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I taught daily live online classes to English Language Learners (and less frequently to my IB Theory of Knowledge students), and had high attendance and student engagement.

I learned a lot then and, with my co-author Katie Hull, wrote a first draft of a chapter on distance learning for ELLs that will appear in our next book.  It was released for free by the publisher over the summer.

The first four weeks of full-time distance learning this year (five days a week with two ELL classes, and three days a week with three IB Theory of Knowledge classes), reinforced everything we wrote in that chapter.

AND, it’s such a different world this fall from the spring, I’ve learned sooooooooooooo much more.

I’ve been writing about all those new lessons in a series of posts that you can find at HERE ARE DETAILED – & TENTATIVE – DISTANCE LEARNING PLANS FOR ALL MY FALL CLASSES.

And here are a few more:

— Prioritizing the importance of being kind and patient with each other, and modeling both of those qualities, has made a huge difference in my classes.  Publicly reinforcing when students help out by answering questions in the chat that I miss,  or when they  point out to me in private messages that I might be mispronouncing another student’s name, are just a couple of examples.  “Relatedness” is a critical part of creating the conditions for student motivation (“Will what a student is being asked to do help him/her connect with someone they like or respect”), so I have often, though not always, invited students to self-select their groups.

At the same time, though, not everyone knows people in the class.  We’ve talked about the importance of being welcoming to each other, and I invite students to share private messages to me in the chat if they would be open to adding additional students who are not in groups to theirs, and publicly acknowledge those who do – now, practically everyone does, and the culture of welcoming appears – from what I see in the breakout rooms and from what I can learn in the anonymous polling I do after each time we do them – to continue during the small group work.

— In previous posts, I’ve shared about how I’ve developed a formal leadership team in each class of students who take responsibility for making sure everyone speaks and participated in breakout rooms, who answer questions in the chat, and who take responsibility for helping me make the class successful.  This has been a lifesaver in helping classes go more smoothly.  In addition, to tell the truth, it has also contributed to reducing the sense of loneliness I feel sitting in my home office everyday for hours at a time teaching to a screen.  In some ways, the team provides a degree of collegiality when we discuss for a few minutes each week what is going well in the class and what could be improved.  They also complete a self-assessment form each Monday sharing how they feel how they are doing in their leadership role.

— I’ve also identified a few new technical tools that have proven to be more valuable than I had anticipated.  One is Fluent Key. Showing a Brainpop video in a physical classroom with small groups each having mini-whiteboards and keeping score on the whiteboard in front of the class works great in that venue.  Replicating it online is a disaster – at least for me.  Five minutes of watching a video – even with me stopping it periodically to clarify topics or words – followed by thirty students answering questions on a virtual whiteboard and trying to keep track of them all is not a viable activity.  However, showing a video on Fluent Key while stopping every minute or so to answer a question combined with a leaderboard (like Quizizz or Kahoot) is a very different story.  I’m not really sure why every teacher isn’t showing videos using that tool. is a wonderful tool to use in smaller classes – I dictate words and sentences for ELLs to write and am able to see how they’re doing in real time. However, its text-writing feature was pretty cumbersome. You had to click once, click twice, and then click on a virtual pencil before you could start typing. This past Monday, though, they made an update and now it’s easy as pie to type on it and my students are very happy.

I’ve found that Google Jamboard has been an easy way for students to create simple timelines, though I still think Padlet is a more versatile tool for a variety of reasons (the ability to record audio, for example).

I’m discovering that Quill is a more useful and engaging tool for grammar instruction than I thought it would be with Intermediate ELLs and, to a lesser extent, with Beginners.

And, speaking of technology, I had originally thought that our district’s theoretical syncing between Infinite Campus and Google Classroom’s gradebook would be a very helpful too, and it would be if it worked. Alas, I’m not having any luck, so I’m very thankful for Grade Transferrer, which is a somewhat more cumbersome process than syncing, but a much less cumbersome one than manually inputting grades into Infinite Campus. Plus, it has the additional advantage that it actually works – most of the time, at least.

— I’ve gotten into what seems like a decent routine in several of my classes:

  1. Warm-up
  2. Breakout rooms to share
  3. Full class share
  4. A few minutes to finish up last class’ collaborative project and practice presenting
  5. Breakout rooms to share collaborative project done in previous class
  6. Full class share
  7. Lesson and instructions for next collaborative project
  8. Breakout rooms to work on project to share at next class

I’m not saying all classes for the rest of the year are going to look like that but it seems to be working well in some of them.


And so it goes.

Even with all these lessons I’m learning, though, it’s going to be a long year….