Tag Archives: remote learning

5 Social Distancing Group Work Strategies

Many teachers and students have or are returning to face-to-face classrooms with Covid social distancing rules in effect. Wearing a face mask, staying six feet apart, and not sharing materials makes group work and collaboration seem impossible. But there are ways to use technology and our space to still have social interactions and use groups to achieve tasks including Project Based Learning.

Here are 5 suggestions to make that happen. (Sidenote: many of these strategies will also work for online distance learning.) See which ones might work for you:

1. Go outside

One of the simplest ways to social distance is to go into a larger space than the typical classroom. This way students can maintain proper social distancing but still talk to each other. Some schools are using the lines of a parking lot to measure that partners are far enough apart. As a bonus, we know that the virus spreads more inside, so taking kids outside is healthy too.

Teachers can still use talking circles by making them larger. Have student “pass” around an invisible talking stick by pretending to throw and catch it. While outside, students can talk louder so all can hear without disturbing other classes in the building.

If you plan to use outdoor spaces frequently inform students and parents with suggestions that they bring a yoga mat or towel to sit on, plenty of water, and sunscreen or hats. You will also need a backup plan for days when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

I realize that not everyone has this option due to climate, size of school grounds, safety concerns, or even school policies. A compromise would be to move your class to a larger space inside (if available) like a gym, cafeteria, or common space. Other options to consider are getting rid of your teacher desk and having student groups work in the hall. We need to be as creative as possible about where class takes place.

2. Collaborative Technology

For schools that are entirely virtual, technology is how students are working together. If you are teaching in person then use the same tools for collaboration. The Google suite of tools including Classroom, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drawings, and Jamboard offer a myriad of options for kids to work on the same things while physically distant. Apple and Microsoft offer similar tools. Students can work in “groups” collaboratively online while sitting six feet or six hundred miles apart.

Another online tool to consider is Padlet, which allows for easily collecting of sticky notes from students. Think exit tickets or answers to a warmup question. But students can also use it in groups for brainstorming or tracking project process. Google Jamboard has much of the same capabilities.

Upper elementary and secondary students can silently communicate in a document. GDocs has commenting and a built-in chat feature. Students are used to texting so communicating this way is natural for them. Organize group discussions by posting a question in a Doc and having the conversation through writing. You could project it on the board for all to see. It may be awkward at first so try it out with a fun topic before diving into content. One trick that I use in group writing is to have each student write in a different font color to assess individually.

3. Protocols

Many of the protocols that we have used in the past can be adapted to social distancing. You can still use PBL protocols of Need to Knows, 4 corners, gallery walk, and the tuning protocol. Start off Need to Knows individually by listing in a journal or on scrap paper. Next the entire class shares in a GDoc. Finally have a whole room conversation while the teacher writes the top 10-15 on the board or butcher paper.

If you go outside or to a larger space, you can still have students go to 4 corners while maintaining distance. Gallery Walks can be spaced out in hallways or on outside walls of your building. Have students stand by their poster and rotate every 3 minutes in an organized fashion. The tuning protocol can be done via video with a tool such as Flipgrid or socially distanced outside. Another alternative would be to silently look at each other’s work online and leave written comments.

Harvard Project Zero has many Visible Thinking Routines. There are Visible Thinking Routines based on analyzing ideas, working with others, and for engaging in actions. I have created free online templates for many of them that can be used in person or remotely. Almost any protocol can be adjusted for social distancing with the help of moving to a larger space or using online templates.

4. Scrum boards

One of my favorite methods to coach students to manage their groups is scrum boards. Adapted from the business world, they are a project management tool to keep a team and the project on track. The basic form sorts tasks into three columns: to do, doing, and done. In the past teachers have used sticky notes and posters or bulletin boards to create them.

During social distancing use my GDoc student scrum board template or a business tool such as Trello to have students organize their project process online. Make sure that each group shares their scrum board with you to allow monitoring and to use it for conferencing conversations.

5. Video conferencing

Students and teachers working remotely are making extensive use of Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams to collaborate. You can use video conferencing even when students are in the same room. Have every student bring in their own headphones or earbuds to keep the nose down.

Use random breakout rooms to have small group discussions about literature, articles, and classroom content. Combine it with a protocol to have proof of learning for assessment. Use fixed breakout rooms for project work time so that teammates can discuss their process as they work, even if they are not sitting right next to each other.

Most schools will not allow visitors, including parents. Use video conferencing to bring in guest speakers or content experts. Visitors can speak to the whole class via a projector or coach small groups on their projects in a breakout room. Due to Covid, many adults actually have more flexibility in their schedule to make a video visit than when they were working at the office.

Social distancing brings many challenges. Don’t try to implement all of these ideas at once, but pick one or two protocols and online tools to use extensively and slowly add others as needed when students are comfortable.

