In a traditional classroom setting, we as teachers present a new idea to students, and then send them off to grapple with it so that they can reach their own understanding. This student-centered time may look like a collection of voices finding patterns in common denominators, a side conversation between two students brainstorming strong describing adjectives, or a quiet pursuit to skim the bilingual dictionary while reading in a second language. Whatever the study, this time has always provided the perfect opportunity for me to do a tour around the room and meet with the students who need extra support or redirection to keep their learning time effective.
But these one-to-one conferences don’t come up organically in remote learning pods. We all share the same airwaves online, and so side conversations can’t crop up without distracting the group. The obvious risk is that the lesson ends without students having learned everything they could have.
How can we as teachers facilitate effective individualized learning while in a remote group? Fortunately, today’s technology offers a couple of creative solutions.
1. Zoom Chat
The Zoom chat is a favorite of mine. My students commonly use it when their microphone has inexplicably malfunctioned, but its gifts are more numerous. To check in with a select student while watching them work (thanks, Google Docs!), I pull up their private chat channel, and ask my question. The two of us can have a text conversation without disrupting other learners, and said student avoids the potential feeling of having been put on display.
(As a side note, I also use this tool for comprehension checks. After asking a question to the group, I invite all my students to open a private chat channel with me and fire their answer my way. I get unique responses without a solitary voice to spoil the right answer for the rest of the class.)
2. Breakout Rooms
Another strategy is to open a single breakout room for a 1:1 meeting. As video administrator, I can assign myself and one student (or more, as you see fit) to a lone breakout room. Anybody else who has not been assigned simply stays in the main session. The rearrangement is akin to pulling a learner over to the rug for a conference while his classmates continue working at their desks. When the check-in is done, I close the breakout room, and all the learners come back together.
Learning online does not have to be a subtractive experience. In fact, I try to keep an open mind as much as possible; nothing replaces the interpersonal learning experience, but digital technologies are already closely integrated with our professional lives and Western lifestyle writ large. Embracing remote platforms as an additional tool for effective education can only serve to widen the skill sets we’ll invariably need as digital technologies become increasingly prominent in our lives.