Best Practices for Remote Learning*

Resources abound on how to do remote learning in general; likewise, Internationals Network schools are rich with ideas on how to support multilingual students. However, there are scant resources available on how to do both simultaneously. Below, we unpack some common best practices for remote learning and identify important considerations for working with a heterogeneous, multilingual student population. For each, we also identify a set of potential resources or tools that may help bring the work to life. A brief overview of many tools can be found on this document from Manhattan International High School.

*Language adapted from Arizona State University’s “Best Practices for Teaching Online

Table of Contents

+ Anticipate/Attend to the Social Emotional Needs of the Moment

+ Prompt Feedback

+ Instructor Presence

+ Engage Students

+ Clear Expectations

+ Real-World Applications

+ Learning Objectives

+ Prepare Students for Online Work



Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

Care for Your Coronavirus Related Anxiety

How to talk to young people about Coronavirus

Coronavirus Resource Kit

The need for educators to recognize the social-emotional reality of the moment is true for all students (all young people face adjustments in home life and routine, along with anxiety in general about our circumstances, as do we and our colleagues), but this attentiveness may be especially critical for immigrant students and families. This is a time of acute uncertainty around immigration issues, along with precarity in employment, housing, families, and health. It is a fact that students may have more pressing concerns than how to use Zoom effectively. Expect bumps and empathize when a mistake or frustration occurs.

Thankfully, school is an opportunity for students to experience community, trust, guidance, hope, and agency. Our thoughtfulness in facilitating online learning spaces can help students navigate and make sense of this difficult time.  Furthermore, existing advisory groups provide a pre-existing space for maintaining connection and relationships with students; also consider 1-on-1 check ins and a system to coordinate them with your team.

ImmSchools, a leading organization on issues of immigration in schools, offers numerous ideas for guidance, suggesting that we may work with our school communities to: 

  1. Seek to learn about and be understanding of student realities and circumstances, 
  2. Stay informed about services available to families in our cities, especially those open to all regardless of immigration status, 
  3. share resources with students and families, 
  4. ensure that tech and policies of classrooms are immigrant and Multilingual Learner (MLL) friendly (this document will hopefully help in this regard), 
  5. inform immigrant families of healthcare rights (the Public Charge Rule does not apply to Covid-19 testing, for example), and 
  6. advocate for and work together to build greater supports locally and nationally.

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Establish teaching presence early & often: Post announcements, appear on video, & participate in discussions, and show your personality, passion & expertise.

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+  Clips

+ Padlet

+ Adobe Voice 

+ Screencastify

Developing a clear and consistent online presence may be difficult for both teachers and students, especially as we adapt to this new teaching context. In order to continue to motivate students, provide them with rich opportunities to learn new language and content, and maintain relationships, it is helpful to consistently interact with students (whether in whole-class format or with individuals), so that they remain connected. Teams should consider establishing consistent ways of establishing an online presence to reduce the cognitive burden on students.

Just as you would begin and end each class with an opening and a closing, routinely posting daily messages (whether through text or video) that welcome students to the work both motivates and builds community. Consider recording/posting videos that greet students, quickly describe the objectives, the scope of the daily lesson, and why the topic excites or inspires.  Exit ticket prompts for students to respond to when they have completed the day’s activity will help students maintain continuity to school norms and remind them that their teacher is checking in on them. Furthermore, holding spaces for student discussion, and responding to student comments during discussions, will hold students accountable and let them know their responses matter. Finally, consider creating opportunities for weekly reflections, both for you and for your students. Reflections will strengthen relationships and provide you with meaningful feedback for future lessons.

In order to ensure that all Multilingual Learners (MLLs) can access your announcements and content, consider posting text in multiple languages, including subtitles in videos, and setting up a student-student buddy system, so that students have access to multiple means of translation.  It’s also important to keep in mind that students may have new and various responsibilities outside of their classwork; therefore, students may view announcements and complete assignments on different time frames. 

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Help students dive straight into the content by providing them with: Detailed syllabus; Due dates & schedule; Clear assignment directions

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+ Google Classroom 

+ Explain Everything & Tutorial

+ Trello

Setting clear expectations for students while maintaining patience and empathy during the shift to remote learning may present specific challenges for educators. It is essential that students understand assignments, due dates, and responsibilities; it is also necessary for teachers to be patient as students adjust to this new way of learning, new schedule, and new platform. 

