Today's Discussion with Ashly Winkle, Director of Distance Learning at the Literacy Council of Tyler

Hi Everyone, 

I am excited that we have Reading and Writing CoP member Ashly Winkle with us today for a discussion about distance learning and the resources she uses to teach her students reading and writing!   

Ashly is the PD Coordinator, Director of Distance Learning, & Journeyman 2 Tech Coach at the Literacy Council of Tyler. She also teaches an HSE class and provides training sessions to adult educators across the state of Texas. She started as a volunteer for the Literacy Council of Tyler in 2013, immediately fell in love with adult education, and became a teacher within a matter of months. She has an M.S. in Teaching & Learning with a specialization in Teaching Leadership and an M.S. in Business Management with a specialization in Online Education. Ashly is extremely passionate about teaching adults and integrating technology into Adult Ed instruction. 

Community members, please feel free to ask Ashly questions throughout the day.  I will start the discussion with two questions:

How do you serve students through distance education at the Literacy Council of Tyler?
How do you teach reading and writing to your students who are learning remotely?

Ashly, thanks so much for being here today!  We really appreciate your time!



Moderator, LINCS Reading and Writing CoP




At the Literacy Council of Tyler (LCOT), we have been utilizing several different strategies, tools, and curricula to serve our students:

  • Our most important strategy is making communication with our students a priority. When we first started working remotely, our initial step was to contact our students via phone and check on them. Our staff members followed guided questions (using a Google form). In this form, we were able to obtain information about their work status, number of children they had at home and the technology they had available for studying. Since that first contact, we continue to communicate with students via REMIND, What’sApp, telephone, Google Classroom and email at least once a week. 

  • We now offer remote classes to our student body.  Our classes are conducted on Zoom and are supplemented with tools such as Burlington English, Google Classroom, REMIND, Actively Learn, Kahoot!, Quizizz and Formative. These classes run anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours. We try to be cognizant of screen time, giving students a five-minute break for every 60 minutes of instruction. We also provide students with independent work, usually towards the end of the class. Most of our students are accessing class with mobile devices, so we avoid having them open too many applications during class. 

  • We have also begun to create video versions of our lessons and turn those lessons into interactive videos with Edpuzzle. This way, if students are unable to attend class, or they just need to review material, they can access these lessons anytime, anywhere. Here is an example of some of our math lessons:

  • We are also utilizing six different curricula: Edmentum, Learning Upgrade, Aztec (GED Flash), GED Connect, Burlington English and My English Lab. We have taken advantage of some of the free trial offers during the pandemic and have decided to keep these. Learning Upgrade has a wonderful app for my HSE and ABE students, and the students really seem to like it. Edmentum and Aztec are still available as alternate options, but I find that students with computers tend to do better with these programs. Aztec has GED Flash, which is great for students who need practice with GED- style questions. GED Connect is a paper-based curriculum that we have found immensely beneficial for those students who lack technology and/or internet. Our ESL group has taken advantage of Burlington English’s remote and distance learning program but are still using My English Lab, as well.

Hello Ashly,

Great to have an opportunity to explore with you how you are teaching reading and writing now that everything is remote or at a distance. I believe that when you were teaching in-person you had developed some great strategies, including using  HyperDocs and Wakelet, to personalize your curriculum for your students. I wonder if you have been able to continue that now that everything is remote and no longer in-person and, if so, what that looks like. It would be very helpful to understand how you use these tools, and the other tools you have mentioned with particular students. Could you give us two or three examples of students who you are teaching reading and and writing skills now, entirely at a distance, and how you might be customizing, personalizing or differentiating instruction for them using these tools?


David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS CoP Integrating Technology group

Hi David. Yes, I am still using Hyperdocs/Wakelet for all of my remote lessons; it’s just that now, I use them differently. In the past, I would assign the lessons directly to the student on Google Classroom, and students would spend more time exploring independently, in pairs or groups, as well as a class. In each step, students would engage with the lesson in a different way.

While I still use the Hyperdocs model (sometimes using Wakelet, sometimes Google Docs/Slides) and I still assign the lesson to the students so that they can work independently if they want (especially if they can’t make it to class), I mostly use the HyperDoc lesson to guide my instruction. Most of the students are on phones and Hyperdocs tend to lead students to several different sites, etc. I don’t want to overwhelm them with too many tabs/apps/sites, so we do most steps together, asking  A LOT of open ended questions, using the poll feature on Zoom, the chat pod, and sometimes we just have them unmute themselves. We also try to use engaging tools like interactive videos like those that can be found on Edpuzzle.

