Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

04.29.21Erica Woolway: Lessons Learned from a Pandemic Year, Part 3.

In this final post in lessons learned from a year of disruption, we’ll focus on things remote instruction revealed the full importance of more clearly.

Perhaps one of the biggest things we learned was how quickly an online class can die a slow death if a a norm is passivity rather than a norm of engagement is allowed to emerge. As we shifted to online learning, we quickly were caused to have to plan more intentionally who participates, when and how into the lesson. As part of planning these means of participation, we also realized how important it was to match the form of thinking we want to the form of participation we chose. For example, do we want formative thinking, initial ideas to start us off (in which case use the chat or Everybody Writes), or more careful reflections on our peer’s ideas, (in which case use a Linked Sheet so that students can input a more formal response and respond to each other’s ideas via comments)?  We’ve seen this idea play out in hybrid classrooms as well, as teachers often plan a Double What to Do  – a set of directions for each set of students to ensure that both students at home and in class are fully engaged in the task:

  • Remote:Write in the chat. Do not send it yet.”
  • In-Person:Write it on your whiteboard. Hold it up when it’s ready.”

And while we talked about it in the last post on learnings from remote instruction, we believe it requires repeating.  The power of inclusive cold call to engage and include all students, especially those on the margins who wonder if their voice is relevant, continued to be revealed more fully online. We learned about sequences of highly synergistic Means of Participation such as the “Chat Appreciative Cold Call” to tell students their voice matters was an invaluable tool in online learning (“Joshua, I loved that you used the word ‘conflict’ in the chat. Can you come off of mute and expand on your thoughts there). We see adapting this technique to in-person learning by intentionally combining it with Everybody Writes (“Suzannah, I loved the rationale you provided for problem number 2, do you mind starting off the conversation.”) The in-person recipe for this is quite similar – circulating to gather data, genuinely praising a specific part of their work and asking them to share. Notice also this positive Cold Call framing invites the student to “start off the conversation” – implying both that this is just a starting point so does not require a fully formed thought – and that more students will be invited to participate as well. This emphasis on the universality of Cold Call is key and another thing that we learned from online learning – especially in leading our own PD sessions remotely. When we used a Chat Appreciative Cold Call within the first 5 minutes of a session, this immediately signaled to other participants that they too might be called on and led to increased engagement throughout the session. This simple technique, when used positively, immediately broke the expectation of passivity online.

That brings us to one of our final learnings that was revealed more fully after spending a year studying remote learning. We’ve always believed in the importance of a Strong Start – engaging students early and often in a lesson, ideally within the first three minutes. But in watching teachers like Arianna Chopp, we realized the critical importance of doing this online in order to break the norm of passivity and to signal to students what the endeavor of online learning was all about. Learning together and being in a state of flow are the primary ways through which people feel a sense of belonging. Doing this from the minute class begins turns this into a reliable norm for students and invests them in the shared endeavor of learning together – no matter where they’re learning from.

Again, we would be remiss if we didn’t end here with our biggest learning in watching teachers teach remotely for the past year. It’s the immense gratitude that we feel each and every day to get to learn from you and the confirmation that we chose the right career path if it means getting to study and learn from the greatest problem solvers on earth.

If you would like to learn more about the curriculum Arianna uses in her lesson, visit

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