Four More Instructional Strategies for Successful Virtual Lessons
In Part 1, we talked about four effective instructional strategies and ways to implement them in virtual settings. In this post, we’ll explore four more strategies, each of which support student learning by promoting student ownership, metacognition, literacy, and application. Virtual settings pose particular advantages and particular challenges, so in addition to the planning of a lesson, instructors may also need to pay close attention to the organization of their instructional delivery, such as grouping, transitions, and communication protocols. Talking explicitly about these aspects of the lesson helps students know what to expect and how to engage appropriately.
“In a think aloud, the instructor narrates their thinking as they work through a text, a math problem, a lab, or other academic process in their field.”
In a think aloud, the instructor narrates their thinking as they work through a text, a math problem, a lab, or other academic process in their field. The instructor, by doing so, is modeling cognitive apprenticeship, which is guidance in how to think and work as an expert in that field (see Cognitive Apprenticeship: Making Thinking Visible). Students learn well from this type of modeling to see the what and the how of thinking and then practicing the modeled thought processes to foster understanding. Think alouds are more than giving instructions; they show how to engage with the content and the varying skills that are needed to master material. Most think alouds should focus on one skill at a time. For example, just analyzing text structure rather than analyzing the entire piece. In virtual settings, instructors could use think alouds with a simple screenshare or video feed.
Meta-Cognition Through Learning Reflection
Metacognition is a crucial skill for student success. Metacognition is when students think about their thinking to have a better sense of their understanding and then respond appropriately. For example, when we are proficient readers, we will visualize, make connections, ask questions, and see patterns within and across texts. Strong readers do this implicitly without really realizing they’re doing it. Struggling readers, however, need explicit instruction and practice in how to do this. This is where think alouds become very helpful and where reflecting on their own thinking becomes crucial. Students who can recognize when they’re struggling to comprehend a text, solve a problem, or apply concepts, and know how to pause and evaluate what to do about it, are then able to make adjustments by rereading, tracing their steps, or finding support. Instructors can foster this insight by asking students to reflect on a regular basis: What did you notice about your process while working on this task? What felt effortless and what felt challenging? What are your next steps? Building these skills in students over time will help them be more effective learners and empower them to address their own needs. In a virtual setting, instructors could pose questions and have students post anonymously and then reflect on class patterns in the responses, or they could have students submit reflections and address student needs as an example for the class if the student they’d like to highlight is comfortable sharing.
Another way to model and promote metacognition is to model how to preview texts and support students in doing so before engaging in a complex text. Instructors can pose questions so students can preview the organization of the text, such as structure, including headings and subheadings; noting visuals, graphs, and captions; scanning for a general sense of the author’s purpose; and noting contextual details like the publication location and date, current events at that time, and the author’s background. Knowing the physical layout of the text and its features can support their comprehension and give them a solid foundation from which to build a deeper understanding. Students will learn to do this independently and can use it with any challenging text. The purpose is skill development and to make the implicit habits of strong readers explicit for struggling readers, giving them access to complex texts. Teaching basic skills with complex texts builds greater literacy skills then complex responses to simple texts. Virtually, students can tackle one aspect of the preview with a small group and then share out, the teacher can model the preview with a think aloud, or students can practice ahead of time and then share what they found as a class. Many possibilities with this strategy!
Meaningful projects lend themselves well to student presentations. In addition, students can present on simpler tasks as well. Instructors can give students opportunities to share their thinking or their process for a task, their plan for accomplishing an upcoming task, or noteworthy applications of their learning. Sharing their voice can empower students to “own” their learning and promotes a more collaborative, supportive environment. Instructors can also provide guidance and feedback as appropriate and show that they value the efforts of their students, even if some adjustments to their approach or thinking need to be made. The virtual setting can be used so that students can present in pods, allowing more students to share out, have individuals present to the whole class for mutual learning and discussion, or present in a written format where students can respond and exchange ideas.