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Best Practices for Distance and Hybrid Learning for the COVID Era

As COVID-19 continues to spread through communities, school districts across the U.S. are grappling with new realities for the 2020 back-to-school season. For many districts, state or local coronavirus safety measures will mean a return to full distance learning or a hybrid schedule with students splitting time between in-class and at-home learning. Other districts are offering full-time distance learning as an option for concerned families or creating distance/hybrid learning contingency plans in case they are faced with new COVID-19 closures.    For most teachers and education leaders, the world of distance and hybrid learning is entirely new. We've collected research-based best practices, implementation tips, and helpful resources to help you in creating your distance and hybrid learning plans. Download the full eBook for more!

Nine Best Practices for Hybrid and Distance Learning

1. Build Relationships First

Good teachers know that students have to connect with you before they connect with learning. Building and maintaining good relationships and addressing the social-emotional needs of students will be priority #1 for teachers this fall. That includes addressing trauma and uncertainty due to the pandemic and the upheaval from the spring semester as well as promoting positive relationships between peers and nurturing a safe, supportive learning environment.   

2. Keep Expectations and Classroom Routines Simple and Clear

All students will benefit from having very clear, simple expectations and guidelines for virtual or at-home learning. For both distance and hybrid environments, make sure students know what technology platforms they will use, how to communicate with teachers and with each other, where to find assignments and resources, and what to do if they need help or have questions.   

3. Make Sure Learning Resources and Assignments are Accessible for All 

In distance and hybrid learning, it is critical to make sure that learning resources and assignments are accessible to all students and families, regardless of disability, financial resources, or language background. The first step for successful learning is removing the barriers that make it harder for some students to access learning than others.   

4. Optimize Virtual Lessons for the Online Environment

Teaching and learning in a virtual environment are very different from the physical classroom. We simply can't expect students to sit in front of a screen for a six-hour school day on a schedule similar to the physical school day. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning activities need to be optimized for the virtual platform with short sessions, lots of breaks, and plenty of interactivity.   

5. Promote Active Learning, Engagement, and Collaboration

In a virtual environment, teachers have to work even harder to create opportunities for connection, collaboration, engagement, and active learning. Adding interactivity to virtual lessons will help students stay focused and engaged. 

6. Focus on Higher-Order Thinking

The best way to support learning in any context is to focus on the thinking. Activities and assignments that ask students to engage in higher-order thinking skills such as analyzing, evaluating, applying, and creating support deeper engagement with the content, which leads to better comprehension and retention. These activities also build critical 21st-century skills that make students more effective learners in any context or content area.   

7. Provide Scaffolding to Help Students Be Successful with Independent Learning 

One of the biggest challenges in a hybrid or distance learning model is ensuring that students have the supports they need to work independently at home. Providing clear expectations, breaking assignments down into smaller chunks, giving students a structure for note taking, and explicitly teaching academic vocabulary and thinking skills can prepare students for success while working independently.    

8. Frequently Assess Progress and Understanding

In the physical classroom, teachers become masters at “reading the room” to determine how well students are engaging with and understanding a lesson. In the virtual environment, it is much harder for teachers to determine how a lesson is being received. That makes formal and informal assessment and progress monitoring critical.   

9. Provide Flexibility in Process, Pacing, and Products 

A distance or hybrid learning model requires teachers to be more flexible to accommodate the needs of students and families. A personalized learning model supports greater equity by providing flexibility in process, pacing, and products. Teachers will also have to be flexible to accommodate the almost-certain disruptions and snafus that can occur in a virtual environment.  

Supporting Successful Learning, At Home and At School

Thinking Maps can help teachers and students “bridge the divide” between in-school and at-home learning. The Maps provide a structure for thinking about and engaging with new content that helps students be successful while working independently. Students can use the Maps to take notes, organize their thinking for writing assignments, plan projects, collaborate with peers, and demonstrate their understanding. Thinking Maps help students access grade-level content, activate higher-order thinking, and develop the critical thinking and communication skills they need to be successful lifelong learners.   Download the full eBook for more distance and hybrid learning ideas you can incorporate into your classroom now:  

Nine Best Practices for Distance and Hybrid Learning

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