aural literacy development and person to person connection that they get when they are at school. In order to attempt to fill this void for them, I have been using a few free tools available through the Chrome Web Store. I use Screencastify to create videos to explain assignments. At the moment, they are offering a code for educators affected by the pandemic to access their premium services, which is CAST_COVID. Two more Chrome add-ons that have improved our distance learning experience are the Grid View Extension, which allows you to see all participants in a Google Meet, and the Nod Extension, which gives students the ability to click on an icon to raise their hand as well as to use emojis to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Lastly, I use an extension called Mote to leave voice comments on the students work in Google Docs and Google Slides.

When planning learning experiences for multilingual learners, it is crucial to keep different literacies in mind for both receptive and expressive communication. In my case, I have been using visuals and auditory information effectively to deliver lessons. However, I need to make more of an effort to invite students to express themselves using different modes as well.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? How has distance learning questioned or improved your best practices? How might distance learning improve and/or challenge your teaching in September 2020?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Re-Visioning Brick and Mortar Classroom Practices: From the Mindful Minute to the Mindful Stretch

by Mary Buckelew

“The warm handshake at the classroom door, the encouraging hand on the shoulder of a student who is working through a problem—these small gestures, as well as the other rituals we have embedded into our classrooms, don’t all travel well.”

–Frey, Smith, Fisher (ASCD Express, 2020, Vol. 15, No. 17)

For many years, I’ve opened my brick and mortar writing classes with the same trio of activities. Some activities traveled well and some needed adjustment.

Pre-Pandemic Trio

  • The Mindful Minute (provides a segue from our busy lives to writing workshop)
  • Student Announcements (foster community and heighten our awareness of interests, diversity and similarities in our classroom)
  • The “Focused Freewrite” (leads us to the content of our class, writing)

Some students likened the opening of our face-to-face writing classes to a ritual, and I remember thinking that’s not so bad.  In “Classrooms Need Rituals and Routines — But Don’t Get Carried Away,” Brian Gaten writes of the importance of classroom rituals, “Rituals are more than a daily reminder of the hows and whys of your classroom. They also:

  • Give students consistency in their learning and routines to help center their thinking.
  • Reduce anxiety so students can be open to class content.
  • Create a flow in the day.”

So far so good, but then along came the pandemic.  The culture and context of the brick and mortar writing classroom evaporated in the blink of an eye, and I had to acknowledge that not all face-to-face pedagogy or content smoothly traveled to our online classroom.

Fast Forward to Remote Learning

The Mindful Minute became Mindful Stretching

As I looked at the somber faces of my undergraduate students, neatly lined up in Zoom, I realized that perhaps we’d been with our minds too much and needed something other than a mindful minute of silence and breathing.  Instead of sitting quietly (although this was certainly an option), I suggested stretching, walking, or dancing 😊 in place for a minute (video off/screen closed). Ralph Peterson suggests, “At best, ritual functions to keep students in touch with themselves, forge community bonds, and liberate imagination” (p. 27). Sometimes rituals need radical revision sometimes minor modifications.

Announcements became “Check In” time

Instead of asking students to share announcements regarding their campus activities (not happening), I invited students to share what was on their minds. It soon became apparent that there were vast differences in students’ experiences during the pandemic. One student was supporting her grandmother and herself by working overtime in the grocery store; another student was working double shifts as a pharmaceutical technician because he and his mother were the sole support of their family of eight! Other students had the time to embrace boredom and or to re-paint and reorganize their bedrooms at home. As the weeks progressed, students became a bit more reserved when discussing their boredom; i.e., they were sensitive to the disparity in each other’s experiences.   Eventually, Check-in evolved into sharing new movies/Netflix series and other items to bolster morale.  The change in focus necessary and the 10 minutes it took – very worthwhile.

Focused Freewrite (ala Louise Rosenblatt) essentially the same

The goal — to write for three and a half minutes without stopping remained the same. I reminded students that this was not just a time filler. Rosenblatt notes that the freewrite “should be a technique for tapping into the linguistic reservoir without being hampered by anxieties about acceptability of subject, sequence, or mechanics” (1072).

I also reminded students that timed writing and (timed reading) are great strategies to use when we are not feeling the flow; i.e. setting the timer gives us the opportunity to start and stop without feeling like a project or writing piece looms before with no end in sight. I noted that Jeff Anderson and other gurus suggest that freewriting builds our writing fluency, stamina, and endurance.  A colleague, Bob Z., told me that some of his students find that the freewrite has a meditative quality to it. So, our freewrites remained 3 ½ minutes long, but I asked students to supply the prompts for our freewrite for the duration of our online classes.  Clearly, they enjoyed being asked to do this – Here are just a few of the prompts students shared:

  • What do you wish people around you would not do or would do during this time of sheltering and social distancing?
  • If you could only listen to one band/musician/ensemble, who would it be and why?
  • What is the first thing you would like to do when this is over? Describe using all senses.

