Engaging learners at home.
Contemporary teaching practice fosters the skills and competencies that learners will need to thrive in their futures. Contemporary teaching strategies are often learner-centred and inclusive while engaging learners in collaborative tasks. They incorporate a range of learning modes and challenge learners to use critical and creative thinking skills.
This collection of contemporary teaching strategies will empower teachers to continue engaging learners in rich and authentic activities while learning from home.
High-tech tools and low-tech or no-tech alternatives are suggested to support learning and teaching where possible.
Brainwriting is a brainstorming activity in which students share their ideas in writing rather than through verbal discussion. This makes it adaptable for students who are learning from home.
In a brainwriting session, teachers pose an intriguing question or problem to students. Learners brainstorm answers or solutions then record these in writing.
Learners then review the answers or solutions of their peers and add to these in writing – they can add comments, extend or expand upon the ideas. After reviewing and commenting on the work of all their peers, learners will have collaboratively developed an extensive list of rich solutions or answers without the need for face-to-face discussion.
Brainwriting challenges learners to think creatively and critically as they develop unique ideas and then take the time to reflect carefully on the ideas of their peers.
As Heslin (2009) explains, “despite its immense popularity, when groups of people interact for the purpose of brainstorming, they significantly overestimate their productivity and produce fewer unique ideas than nominal groups of people generating ideas alone. In contrast, research has revealed that brainwriting yields superior idea generation than either non-sharing or nominal groups” (pp. 129-130).
Using brainwriting while students are learning from home enables collaboration between learners to flourish despite physical distance. Online collaborative whiteboard tools can enable successful brainwriting while learning and teaching from home.
Socratic seminars engage learners in structured discussion, with each learner assigned a specific task. Students are divided into two groups. One group engages in a structured discussion about a topic assigned by the teacher. The other group observes the discussion, then offers constructive feedback that guides and informs a second round of discussion.
Socratic seminars engage learners in formal discussion and require active listening. Engagement in Socratic seminars requires learners to think critically about the question posed and about the quality of discussion. Students in the second group gain experience offering constructive feedback to their peers.
Socratic seminars can be facilitated using online video conferencing tools while students are learning from home. The use of video enables structured discussion (with associated eye contact and turn-taking) while students are physically separated. It also supports a strong social presence, which is important for successful distance learning. Learners may develop new digital skills as they engage in respectful discussion in an online environment.
Rapid collaborative design
A hackathon is a sprint-like design event where programmers and designers collaborate to solve a problem and create new products. Teachers can use an abridged version of the hackathon in their classes – a microhack.
Microhacks engage learners in collaborative problem-solving using design thinking. The teacher poses a problem or challenge to teams of learners who develop a solution, product or design in response. They pitch their designs or solutions to the class.
Microhacks must be time-limited. Learners are challenged to think creatively, engage in the design process and solve problems under time constraints. These time constraints can offer learners rapid feedback and a sense of achievement while learning from home, where the pace of the feedback and reflection cycle can often be slowed.
While students are learning from home, digital collaborative tools can be used to enable teams to co-design solutions. However, microhacks can still succeed without real-time online communication. Video-sharing or online presentation tools offer a lower-tech alternative which empowers learners to pitch and present their ideas to one another asynchronously.
Peer feedback and reflection
A gallery walk engages all students in the feedback and reflection process. Learners and teachers collaborate to develop success criteria for a piece of work, then co-develop strategies for offering constructive peer feedback.
Learners produce a piece of work then display their work for their peers to view. All learners review the work of all their peers, then offer constructive and respectful feedback using the strategies and success criteria established at the beginning of the task.
Finally, learners return to their own work, reflect on the feedback of their peers and revise their work accordingly.
Gallery walks are easily adaptable to learning from home as students’ collaboration when using the strategy relies upon written, rather than verbal, communication. Digital whiteboards enable learners to comment on one another’s work while remaining physically separate.
A slower approach to this activity would enable feedback and reflection without the use of digital tools, if teachers are able to collect hard copies of student work and redistribute to their peers for feedback.