We are still able to differentiate instruction.  Stronger, more independent students are given an opportunity to work on their own in a breakout room, sometimes with other students to work on group work, allowing us to spend time with the other students who may be lower level readers. We are also still allowing everyone to have a voice, even if they don’t want to talk out loud. They can chat in the chat pod or simply answer poll questions. We also provide the independent work using tools they are familiar with like Actively Learn or Go Formative. These tools allow us to see what they are doing, while they are doing it. Thus, we are able to provide formative assessment to our students as we are able to add feedback in real time. So, even though we are in different places, we can still interact directly on their assignment during independent practice. Furthermore, we add a little fun to the lessons by letting students play games like Quizizz and Kahoot (using the app), which they can work on at their own pace and take as many times as they want.

For reading, I utilize similar tools and strategies in my online class that I was using in my face-to-face class. Some of these strategies include:

  • Vocabulary preview (I like to use, Easynotecards, Quizizz or Quizlet)

  • Prior knowledge assessment using a poll 

  • Background information activity (Edpuzzle works great for this)

  • We break text into sections, read together, ask questions, discuss context clues and vocabulary. Our favorite tool for this is Actively Learn, but we like using Commonlit and Readworks, as well.

For writing: 

  • Free writing warm-ups for the first 20 - 30 mins of class

  • Practice on Quill

  • Wakelet of Edpuzzle GED Extended Response interactive tutorials:

  • Exit tickets after a lesson using Google Forms, Formative or Google document on Google Classroom

Thanks for this wealth of information Ashly!  

Actively Learn is a free reading resource I have not heard much about until recently.  Would you please tell us:

  • Why do you like it?
  • How do you use it?
  • What feedback are you getting from your students about it?
  • What results are you seeing from using it with your students?

Thanks so much,

Steve Schmidt

Moderator, LINCS Reading and Writing CoP


Actively Learn is a free reading platform where students can  annotate, highlight, answer polls, watch videos, view images and discuss text as they read. The site contains over 200,000 free, high-interest articles, as well as ELA, science and history texts. Teachers can also upload their own text using a pdf or a link to a website. Most articles include  standards-aligned questions with which students can interact. There are also accessibility options that allow students to change font size, color of background, translation options and definitions of words within the text. Most texts available in the library already have media elements and questions embedded in it.  While students work on the lesson, teachers are able to provide real-time feedback by commenting on their answers while they work. Thus, teachers are able to assess learning while it is happening from home, from campus, from anywhere at any time. 

While Actively Learn is not an approved distance learning curriculum in the state of Texas, it is probably the number one tool we have used for reading at LCOT for our remote classes. They offered their pro version for free during this crisis, which enabled us to monitor student and teacher activity. It also provided me an opportunity to engage with students from a distance, as I graded and monitored their work while they were working on it.  As long as we were both online at the same time, I was able to engage with the students in real time. We have used Actively Learn during class, reading, discussion and answering the questions (sometimes we ask the questions as a poll on Zoom) throughout, while other times, we use it as independent work/homework.

Students like it because it keeps them engaged, provides helpful hints, images, and videos to enhance their learning and reading experience along the way. The questions are already embedded in a most cases and they ask thought-provoking, open ended questions, which also gives us an opportunity to practice both critical thinking and writing. It's a much different experience from the traditional paper-based text that we are all accustomed to using.

Thanks for sharing such rich and promising digital-instruction resources here, Ashly!   I am currently training teachers on how to implement Project Based Learning (PBL), which, ideally, integrates academic skills, such as reading and writing, into completing projects. Of course, WIOA guidelines also encourage that kind of integration into occupational contexts or projects.   I wonder if you or others here have suggestions on how to implement PBL with integrated academic activities through distance education. It would be great to have students working collaboratively at a "distance" in completing project activities. Of course, I've highly recommended all Google apps and others that you have mentioned here.    I wonder how successful others have been in getting students to collaborate with one another online without an instructor's "presence" as they work together. Leecy

Hi Leecy. Honestly, I am not experienced enough yet to answer that, but I have thoughts on this subject. I would start with just getting them accustomed to group work using breakout rooms in Zoom. I have NOT done this, yet. And here's why: you need one STRONG, dependable student in each room. In other words, that person needs to be somewhat tech savvy, at least enough that they know how to share their screen (you will provide them with the content to work on) and guide the group. I was going to try it a few weeks ago, but realized we were just not ready. I would probably prep these breakout leaders ahead of time. Of course, if you have extra help with a remote class, you could use them to guide the groups. I sometimes have one to two people assisting me, so I would probably start with groups of three with each of us guiding the group work. The hope would be that eventually students could work together on their own, maybe even schedule times to meet outside of class. I would definitely take it one step at a time.