Best practices for setting academic expectations in the classroom are translatable in remote learning contexts. Consider posting a timeline of weekly assignments in advance, setting automatic reminders, and including due dates and directions on all assignments. A buddy system may also be helpful for reminding students of important deadlines and maintaining accountability and student-student support. Scheduling check-ins, whether via message or video chat, will also help students remain cognizant of timelines.  Also, consider scheduling group check-ins with students who share a home language in order to address any language barriers. These check-ins will help you remain informed of student progress and create opportunities for dialogue if extensions and/or other supports are necessary.  

Video models are also helpful when introducing a new strategy, assignment,  or technology platform. If possible, record yourself working through the assignment, and/or post pictures of examples.  Finally, when introducing a new platform, be sure to keep assignments low- stakes until students have developed some proficiency with the technology. The process of switching to remote learning will be challenging for many, and the goal should be to keep students engaged and motivated.

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Alignment matters! Be sure that: Course content aligns with objectives & assessments; Extra content not directly supporting the learning objectives is removed or made optional

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+ Padlet

+ Google Classroom

+ Microsoft Translator      


Maintaining alignment between assignments and learning objectives gives teachers and students a roadmap for remote learning. Backwards-planning your activities and assignments is useful in the online context just as it is in classroom learning.  When planning your objectives, consider the 5 M’s. Objectives should be: Manageable, Measurable, Made First (eg, backwards planned), Most Important, and include Multiple Access Points. 

With MLLs it is especially crucial that students remain engaged, understand the objectives, receive swift feedback, and can access assignments. Consider providing choice in assignments so that students feel a sense of agency over their learning. Build in opportunities for group and individual work, and create spaces for discussion, whether through video chat or through message boards, so that all students understand the objectives. Set up groups so that students can give each other feedback and utilize one another for content and language support; home language groups are especially useful for navigating language barriers. Also, consider using translation tools to provide students with the objectives in multiple languages. 

Finally, remember that students may be faced with new responsibilities and other pressures at home; thus all assignments should be meaningful and directly support the learning objectives. When planning assignments, consider the questions: 1) “Does this activity support students in achieving the instructional goal?,” and 2) “Is this activity high leverage and worth their time?” 

 *Note that the first 4ms are adapted directly from Lemov, D. (2010) Teach Like a Champion.  The 5th M was developed by the Internationals Network in alignment with the core principle of heterogeneity.

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Provide feedback to improve student outcomes: Reinforce important materials, concepts, and skills; Provide timely feedback students can apply during the course

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+ Doctopus 

+ Quizziz

+ Kahoot!

+ Flipgrid

Maintaining connection and communication throughout the course of remote learning is a pivotal element for teachers and students alike, and feedback is a priority communication.

  • Effective feedback directs attention to the intended learning, pointing out strengths and offering specific information to guide improvement. Consider the formats “Praise / Polish / Question” or “That’s Great! / Now This.”
  • Effective feedback occurs during the learning, while there is still time to act on it.  Waiting to provide students with feedback until the end of the unit takes away the opportunity for them to improve their work.  Having access to student work drafts online, such as in Google classroom or Docs, can help facilitate this. Doctopus is a commonly used tool, which “gives teachers the ability to mass-copy (from a starter template), share, monitor student progress, and manage grading and feedback for student projects in Google Drive.” 
  • Effective feedback addresses partial understanding.  Feedback can only build on learning; if the learning isn’t there, the feedback isn’t going to move it forward.  If student work demonstrates little or no understanding the problems are best addressed through further instruction.
  • Effective feedback does not do the thinking for the student.  Do not correct all of their mistakes or “fix” the problems for them.  Be specific about how the work falls short of expectation, but don’t do the actual corrective work for them. 
  • Effective feedback limits corrective information to an amount the student can act on.  Too much corrective feedback at one time can cause a student to shut down, guaranteeing that no further learning will take place. Focus on no more than one or two things for students to improve.

As well, creating opportunities for students to provide feedback to one another is a powerful tool to amplify this essential type of communication. Comment functions in spaces like Padlet or Google Docs provide straightforward opportunities for doing so. For further reading on one teacher’s exploration on feedback, take a look at this article.

*(Adapted from Chappuis, J. (2012).  How am I doing? Educational Leadership, 70(1), 36-41.)

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Quality interaction between students is a sign of a successful class: Create educational experiences that are challenging, enriching and extend their academic abilities; Provide students with opportunities to interact with peers through discussions & group work

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+ Padlet

+ Kahoot! 

+ Quizizz

+ Microsoft Translator

+ DOK Chart

Engaging students remotely will require unique and new ways of thinking, but we can rely on some key considerations for supporting multilingual learners, namely:  

1) comprehensible input, 2) access to higher-order thinking, and 3) opportunities for social negotiation. 