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

Online Can’t Mimic Face-to-Face Learning

The irony is that this video was created for a class project. Students will do incredible work if the task is engaging.

You can’t just “upload” your class.

As I scroll through teacher social media I keep seeing posts: “How do I have students take notes virtually? Does anyone have a good powerpoint on _________ that they can share? Who has a PDF of the textbook? How do you grade ___________(rote activity) online? What is your favorite app for tracking student engagement.” And the horrible behavior guidelines for Zoom that are not only controlling, but invasive of student privacy.

Please don’t start your remote or hybrid learning thinking that you can mimic the face-to-face experience. This is especially true if you run a traditional, teacher-centered classroom. You can’t “upload” your face-to-face lessons to your school’s LMS and be done. Don’t plan on video or asynchronous lectures and slides with notes, expecting every student to watch them and excel. You can’t just scan worksheets to PDF and ask students to print at home.

All of the social media requests from teachers basically asking for canned resources shows me that we have a long way to go pedagogically. Many teachers are not student-centered face-to-face and are trying to replicate the only thing that they know online.

So here’s 6 things you shouldn’t expect from remote learning and what to do instead.

Go as fast

Everything is going to take longer than in school. Logging in, introducing the technology, teaching, building relationships, and even attendance. But think about how many things are better done slowly: crockpots, BBQ, and walks outside.

No sense stressing, accept the slower pace. One quarantine lesson is that it is more human to take our time and focus on the significant people in our lives. It’s not healthy living every moment at a frantic pace. Plan extra time for everything and center on your students, not completing tasks.

Cover the same amount of standards/content

First of all, let’s just delete the word “cover” from education. Curriculum is bloated with too much content already. Since we are moving slower, then we need to focus on less material. Winnow your class down to the essential standards that are fundamental to the discipline or will be needed as prerequisites in following classes. Instead of a shallow drive through a zillion topics, go deep on a few and concentrate on developing the skills, not just memorizing facts.

Run a normal bell schedule

I can’t believe how many districts are trying to do this. They think that kids are going to engage sitting in online meetings for 30 hours a week? This is ludicrous and the school leaders are out of their minds. It is not going to work for any amount of time. Online meetings are exhausting for adults and students alike. I think 2-3 hours a day is maximum for secondary students.

Instead assign students projects and hands on activities to do throughout the day such as science investigations outside, choice reading, and PBL. Kids don’t need to be “on camera” to be learning. Teachers should have regular office hours to consult and help students as needed, but requiring students to sit through their daily schedule online is asinine.

Take attendance by simulating butts in seats

Similar to above, we can’t take normal procedures like attendance and shift wholesale to online. I even heard one teacher say that their district is asking parents to keep track that their child is online and verify it. If you post videos that for asynchronous viewing and your student views it at 1am, were they absent? If older students provide childcare for siblings and “attend” your class in the evening were they absent?

Let’s find creative ways to check in with kids and relax outdated policies. Let’s assign credit based on the actual proof of learning of the content of the course, rather than whether or not they were physically present in front of a camera at any given time.

Micromanage student behavior

Don’t make a bunch of rules to regulate students–you can’t control participation, distractions, what kids are wearing, where they are, or if their eyes are on the screen the whole time. Quit trying to control students! Who cares if they are in PJs or eating breakfast. At least if they spill, you won’t have to clean it up! I saw one system set up for points if students were on time to the Zoom call, stayed the whole time, and had their eyes on the screen 95% of the time. I am not sure how you even measure that!

Instead of worrying about student behavior, build community. Many students have experienced trauma through the double tragedies of Covid and the murder of George Floyd. Remote learning adds another layer of stress for them and places our most disadvantaged learners at an even greater risk. Get to know your students deeply. Foster SEL Competencies. Let your class overflow with love, grace, and caring.

Be boring

Those powerpoints and videos of you lecturing aren’t going to cut it. Kids are going to tune you out and play a game on their phone. Kids will find ways to copy your worksheet answers and shortcut your lectures. They will cheat on assessments and basically learn hardly anything at all.

Instead challenge kids with a project that involves movement and hands on activities. Create Project Based Learning lessons around themes in your content. Give kids design challenges to motivate them.

The final products could be digital or a picture or video (Flipgrid is an excellent tool) of a physical product. Worried about supplies? Have students upcycle from their junk drawers and recycling bins. Prototypes can be made from just about anything. Even while social distancing students can still connect with community experts and family members through video calls.


Of course, I have been arguing for years, that these kind of practices should end in face-to-face classes too. But it is obvious that they are still the dominant pattern in many classrooms. The difference with online classes is that cheating is easier and teachers really can’t control students when they check out. A subset of kids who care about grades and achievement (or their parents do) will do whatever is asked of them, but many kids are going to quit playing the game of school.

We can do better. Kids deserve better! Let’s find ways to make online learning as personable and engaging as possible!

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.