Distance Learning

13 Tips for Teaching with Clarity and Purpose During Distance Learning

  • Sophie Murphy

How to apply effective teaching strategies to ensure you are continuing to connect with your students in meaningful ways during these times of distance learning. 

It gives me great pleasure to provide a weekly online blog for Big Ideas Learning and National Geographic Learning. We will continue to provide support to teachers, parents, caregivers and, of course, our students. Our classrooms have moved from our classroom at school, to our homes from our computers.


We continue to navigate new ways to teach our students in meaningful and purposeful ways without seeing them in our classroom each day. Usually, we are given time with to formalize significant changes within our school setting. However, the change that we are currently experiencing is unprecedented and has been fast and furious. This has meant that there is confusion about what and how we can teach effectively.   


The nature of teaching has changed dramatically as far as the setting, however what works for our students does not differ dramatically from what works in the classroom. If you are able to connect with your classroom of learners online and remotely, then the same principles of effective teaching for clarity and purpose can be used.  Here are some ideas to assist with this to ensure that we are teaching with clarity and purpose:   


  1. Don't speak for the entire lesson. Allow students to have time to think, time to consider possibilities and time to be challenged. Learning must include dialogue from as many learners as possible, not just from the teacher.
  2. Provide “think and wait” time. Provide specific time for thinking and ensure that students know what to do with this time. Using a digital clock on your screen shows students that think time or wait time for answering questions is valued and that it will be used purposefully and regularly. Ensure that learners are not speaking over each other if they are online in a live setting.
  3. Consider the pace of your speech. Research suggests that students can process approximately 120 words per minute, and many teachers can often speak up to approximately 170 words per minute. This makes it hard for learners to process all the information provided, especially if you as the teacher are doing most of the talking. Try and ensure that you are speaking at an appropriate pace that suits all of your learners. When in doubt, slow down.   
  4. Continue to have high expectations for your learners. It is such a hard time for everyone and while we want to be as nurturing and supportive as possible, this does not mean making the learning too easy. We want to stimulate our learners while continuing to provide growth, curiosity and challenges in a supportive way.   
  5. Allow students to share their ideas and thoughts with you or with the class. This can be done with the resources provided in last week’s blog about using exit tickets in online learningMaking an effort to hear from all students – whether publicly or privately – will keep your communication open and make sure all students get a chance to participate. 
  6. Link each lesson to a clear learning intention and success criteria. You can find my explanation on how to use learning intentions and success criteria at the front of the Big Ideas textbooks. Using a clear learning intention and success criteria has such a positive impact on learning and achievement. It ensures that students have clarity on what they are learning and have the steps moving from surface to deep in all learning sequences.  
  7. Learning should be sequential, moving from surface to deep to transfer. Sequential learning occurs when students share what they have been learning (their previous learning experiences), where they are in the learning sequence, where they need to go and, most importantly, where to next?  Try and provide as many opportunities for your learners to articulate this unit, starting with revisiting the previous lesson for a few minutes and being clear about each learning progression. Keep making verbal reference to the learning intentions and success criteria. Come back to this at the end of each lesson.   
  8. Encourage students to summarize the lesson. This can be done through the use of exit tickets or by providing a summary that can be sent to you before the next online lesson. For young learners, asking parents or grandparents/caregivers to type what the learner has said in their own words and send this to you can provide insight into their understanding of the lesson.   
  9. Check in regularly for understanding. Are all the online learners engaged in the lesson? Is the learning at a level that is challenging yet accessible? Professor John Hattie calls the balanced point the “Goldilocks Zone,” where the learning is not too easy and not too hard (or tedious) -- it is just right for all learners!   
  10. Have fun! Ensure that you are having fun and allowing students to feel comfortable and safe in their new way of learning. Reassure your students that you can do this together and that we are all learning how to create meaningful and purposeful lessons together. Include student voice and feedback from them to you to see what is working for them or not working for them. If you do make changes based on student feedback, let your students know that you have taken the feedback and have made changes. Keep asking them for their ongoing feedback.   
  11. Reassure parents that they are not homeschooling their children and that you will remain the teacher in any capacity that is possible. While not in the classroom, as their teacher, you will continue to teach them in every way possible until things go back to normal. There are many things that parents can do to make learning fun and authentic such as cooking with measurements, walking around the house or in the garden, counting and looking at objects and shapes, and board games that include many different mathematical concepts.   
  12. Incorporate students' interests into lessons where possible. Create a small student interest survey to find out additional information about your students that you may not already know and that can be brought into the lessons. You can share this for a 'timed' one minute before starting the lesson on a rotational basis.   
  13. Be kind to yourself. Know that we are here to continue to support you. Laurie Boswell, Big Ideas Learning, National Geographic Learning and I will continue to connect with you through weekly blogs, videos for parents/grandparents/caregiversand videos for teachers with Laurie and I. We would love any questions or comments too!


Last week, I wrote about feedback and using exit tickets as a specific feedback strategy. I hope that you have had a chance to explore some of the tools provided or the ideas presented in this blog. Please reach out on Twitter @sophmurphy23 if you have tried any of the ideas shared on the blog or videos. If you have any questions or areas that you would like to know more about, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you. Have a great week.  Stay safe and I look forward to connecting with you with the video and blog next week.  



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