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Remote Learning A-Z: Y is for Yay!

Remote Learning A-Z: Y is for Yay!

Some of us are reaching the two month mark of remote learning. In my world, the fatigue is definitely setting in: for students, teachers, and parents. So first of all, Yay us! We got here! That means it’s definitely time to find ways to give yourself a break and have some remote fun with your students. In this post, we’ll explore ways to infuse a little balance into your life and your classroom.

Give Yourself a Break (You Deserve It!)


These days every teacher I know, whether they are new to teaching or have decades of experience under their belts, is exhausted. Reinventing lessons, learning new programs, and trying to keep students engaged every single day takes a staggering amount of time and energy. And that’s assuming the WiFi will be working!

Just remember, you can’t be as effective of a teacher when you’re stressed and exhausted. Read this article from ACSA that explains what happens to your brain when you’re stressed. Here are some tips for infusing a little perspective into your daily life.

Tips for Teachers

  • Temper expectations: this means for everyone, including yourself! You don’t need to answer emails and texts minutes after they are received. And while there certainly are emergencies through the course of teaching, most communications can wait a day. Set an auto-reply on your email that lets families and others know you’ve received the email and you will return with a reply within a certain time period.
  • Take time for yourself: You need boundaries! Working from home makes it all too easy to work constantly. But remember, just because you can log in all the time, does not mean you have to. Set a timer on your phone for regular reminders to get up, take a walk, sit outside, or do anything that doesn’t involve a screen. And remember, it will all be there when you get back, but even ten minutes can change your stress level and outlook.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others: Yes, that first grade teacher next door whose classroom looked like a magazine probably has the equivalent remote classroom up on Pinterest. Who cares? Most of us teachers are also Type As, (guilty) but remember, no one ever pins the unflattering stuff. Pretty is great, but solid teaching and attention to students’ social emotional well being is far better.
  • Ask for and accept help: We need to lean on each other more than ever these days. It’s perfectly acceptable to throw up a hand and ask someone to help. And, don’t forget to accept help when people are offering. Most people don’t ask unless they want to support. Team up with your families and work together to get through.


Yup, having school at home is hard. Education is my career and it’s still hard.

Parents, you also can’t be as effective when you’re stressed and exhausted. Guess what? The tips for teachers above apply to you too!

Teach Thought has a great post on the basics of remote learning at home, but chances are you’ve already done many of these things. Here are some additional tips for surviving the next leg of this journey with your children.

Additional Tips for Parents

  • See Above: Temper expectations, take time for yourself, stop comparing yourself to others, and ask for help! Those tips are important for parents also!
  • Check in a Lot: Make it a point to check in often with yourself and with your children. No one can learn (or teach) when there are other, more pressing emotions at play. Give yourself permission to take a break when needed.
  • Focus on the Essentials: No one believes parents will be able to replace traditional classroom instruction. So don’t try! A constant home-child battle doesn’t serve anyone in the long run. Ask your child’s teacher what the essential outcomes are for the unit, and focus on those things only.
  • Communicate (with empathy): Definitely ask your child’s teacher for guidance, and share what you are comfortable with about your home situation. Try to remember teachers aren’t mind readers; they need to know if there is something at home that could be affecting your child’s learning. If the homework took two hours and three tantrums last night, share that with your child’s teacher and ask for support.
  • Give Constructive Feedback: Teachers are operating under a schedule set by state and district guidelines. Remember these guidelines were set with the best intentions and NOT with full understanding of what remote teaching should look like, since no one really knew how it would look. Give solution-focused feedback where you can, and bear in mind there isn’t a playbook for this kind of instruction. All educators everywhere are doing the very best they know how. See more in our post on Working Together!
  • Have a Little (un) Remote Fun: Unlike our classroom teachers, you and your child can have offscreen fun together. Dance it out, play a game, take a walk, go on a 5 minute scavenger hunt in the house. Find ways to infuse tiny fun breaks during the day.