In our small group Zoom breakout sessions students seemed to share freewrites more readily and had more to say when we returned to the ‘main room” than in our old brick and mortar days. At the end of this semester, one of my students, Jack, shared the following in his final reflection: “but I believe that the most influential piece of the class that will stick with me after this semester is the focused free write time before every class began. What may seem like a short exercise to get the brain flowing was much more to me.  . . . This very small piece of the class was extremely impactful on my current life because it reopened a previously suppressed outlet for stress and anxiety. I could just write without sharing my words or ever having to revise. It was raw emotion or feeling about any topic I chose for that session. I plan to incorporate the focused free writes into my future writing processes to gauge my raw and unedited feelings and knowledge about a topic. I feel it will be most useful before brainstorming and then again after my research is complete to make sure I have a full understanding of the topic before engaging in writing the final product.”

Jack’s comment regarding how the focused freewrite helped him during this stressful time and how he would apply the strategy to his future writing endeavors – made this anxiety ridden and overwhelming online teaching endeavor worthwhile.

Admittedly, teaching online this past semester was anything but smooth, but it gave me the opportunity to ponder my teaching philosophy, my praxis, and the purpose/s of much of what I do. This chance to reflect was an odd gift from an unlikely source.

What did you learn about yourself this past spring? In the classroom? Outside of the classroom?  What aspects of teaching online did you enjoy What platforms and apps did you find most useful?  What will you focus on this summer to prepare for the fall? I would love to hear from you!


Bennett, P. (2020) “This grand distance-learning experiment’s lessons go well beyond what the students are learning.”  for CBC News Opinion · Posted: May 11, 2020 4:00 AMET  Last Updated: May 11

Burns, M. (2020) “Emergency teaching online: 7 steps to get started.” Global Partnership for Education.

Ferlazzo, L. (2020) “We might have gotten remote learning wrong. We can still fix this   school year.” Education Week Teacher.

Frey, N. Smith, D. & Fisher, D. (2020) “A Positive classroom climate, even from a distance.” ASCD Express: May 14, 2020; Vol. 15 Issue 17

Gaten, B. (2020) “Classrooms need rituals and routines — But don’t get carried away.” Blog: Share

Peterson, R. (1992). Life in a crowded place: Making a learning community. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Rosenblatt, L. (1994). The Reader, the text, and the poem: The transactional theory of the    literary work. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University.

Distance Learning: Managing the Online Writing Conference

By Nicole Coppola

Online writing conferences are providing meaningful and important learning experience for my students and me as we write fantasy stories.  Students who normally do not participate in my online classes are joining my small-group conferences.  One of the biggest challenges for me was how to initiate and manage the online conferences.  When do I set up the conferences? How? How long are the conferences?  What is covered during the conferences?  Do I track attendance and how? What about feedback?

In addition to virtual classroom lessons, I am scheduling small group or individual conferences on for 15 minutes, two to three hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Once the schedule was established, I looked at several different websites and programs to allow students to sign up.  It seemed too cumbersome to have students create another log-on and password, so I explored all the Office 365 platforms. With the support of a district tech coach, I set up a sign-up sheet on FORMS with specific time slots and posted the sign-up link on my CANVAS homepage. See the message in Canvas below.

“Please plan to attend a writing conference once every two weeks.  
Next week – please sign up for a writing conference for the week of 5/11/20 using the Forms link.”

I did not set a limit for the number of students in each conference slot.  That is working out because, inevitably, some students do not show up.  Students are requested to show up to a conference once every two weeks, but they are welcome to sign up for multiple conferences, as many as they would like.  Both the parents and students seem to appreciate this flexibility and access. 

As on online assessment the week before the conferences, the students had to brainstorm about their stories. During the conferences (which usually have 2-5 students), I screen shared the assignment, so all students had a moment to read about the other student’s story.   After giving a specific compliment, I asked the student a question to get them talking. The other participants were encouraged to ask questions or give a compliment. This worked really well because the “research” part of the conference was already written.  This saved time and enhanced engagement because everyone was looking at a copy of the story together.  Students were encouraged to take conference notes about their stories. For students with special needs, I typed them an e-mail reviewing the conference as it happened.  This way, both student and teacher have the same notes about the conference for future reference. 

Going forward, I am planning specific assignments with the intention that I can access the assignment and share it during the conference. Small group conferences have been the most rewarding part of my online teaching.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

Distance Learning: Creating Digital Reading Conferences in Canvas

by Anna Gabriel

There are few sounds as precious as pure silence in the classroom. While our room usually buzzes with students chattering to one another—reading aloud, sharing important passages, offering analysis—the first 10 minutes of every class period is reserved for independent reading. During this time, silence is preserved; students are immersed in their own worlds, speechlessly anticipating the next plot twist. The steady hum of the projector is all that can be heard.

