Tips, Lessons Learned and Recommended Resources from our recent Coffee Break

Hello colleagues, On July 28th, our group along with the Reading and Writing community hosted a coffee break.  This coffee break was an informal discussion about resources and advice for the remote teaching many of have been doing during and/or plan to do during the pandemic.  Thanks so much to everyone who participated and shared their ideas!  If you would like to view the full recording of this event, it is available HERE

Steve Schmidt, moderator for the Reading & Writing CoP, and I are collaborating to summarize the coffee break. Our summaries will include the benefits and lessons learned from teaching online, some instructional resources and tech tips, and ideas for structuring online learning that were shared by the group. We’ll also share the questions that were posed that we didn’t get to address during our coffee break.

Positives from Online Instruction

Too often we have focused on the drawbacks of remote instruction.  We were pleasantly surprised to hear several positives statements about instruction over the past few months.  Participants praised their students for continuing to learn despite some learners having limited technology access.  Instructors also mentioned how they discovered new technology resources and found effective ways to use them via trial and error.  It is not uncommon for adult basic skills faculty to feel isolated. However, teaching during the pandemic has offered many opportunities for collaboration among teachers.  Zoom meetings allow adult basic education staff to talk and work together regardless of location.  Students are also developing 21st century skills as they create, collaborate, and communicate, all while developing critical thinking skills. 

Instructional Resources

Discussion participants gladly shared a bevy of resources too.  Here are a few:

  • – This site has a number of reading worksheets organized by skill set and grade level.
  • – This website, designed for K-12 instruction, contains a number of printable and online tests, activities, and lessons. 
  • CommonLit – In a discussion last fall, Ashly Winkle said: “CommonLit is by far one of my favorite reading websites and it keeps getting better and better. Not only do they have the best library (especially for adult ed), but they offer so many wonderful tools for the students. Students have [both] translate and read aloud options along with the new features of annotating and highlighting text. I also love that you can print it or use it online.  Plus, it plays nicely with Google Classroom.” 
  • Several participants mentioned familiar reading instruction favorites ReadWorks and Newsela
  • Minnesota professional developer Marn Frank mentioned a series of 38 Tier 2 vocabulary lessons designed for ABE students that are now housed on Google Docs.  Instructors can use them in Google Classroom or download lessons as Word documents or pdfs.  QR codes embedded in the lessons can launch interactive Quizlet decks on mobile devices. 

A huge shout out to Penny Brown, Marn Frank, Mary Palmer Legare, Audrey Ives, Kristine Kelly, and Bobbi S (sorry, last name unknown!) for suggesting these resources!  You can look for more recommendations in our next post. 

Structuring Online Learning

Participants also shared several lessons learned while experimenting with online learning.  Penny Brown described how she adapted her three-hour face to face class into online learning.  She now does one hour of Zoom teaching and then has her students use the other two hours for independent learning.  Penny mentioned how critical it is to have a classroom routine.  To help students know what to expect, we can structure each class similarly, so activities occur in a regular sequence each class period.  For Penny, this means her one hour Zoom class takes this format:

  • Open Discussion – Students chat and build community
  • Homework Discussion 
  • Students receive direct instruction.  Penny uses resources like ReadTheoryEdmentum, and to assist her during this part of class.

Parmilla Edwards mentioned how challenging it was at first as she tried to give the learners a large number of distance learning resources.  She quickly realized students were struggling, so she instead focused on having them use one or two resources.  Kristine Kelly echoed this sentiment and mentioned how important it was to simplify everything.  She said, “Decide what you want to teach and then cut it in half, at least.”  Penny Brown agreed and said, “One tech skill at a time was more efficient for my students than a brief introduction to many things at once.”  Pat Stansfield echoed this sentiment, describing how she uses Google Classroom to give assignments, Zoom for direct instruction, and just one other technology resource to keep things simple.    

Please share other resources or lessons learned during your journey to remote instruction over these past few months.  Thanks in advance for your contributions! 

Take care, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, Teaching & Learning CoP