Lively student debate
A conscience alley is a technique for student debate that draws all learners into the collaborative development and presentation of an argument.
Learners work in teams to develop a compelling argument in response to a question set by the teacher, as in a classic debate. In a conscience alley, teams present their arguments at the same time to a neutral adjudicator, who hears both sides then selects the most compelling argument.
This challenges learners to communicate their argument in a manner that is simple enough to understand quickly, yet compelling enough to capture the attention of the adjudicator.
While students are learning from home, this activity can be simplified and facilitated using online word processor tools. The conscience alley can become a written document that engages learners in the same critical thinking, collaboration and persuasive communication as the original activity.
Simple visual summary
A one-pager is a simple strategy for enhancing learners’ retention of new information. Learners select key points from information presented to them, then create a one-page summary using thoughtfully selected images, text, symbols, diagrams and colours.
The strategy is designed in response to the work of Allan Paivio (1986), whose research on human recall suggests that the retention of new information is enhanced when learners present this information using both images and language.
The process of considering how colour, images or symbols might represent a piece of information in a one-pager may help learners recall the information presented to them more easily.
One-pagers are easily adaptable for students learning from home. Using digital design tools or a blank sheet of paper and coloured pencils, learners can process, summarise and communicate new information presented to them in simple visual texts.
Snowball activities involve learners in a collaborative discussion as they share their ideas, consider the ideas of their peers and build upon these. Snowball activities connect learners, as they rely on one another to build a rich collection of ideas or collaboratively solve a complex problem.
In a snowball discussion, learners begin by reflecting independently on a text, challenge or problem posed by the teacher. They develop their idea or solution.
Learners connect in pairs and discuss their individual ideas. They can use the discussion to comment on and improve one another’s ideas or reach a consensus.
Two pairs of learners connect and repeat the process in a group of four. This doubling pattern continues until all learners are connected in single group, and the teacher records a final collection of ideas or supports learners in reaching an overall consensus.
The activity is very flexible – it can become a writing task, where learners record their ideas in a written document then comment on the work of their peers. This can be easily adapted for students learning from home using online word processing tools that enable learners to review and comment upon one another’s work.
Fishbowl activities offer all learners a defined role in a class discussion: learners either participate in the discussion or observe and comment on the discussion. In this way, learners are able to focus on practicing the skills associated with their role: communication or active listening.
Learners are divided into two groups: a discussion group and an observation group. As the first group discusses a question or problem posed by the teacher, the second group listens and comments upon arguments made.
After the discussions, learners can reflect on the quality of discussion, or the groups can swap roles.
The structure of the fishbowl discussion makes it an ideal activity for learners who may be new to using video conferencing tools. Teachers can establish clear protocols for microphone muting, hand-raising and using chat functions to make comments or offer feedback. This high-tech modification enables learners to continue connecting through face-to-face discussion while learning from home.
Structured independent writing
Rapid fire writing
Rapid-fire writing is a structured and fast-paced independent writing activity. It uses timed phases of writing and self-reflection to scaffold learners’ understanding of the main ideas in a topic.
In a rapid-fire writing task, learners are given a short period of time to reflect on stimulus material, then they write about the topic without stopping for three minutes. Learners are encouraged to write anything they think or feel in response to the stimulus material, with a focus on writing continuously.
Following this, learners are guided through a process of reflecting on their writing, followed by further writing and self-reflection until they are able to identify the main idea in their own writing. In the final phase, they share this main idea with their teacher and peers.
As an independent task, rapid-fire writing can be easily adapted to learning from home. Low-tech modifications using timers embedded into online slideshows enable learners to self-monitor their writing pace as they progress through the stages of the activity.
A no-tech alternative might involve teachers delivering instructions for the activity to learners who time themselves and drive their own progress through the stages of writing and reflection.
Rapid fire writing
Professional learning on teaching strategies
For further professional learning on how to use these teaching strategies with your learners, enrol in 'Learning and Teaching in Innovative Learning Environments', our online course for classroom teachers.
School leaders can enrol in 'Leading Learning and Teaching in Innovative Learning Environments' to develop a strategy for introducing contemporary learning and teaching to your school.