Part 1 of 2
I love talking about instruction. Exploring ideas for lessons, seeing what works, reflecting and revising, are all exciting topics to me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how great instructional strategies from the elementary and secondary levels could translate to the higher education level. With student needs changing and the need for more comprehensive academic support emerges, in addition to the steady change from content-based to skill-based expertise in many areas of the workforce, pedagogy at the higher education level is likely going to shift as well. I have heard of partnerships between secondary and postsecondary institutions, but those partnerships are usually focused on student programs and/or awareness of college life. A partnership between elementary, secondary, and postsecondary instructors and the exchange of pedagogy (i.e., Which strategies best support student learning?) and mastery (i.e., Which skills do students need to be successful in this field?) would be pretty amazing!
Considering those reflections, I’ve been thinking further about how effective instructional strategies translate to virtual settings. Lessons and meetings delivered virtually should be given the same care and attention in planning as in-person lessons. And because virtual lessons can reach so many students at once, planning for the objective, communication, discussion and transitions of the lesson become essential. Below are the first four of eight instructional strategies that are effective for student learning and how they can be applied in a virtual setting.
Problems of Practice
The problem of practice strategy is a protocol for presenting a challenge to peers and then having structured discussions and feedback. The general protocol is that the speaker or presenter explains their challenge or problem and then their peers ask clarifying questions. The speaker then must listen (he or she can take notes but not speak) while their peers discuss the challenge, offer different perspectives, and provide potential solutions. The last part of the protocol is when the speaker gets to join the conversation, respond, and reflect on the ideas. This protocol is most often used by teachers and administrators for solving tough challenges in their work, but students could also use this protocol with each other to discuss complex topics, work on problem solving an issue, explore an argument, and/or navigate personal studying challenges. This strategy lends itself well to a virtual setting because of the structured roles and pace.
Writing workshops come in many forms and protocols but generally revolve around analyzing a piece of writing as a group. One of the great things about them is that you can use a published excerpt or student work as the focus piece. The instructor or professor presents the piece, which students may have read and started analyzing independently for a published work or may be seeing the piece for the first time if it’s a student sample (please note: students should give permission to use their work as a sample or professors should do so anonymously by using a typed version without identifying information). The professor might provide a purpose for the discussion: students are analyzing the piece for content, structure, style, language use, perspective, etc. Even in non-literary classes, these characteristics can be analyzed to better understand the texts in their field and how experts go about writing them. In a virtual setting, the piece can easily be shared, dissected, and discussed, and the writing workshop facilitates a richer discussion than simply reading alone or peer editing.
Virtual discussions as a large group can be difficult because not everyone gets an opportunity to speak and body language can’t be seen. Organizing students into smaller pods and giving them separate meeting rooms may provide more equity for students to share their thinking and participate (if your virtual meeting room allows you to start whole group, move into small groups in separate rooms, and then come back together as a whole group, that’s a great resource!). Even if the large group can’t be separated, providing smaller groups of students with their own discussion channels can give students better access to each other and the conversation. Additionally, strategic grouping is greatly beneficial to student learning; students can be grouped by competency and then sometimes mixed heterogeneously and sometimes homogenously, by topic of interest, by skill you want them to hone, by the text they read or were assigned, and a myriad other ways. Vary your groupings throughout the course based on students’ needs and interests.
In terms of assessments, exposure to testing content and conditions can greatly benefit students’ learning and help them perform better on the actual exam. Hosting a webinar or meeting where students can practice with sample test questions may help retention and ease their nerves. The instructor can present questions and students can submit answers for more formal practice or do a “Think Pair Share,” where they formulate their own response or answer, discuss with a partner, and then some pairs share their thinking with the whole group, for more discussion-based practice. Confirming their correct and incorrect answers with a partner before speaking to everyone builds confidence and often elevates great questions. With either approach, students get to practice the content and receive feedback before they take the assessment.
Latest posts by Julie Stefan Lindsay, Ed.D. (see all)
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