Distance Learning & ASSISTments: Teacher Stories

April 5, 2020

We’re living in a new world. Schools are closed and teachers are considering what distance learning can and should look like with their students. Distance Learning, remote learning, online instruction, virtual classrooms. These terms all get at the same idea: the classroom has shifted online; students are logging in via video, email or working more independently; and teachers are searching for ways to deliver quality instruction at a distance.  


The reality is, these virtual learning models haven’t been adopted on such a wide scale before, which means we’re now in what can feel like one giant experiment for a modern “school day.” Teachers, administrators, policy makers, and edtech tools are all asking similar questions: do kids shift from sitting at their desks to sitting on a Zoom call from 7:30am-2:30pm? Do they instead work on self-paced short-term assignments and get more one-on-one or small-group face time with teachers? Do teachers attempt to cover new materials or focus on review? 


At ASSISTments, we are asking ourselves how we can best support our users in this uncharted territory.

we’re now in what can feel like one giant experiment for a modern “school day.”

In this moment, teachers and students are really putting online learning tools to the test, and we’ve been hearing from teachers from across the country about their worries and concerns, and answering tons and tons of questions. We’ve responded with a Distance Learning webinar series and heard from our ASSISTments Ambassadors and we want to share some of the ways that teachers have been asking us for help.


But first, we want to tell you about Katie. Within the past three weeks, Katie, a middle school math teacher in North Carolina, has had to completely transform how she delivers instruction to students. She is balancing rapidly evolving district and state directives, an ever-growing frontier of edtech, and of course the needs of her students. Katie is relying even more heavily on the tools in her digital toolbox to accommodate the guidelines of distance learning, and she uses data generated by ASSISTments to get a clear idea of which students need extra help. Her students use the feedback on their answers to get a better sense of skills they've mastered and what they still don’t understand.


While Katie has been using ASSISTments for a while, and already had a routine in place before adapting it for distance learning, for thousands of teachers, this is totally new territory. If you choose to use ASSISTments in your distance learning environment, here are few ways that we can help:


Communicating with students

We think of ASSISTments as a tool that opens up communication between teachers and students because of its emphasis on formative assessment as well as on independent practice, encouraging students to think beyond what is “right or wrong.” Using ASSISTments in a distance learning context allows teachers to reach students with varied forms of communication. Some choose to attach instructions via Google Classroom, and others like Andrew in Massachusetts are making videos (we love Screencastify) to enrich assignments.


Pacing instruction to the needs of the class

ASSISTments uses data to help teachers quickly understand student progress and where to target instruction. First, the platform is loaded with a library of math curricula that many teachers use regularly in class, so the content is flexible to class needs. Morgan in Iowa found her Open Up Math curriculum on ASSISTments, and can continue with content that her kids are already familiar with. Second, the Assignment Report lets teachers zoom out on class performance or zoom in on individual students. Our platform provides insights on common wrong answers, completion time, and performance, which teachers tell us is extraordinarily helpful for pacing instruction, informing how they’re communicating with students, and supporting those who need extra help. 


Identifying and supporting students who are really struggling

Nuanced student data from our platforms’ Assignment Report enables teachers to identify high-need students, assessing skill mastery for individuals or the class as a whole. In response, they can assign Skill Builder problem sets for struggling students and/or can group students in Google Classroom and create assignments based on common needs. Some teachers are assigning projects or group work that students can do together virtually, while using time typically spent in front of the whole class for virtual meetings. Stephanie in Boston Zooms with students for individual or group tutoring sessions, as well as for general social-emotional check-ins.


Giving feedback to all students

ASSISTments gives feedback to both students and teachers in real-time. Teachers receive reports that highlight which problems, and which students, struggle the most, along with details on the quality of answers. Students receive feedback on their responses so they know where they stand with skill areas. Given the distance learning realities, teachers are meeting in one-on-one conferences with students and using ASSISTments to look at feedback together. Katie, the math teacher in North Carolina, relies on the data to inform her instruction and now to keep kids engaged virtually. We recommend that teachers anonymize the reports and share them, asking students to Notice and Wonder, or to explain the faulty approach behind a Common Wrong Answer.


We are honored to support teachers like Katie, Andrew, Morgan and Stephanie, as well as thousands of others across the country and we are here to support all of our users as they adapt to this new distant learning environment. From our organization to yours, thank you teachers for all that you do. 


Visit our Help Center for guidance on using ASSISTments in a distance learning environment.

We’d love to hear from you - email us with questions or stories from your virtual classroom.

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