I must admit that it is not my students, but rather myself, who ultimately loses the quiet game every day. While my students are busy flying around Hogwarts, playing capture the flag at Camp Half-Blood, and raging a rebellion against the Capitol of Panem, I am busy facilitating individual reading conferences. I walk around the room, pull up a stool next to a student, and record their book title and page number on my clipboard. After recording the data, the real fun begins, as we engage in an authentic discussion about their independent reading book. Some of my favorite questions to ask during a conference are:

  • What’s going on in your book right now?
  • What has been the most exciting moment in your book so far?
  • On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the best, what would you rate this book and why?
  • How does this book compare to your last one? What makes it better/worse?
  • Who is your favorite character and why?
  • What are you planning on reading next?

I also use conferencing time to make book recommendations, expand my own knowledge of YA literature, and generally check in with each student. I value my conferencing time because—in addition to igniting my students’ interest in reading—it allows me to have a differentiated conversation with each student. At the end of each week, I can proudly state that I have had at least one one-on-one conversation with every single one of my 100 students.

The importance of allowing students time to read independently in the classroom has been proven time and time again by teacher-author superstars such as Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Nancie Atwell. The 10 minutes of independent reading in my classroom is sacred; every now and then throughout the school year, I have to relinquish this time due to two-hour delays, standardized testing, what have you. The few times where I do this prompts a chorus of sighs and groans and “NO.”

So, when faced with the multiple challenges of distance learning, the barrier that posed the most threat to my classroom environment was the loss of my independent reading conferences. How am I supposed to ignite a love of reading if my students are not setting aside time to read every day?

I found my savior in Canvas individual discussion boards. Every week, my students are expected to log on to Canvas and complete the week’s modules in order. The first two modules are labelled “Independent Reading” and “Independent Reading Check-In.” The first module is a timed 10-minute quiz, in which students are asked to pause and read their independent book until the timer runs out. Next, students move on to an individual discussion board between the two of us. These discussion boards function similarly to any online instant messaging platform. Every week, students are asked to post to the individual discussion board by responding to a few questions.

I change the exact directions each week, but students are always asked to share their book title and author and their current page number. This allows us to keep a running log of the student’s reading progress, just as my clipboard does in class. I respond to every student’s post by the end of the week, commenting on what they shared, asking questions about their book, and sometimes offering future book recommendations. Having the book recommendations solidified in the discussion is useful because every time that student needs a new book, we can easily scroll up and find a selection that I have previously curated for them. 

Recently, I have been asking students to leave short video/audio messages sharing their book title, author, page number, and the most important moment from the day’s reading. I respond with my own audio message, again attempting to mimic our in-class conferences as closely as possible. It has been heartwarming to hear their voices; it is almost like we are back in the classroom, having a real face-to-face conversation! In their video this week, one student read their favorite poem from Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey and then offered their analysis of the poem (without being asked to do so)!

Below are examples of my conversations with students:

While I miss our in-person conferences, Canvas conferences via the individual discussion boards allows me to accomplish the same goal as my in-person conferences. By the end of the week, I have had a one-on-one discussion with every single student.

After reading and reflecting on Lauren Foley’s “Rediscovering Routines” post, I realized that our students are also missing the rhythms and routines of the classroom. By mimicking our in-class routine via Canvas, I am providing my students with some semblance of the structure they are missing. They are asked to pause for 10 minutes and then engage in a one-on-one conference about their reading, just like they would be asked to do in our physical classroom.

Completing our conferences in the Canvas individual discussion boards has also allowed me to better track each student’s progress, as I am no longer solely relying on my clipboard. It has also allowed students to better track their own progress. Moving forward, I plan to continue using this space to have students track their reading, even on the glorious day that we return to the physical classroom. It will also be a space where I recommend books to them, and they can check back at any time to find their personal playlist of books.

These discussion boards are just one way that my future in-person instruction has been enhanced by distance learning. Even though this has been a challenge, teachers and students will emerge from distance learning with a brand-new skill set for the future.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

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Distance Learning: Online Teaching

by Nicole Coppola

Online teaching can be challenging.  One piece that has worked for me is maintaining a routine.  My virtual lessons follow the same format that my classroom lessons did–a warm up, a lesson that includes review, goals, and teacher modeling of the concept.  Then, there is an independent assignment. 

In my district, we use CANVAS, an online teaching platform.  My video lessons, recorded on, often include MS PowerPoints because there is an option to add recordings over the slides.   With Zoom, there is a screen share option, so the teacher can interact with documents and preview the online assignments.  Another helpful tip is that other teachers have added me as an observer to their teacher pages, so I can see how my colleagues are using resources and creating lessons.

My teacher page also includes an OPTIONAL Pandemic Journal Project. By opening a discussion board with several prompts, the students have the option to write about their personal experiences or not.  The next step for me is to create virtual conferences and peer group discussions using my district resources.  Online teaching is still a work in progress for me, but I am adjusting to the change.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.