Have Some Remote Fun with Students

A former student of mine (from 2000! Please don’t do the math) recently contacted me on Facebook. She wanted to tell me how she still remembers making origami cranes in class. She also mentioned a cultural exchange trip she took to Japan, and how she was able to explain the reason for all the cranes at the Nagasaki museum. And while she didn’t remember the title of the book we read with that activity (Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes) but she vividly remembered the experience.

We all got into teaching because we love lesson planning and grading. Not. We got into teaching because of moments like that, where we connect and make an impression on our students. Every teacher I know misses those little wins, moments, and sparks that ultimately keep us going.

Remote Fun

Celebrating, connecting, and having a little fun with your students goes a long way to diffuse frustration and fatigue.

If you haven’t already, here are some remote fun and celebration ideas to infuse yin your classroom daily or weekly.

Remote Fun and Celebration Ideas

  • Questions of the Day: Remember there’s a lot less student-to-student connection happening these days. Start the day with a silly question to help students get to know one another, and you! Older students can also interview each other. See our post on Interviews for more tips.
  • Appreciate each other: When things are so busy, it’s hard to remember to say thank you. Make time for class appreciations, and create a virtual appreciation board (see our post on Jamboard) so students can see them.
  • Dance it out: A teacher I know used to have “Dance Party” breaks during class. When students were squirrely, she would stop everything and put on a song for a minute or two so they could get the wiggles out. In remote classrooms, boy do we need that still!
  • Play games: Simple games like Simon Says, I Spy, or Twenty Questions are great for little learners. For older students, try Mad Libs, scavenger hunts, charades, and popular games like Taboo, Scrabble, or Scattergories. You can also try your hand at making some online games, or check out ours.
  • Infuse art and music: We all know art and music stimulate important parts of the brain. Unfortunately, these subject can be left aside during remote learning. Doodle with Mo Willems, make your own instruments and play them, or try some of these art activities.
  • Have Spirit Days: Every Friday, have a different themed day: Superheroes, Crazy Hair, Pajama Day, Rainbow Day, Sports Day, etc.
  • Eat together: Have lunch with a few students once a week to get to know each other in a more relaxed, non-classroom environment.

As trying as these times are, I remain so impressed with how hard educators, parents, and students are working to make the best of this situation with positivity and grace. When it’s all over, I believe that’s what our children will remember about their time in remote learning.

So please, take a break and congratulate yourself for making it this far! You deserve it!

Remote Learning A-Z: X is for eXams

Remote Learning A-Z: X is for eXams

Remote learning has turned the traditional structure for exams on its ear. It used to be far easier to walk around the room and ensure everyone was on task and had phones put away. In this new era, all of that has gone out the window. Yet the need to assess hasn’t gone anywhere. How can we still get the student data we need in a remote classroom?

The Soapbox

I just can’t talk about exams and assessment without a little preaching. But since I’ve done a lot of that already (see our previous posts on Assessments and Quizzes), I’ll only gently remind you of a few key points:


  • is meant to give teachers actionable feedback. If you don’t act on the data you get, it’s far less useful.
  • should provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate mastery.
  • can and should take on many forms: anecdotal data collected each day, formative assessment to check understanding along the way, and summative assessment to show what you know.
  • should be rigorous and incorporate real-world application: The easiest test to give (and take) is the multiple choice exam, and sometimes its what does the trick. Just remember even in a remote world, “When in Doubt, Choose C” tests don’t always give a true picture of student understanding.

Make it UnGoogleAble

(I’m sure that’s not a word, but I’ve been told that when you’re a writer you get to make up words). Long before remote teaching began, the need for teachers to rethink how we ask questions has been critical.

When we have so much information available to us in seconds, the need for students to answer purely fact-based, “Googleable” information loses its importance in favor of questions that promote critical thinking, analysis, comparison, and synthesis of multiple sources. This places the emphasis on the application and understanding of information, and less on rote memorization.

Creating Better Questions

Instead of: What year was the March on Washington? Ask: What effect did the March on Washington have on the nation?

Instead of: Who are the main characters in The Phantom Tollbooth? Ask: Compare Milo and Tock’s friendship to Opal and Winn-Dixie‘s.