Thanks, Ashly. Baby steps required, indeed. 

I've found that sometimes in group work, leaders arise that I had never suspected, depending on the activity. I know that when playing Charades with ESL students years ago, for example, some of the most silent and shyest of  students turned out to be some of the best actors. 

More to come. I'll share any results here from teachers who try it this summer. Maybe they could assign on small activity between only two students, then three, then several pairs, then several groups. We'll see. And yes, as with all distance ed, participants need to be trained on the tools that they will be required to use, which would open a whole new topic: how to train students to manage apps in very easily implemented steps! :)

Thanks much. Leecy

Thanks for sharing this, Ashly! My question is about how you oriented students to all these different apps, tools, and online approaches. It can be tough to teach students how to use new tools, even in a face-to-face environment. And particularly as reading & writing instruction is the ultimate goal, we don't want those skills to be lost or muted because students are struggling with delivery methods. It sounds like you have navigated this really well with your group.  I wonder if you used any specific strategies to help coach students to use these tools and platforms? And did you have any challenges you had to work through, perhaps with less digitally-proficient students? Thank you!


Hi Anita. Most of my students were familiar with the tools as I have been integrating technology into my instruction for many years; however, I have had some new students that I have had to take some time to orient.  In the face-to-face environment, I introduced tools slowly as I do not want to overwhelm students. And then I tend to use the ones that work best for them (and  me) pretty consistently as we all know how important consistency is to our learners.  For example, I use Google Classroom as a homebase where students know to log in daily to find our agenda, assignments, and announcements. I link the assignment to the first page they open. They know that this will always be the same process everyday.

Now, in remote learning, I would follow the same strategy with students. The challenge, as you mentioned, is with students with NO experience. So, what I have had to do is separate orientations for those students. I have them come on Zoom with me an hour early. There, I model and walk them through how to log in daily to Google Classroom, I also walk them through a new student remote orientation assignment that introduces them to our distance learning curricula, and basic expectations from class. I then model what to expect from some of the tools they will work on independently. From there, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE… I check on them via REMIND to see how they are doing and if we need to do another Zoom lesson.

If I had a brand new group who was not familiar with any tools, I would go VERY slowly. I would introduce ONE tool at a time. After I introduced each one, I would not introduce another, until they mastered the previous one. I would start with an LMS like Google Classroom and communication tool like REMIND. For reading and writing practice, I would probably still use Actively Learn for our live Zoom session, but I would be the one displaying it and they would answer questions in discussion,chat pod, or polls. For independent practice, I would have them write on a piece of paper or type something (if comfortable, which is rare). Then take a pic of the paper, and send it to me. We can still use traditional methods and integrate it with some basic tech tools until they are ready for the more advanced tools.

  • Keep working on and building relationships with your students - do NOT give up on them.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate: communicate with your students, communicate with your staff, communicate with your family.

  • If you can, use tools your students are already comfortable with. For my students, I used Google Classroom, REMIND, Actively Learn and Formative because these tools were familiar to them and they were comfortable using them.

  • If you were not using technology before,  keep it simple and take one thing at a time. There is nothing wrong with having a class on Zoom to just hang out and talk about life. 

  • Try to be as consistent as you possibly can. For instance, try to keep the same schedule for each class (for us this means, a 20 - 30 minute warm-up, live instruction for 30 minutes, a five minute away from screen break, and independent practice towards the end or as homework). I also try to use technology that they are familiar and comfortable with.

  • Use a distance learning curriculum that meets the needs of your students. Some students have computers, some only have phones, some have no wifi. We are using curricula to meet the needs of each.  Currently, we are using Edmentum for those with computers, Learning Upgrade for those who have mobile devices and wifi, and GED Connect paper-based curriculum for those who have no technology.

  • Be open-minded, attend webinars,and keep trying different strategies until you find what works for  you and your students.

  • Be patient with yourself, your staff, and your students.

  • Team up with other teachers! We found that combining classes has been a tremendous help to us for not only tech support and student support, but also feedback and collaboration between the two teachers.