Comprehensible input: In order for any student to feel engaged, they’ll need to comprehend and actively interact with the materials/ideas of the class. This means choosing accessible texts, providing access to multilingual materials, and using multimedia materials (visual, audio, etc) to ensure multiple entry points.

Access to higher-order thinking: Comprehensible input is only the baseline. In order to be truly engaged, students must partake in experiences that demand higher-order thinking. Exciting and provocative open-ended questions can go a long way in promoting higher-order thinking. The same methods we use to develop these questions for our regular classes can be applied here, as can tools such as the Question Formulation Technique for supporting students to develop their own questions. Providing students with choice in assignments will also increase engagement.

Social negotiation: Multilingual students especially benefit from opportunities to negotiate ideas collaboratively with peers. While tools to do this synchronously exist (Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc) and are quite powerful (you may consider, for example, having whole class or small group discussions in these phone or video settings), a majority of student learning time may be asynchronous. Therefore, we may need to consider collaboration methods that can happen on each students’ schedule. Students may produce some work, share it with others, and receive responses from peers within a certain time window. Comment functions on Google docs, as well as prompts and responses on apps like Padlet, are some potential tools to facilitate this work.

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Real-World Applications

Motivate students by making a real-world connection: Show students how they will apply what they are learning

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+ Clips

+ Flipgrid

+ iMovie

The virtual nature of remote education can make it feel quite removed from how we usually think of the real world applications of project-based learning. Yet the imperative for school work to feel meaningful and have transparent connections to lived experience remains; it is an essential component of creating rigorous and engaging curriculum in general, and is especially valuable for MLLs because these concrete connections have been shown to serve as powerful motivators for engagement and persistence. 

Project-based learning has some key benefits for MLLs during remote learning: projects, by nature, allow more flexibility in time and pace of learning, which aligns with the asynchronous nature of this new context, and are well-geared to foster student choice, and multiple entry points for learning, all of which are beneficial for effective MLLs engaged in remote learning.  

As well, projects naturally lend themselves to real-world applications. While many students may be interested in understanding and investigating the current crisis (how does the virus work? How has it impacted communities disproportionately? In what ways can we be change agents through our learning?), others may relish the opportunity to think deeply about other topics that interest them, such as immigration, economics, and social justice.  

Many of the tools listed in the sections above can help in the maintenance of projects. Tools such as Clips, Flipgrid, and iMovie may be useful in products that arise from those projects. As well, throughout projects, engaging with social media through Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc., may add natural real-world connection opportunities.

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Prepare Students for Online Work

Orient students to the online course: Break learning into smaller chunks. Establish a pattern of activity & due dates; Describe expectations for online participation, communication & etiquette Provide technical support information

Potential Tool or Resource to Try:

+ Google classroom

+ Trello

+ How-to Slide-deck presentations

+ Kahoot

+ Google Forms

The ins and outs of how to engage in remote learning may be challenging not only for teachers but for students as well. In order to reduce the cognitive burden of new content + new language and also new technology/environments, students may benefit from explicit instruction about how to engage in online learning in our classes. Sharing this responsibility with interdisciplinary teams can prove useful for both students and teachers.

As with learning any new skill, the scaffolding cycle may be a useful framework in thinking about how to prepare students to work online. This involves 1) assessing and building background knowledge about students’ experience with online learning, 2) explicitly introducing the most important tools or routines that will be used, 3) rehearsing or practicing how to use those tools and skills, collaboratively if possible, and finally moving on to 4) individual application of the new skill/tech. Likewise, limiting the number of new technologies introduced at any one time to the most important for class function will allow each technology to be more confidently adopted. 

Consider as well the following ideas: 

  1. establishing class norms for how to be present and work in this new setting (a tool such as Kahoot or Google Surveys may be useful in this effort), 
  2. providing easily accessible and visually rich guides for any of the most important tech tools a class will be using and 
  3. checking in often about how students are comfortable in adopting these new ideas. 
  4. coordinating with teachers who share the same students to align which technologies and tools will be the best for all to focus on, thus limiting the cognitive burden for students across classes

As always, we must remember to extend empathy for our students (and ourselves!) as new tools and skills are learned; there will be bumps and mistakes along the way as we build new routines. It’s important to keep initial assignments low- stakes as students are learning to use a new technology platform. As well, it may be good to set up ways to track how responsive students are and whether or not they are accessing what has been posted or shared.

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You can find additional resources for remote learning here.