See this useful PDF from the Ohio Department of Ed for DOK 3 and 4 Question stems.

Another Perk

The other benefit of these type of exams is what I like to call Turkey-proofing. Sometimes kids can be turkeys. In a remote environment, it’s too easy to screenshot your exam in Period 1 and pass it along to your turkey pal in Period 3. The unGoogleable question not only forces critical thinking, but puts the focus on true understanding rather than hurriedly looking up quickly-forgotten facts. For more turkey-proofing strategies, see our post on Quizzes.

Remote Assessment Ideas

Here are some alternatives to the traditional exam format. While they might take more time to grade, you’ll end up with a deeper understanding of what students truly know and can apply.

Bonus: these work in a remote or a traditional classroom!

Little Tweaks

Exam Series: A series of quizzes or lower stakes exams over a longer period of time gives you the ability to adjust teaching along the way. It also helps students who may suffer from test anxiety.

Open Book/Open Notes: If make unGoogleable questions, suddenly open book/note tests take on a different feel. This builds important skills in identifying important information, synthesizing information, and analysis.

Bigger Tweaks (with Bigger Results)

Turn the Tables: Have students create the test questions and provide the answers. You’ll be surprised at what they can come up with!

Annotated Bibliography: Ask students to compile a list of multiple sources on a topic and provide a summary of each viewpoint. This supports students to compare, evaluate bias and perspectives, and seek multiple perspectives.

Wrong Answers: Give students the “wrong” answer, one with a mistake or flaw. Have them identify the errors and fix them, as well as explain why they are incorrect.

Peer Review: Peer feedback can be a far greater motivator than feedback from old people like us. Provide rubrics for students and have them assess each other and provide constructive feedback. This is also a great opportunity to support a positive, solutions-focused mindset!

Game Creation: Anything you can gamify is instantly more engaging. Task students to create a game version of the subject you are studying.

Ways to Utilize Digital Tools

e-Portfolio: have students compile their learning for the unit (or all throughout the year in an e-Portfolio.) Include work samples and images, and a reflection on their learning. Most Learning Management Systems already have this feature built in. If you don’t have an LMS in your district, Google Sites is a clean and easy alternative.

Discussion Board: ask thought-provoking questions via your LMS and require students to respond to peer contributions with evidence. Put students on two (or more) sides of an argument, but don’t tell them their side until you open the discussion. This will force students to research all sides of an issue and provide evidence to support their claims.

Presentations: The best way to demonstrate learning is to teach it to someone else. See our post on presentations and on creative ways to use video for tips and ideas.

Hope this is helpful as you design (and redesign) your exams! Leave us a comment and let us know how it goes!

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Remote Learning A-Z: V is for Video

Remote Learning A-Z: V is for Video

Instructional videos have been around for a long time, but they are rapidly becoming the norm in our remote classrooms. Because there are so many tutorials and articles out there on teaching with video, this post is focused instead on some ways to spice up your instructional videos, and offering up some ideas for getting students involved in the process.

Benefits of Video

Engagement: With visuals, music, and animation, videos can provide can be a more immersive experience for the audience.

Access: visuals, narration, and closed-captioning features expand access for all learners. The ability to watch or listen to something you missed is another added resource.

Time Savings: Make a video once, and you have it forever. (If you’re like me, you make it twenty times to get the camera angle right and hair in order.) But theoretically, make it video once and show it to all your sections or groups, then post it for later help and review.

Family Support: With many parents doing greater home support than before, your posted videos can be a huge tool for them as well.

Teaching Tips

FlipGrid and SeeSaw are incredibly popular right now for classroom videos. Also,click here for a helpful list of general tips for teaching with video.

Of course I can’t write a blog post without getting a little pedagogically preachy. Just remember, video is like every single teaching tool in your arsenal: when used thoughtfully and with intention, it’s powerful. When it’s used without a clear objective, it’s the opposite.

Know Your Goals

The most important thing, as always, is to know your lesson objective. Once you know, it will be much easier to determine if video is your solution. If it is, ask yourself what type of video would work best. Would a straightforward video work quickly and efficiently to get your point across? Or would a screencast, picture-in-picture lecture, whiteboard demo, or Tasty-style video be more engaging and also worth the time?

More and more, we’re asking students to film videos and upload or post them, but the same questions apply. When designing your task, ask: What type of response helps me know the student has achieved the objective? If it is a video response, what type would provide the most student and be the most rigorous at the same time?

Ideas for Instruction with Video

Each of the ideas below are ways to make your own video lessons more engaging for students. But don’t forget how powerful they can be when students are in the driver’s seat too!


A screencast is a digital video recording of your screen. It usually includes audio narration.

TEACHER USE: When the visual (slideshow, document, etc.) is center stage, you may need to highlight or call attention to text on the page, and you only need narration. Screencasts are great for modeling and think-alouds.

STUDENT USE: Have students create their own screencasts to demonstrate their understanding of a topic. Record a tutorial on a topic to teach others or demonstrate your approach to a problem. (Bonus: save these teaching videos to use for other classes or next year!)

Programs like Screencastify are user-friendly and make this process much easier. Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything will literally give you everything you need to know about screencasts in the classroom.

Picture in Picture

Don’t we all want to feel like a meteorologist sometimes? You can do that with picture-in-picture!

TEACHER USE: When students need to see your face but also need the support of student visuals.

STUDENT USE: Have students demonstrate learning by creating a newscast or sports-announcer type broadcast over a video.

Clipchamp is just one of the programs out there to help make this process easier.

White Board Videos

I just love those cool whiteboard videos with the elaborate illustrations and writing. They’re so aesthetically pleasing, and addicting to watch.

TEACHER USE: When you want to to convey complex information such as explain timelines, historical events, or highlight cause and effect.

STUDENT USE: There is so much knowledge transfer when learners have to teach. Have student create whiteboard videos for retelling a story or creating a virtual mind map of a concept or event.

Programs like Doodly and Powtoon make these videos far less intimidating and easy to create. Powtoon even has this video to help you!

Ideas for Student Tasks

Make Movies

That’s what we used to use videos for, back in the day. While students may not be able to get together in a room and act in a play like before, they can still write screenplays and do a virtual table read, create a newscast from a time period and edit their snippets together, make a commercial, or perform a solo.

As with student writing, it’s always more powerful when you have a real audience. Show students a few Ted Talks and analyze what makes them compelling. Then have students to make their own Ted Talk on a topic or a claim: for other students, for other teachers, or to convince a group of people.

Stop Motion Animation

I made a bunch of Harry Potter peg people (I promise – it’s a thing) for my sister. My youngest niece took the people and recreated all the Harry Potter movies using a stop motion animation app on her iPad. In the classroom, you don’t even need clay – you can do these videos with paper and pen only.

I love this tool for the classroom because the process requires meticulous attention to detail, sort of like drawing that ball bouncing on the corners of a notebook page. It also encourages design thinking, problem solving, and attention to precision.

Stop Motion Studio is a great app for making these videos.

Tasty Videos

Don’t deny it, when you see the video of the cake being decorated on Facebook, you’re mesmerized. I recently discovered it isn’t that difficult to make amateur tasty videos. Usually these videos have no narration, and tell their stories using only fast-moving images and a little text. When you have students show what they know in this format, it requires them to synthesize information and retell using symbols and key ideas. Very UDL!

Animoto is a great classroom tool, and has a tutorial for making tasty-style videos.

Screen Recording

I know, I know. It makes absolutely NO sense to me why anyone would want to watch someone play a video game rather than play it themselves. It also makes no sense why you want to watch someone taking something out of an Amazon box. But kids these days…

You don’t need to understand it either, but why not capitalize on that inherent love for walkthroughs and unboxings and use it in the classroom? Have students create videos to teach a concept or show how they know, TikTok or YouTube style.

While gamers use some fancy screen reording software for this (believe me, I live it every day), you can get by in a classroom with something like Screencast-O-Matic.

Hope these tips are useful! Let us know what your kids create!

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