Teaching from a distance: how to support students' self-regulated learning?
By Valérie Thomas (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)
During this COVID-19 situation many schools in European countries are closed and subsequently students are bound to stay home from school. Specifically, in Belgium (Flanders), as from the end of April teachers need to ‘pre-teach’. In that way, students from primary and secondary education are asked to process learning materials independently. The aim is for teachers to teach the essential subject matter remotely, considering individual learning needs. When the schools re-open, the teacher repeats the learning subject matter in the classroom, with the aim of getting to the core and differentiating more quickly.
This distance learning and specifically the acquiring of new skills and knowledge makes self-regulated learning skills extremely important. If students know how to self-regulate, it will be easier to tackle these educational challenges. Teachers, but in this case, also parents and caregivers can help students, not only with their wellbeing or subject matter, but also with their independent or self-regulated learning skills.
To support students’ self-regulatory skills, we have a few tips and tricks:
Some students can do it already but for others it is very difficult to plan their schoolwork in this time of ‘independence’. At school there is a fixed schedule and lesson times, at home (mostly) not (which is normal too). The goal is not that all students can now make the perfect planning themselves. Teachers can give them a ready-made planning template in which they make a strategically chosen mix of assignments every day. This way the students will quickly feel success and stay motivated. For students who are already a little stronger in self-management, the teacher can give feedback on their planning with tips and ask questions.
Explicit learning strategies
Without support students do not always know how to tackle certain learning tasks. Furthermore, it is often difficult for students to apply a general learning strategy in several subjects (eg. mathematics asks for some other learning strategies in comparison to languages). As a teacher (or even a parent) you guide the student in this by suggesting multiple ways to study for example new vocabulary and let the students choose 1 or 2.
In these times students can get buried in the tasks they get from the school. As teacher it is important to not give big tasks that take 2 to 3 weeks. Make that mountain smaller and split a big task into very small steps. Let students, for example, first make a planning, share the source list with the teacher, formulate an opinion, practice a presentation with their smartphone ... In that way, you can give daily feedback on every small intermediate step and the ball keeps rolling.
It is easier for some student to self-regulate than for others. So, as teacher you have to differentiate your support as much as possible. This can be done with scaffolding. Keep checking the planning of students who need it, plan an extra question moment, call or email extra with the question how things are going and refer to extra material.
Help seeking strategies
Teach your students to think for themselves first, then look for solutions in a handbook or online. Only then engage a classmate. And the teacher is their very last straw. That is how you teach your students what they can do when things get harder.
Let students ask questions to each other and the teacher in a Whatsapp, Facebook group or Smartschool Live. Not all students have the same (number of) questions, just like in class. In regards to their self-regulation in these remote learning contexts, being available for questions is extra important. Give as much feedback as possible, but no more than is feasible for you as teacher. For example, go through the many questions once or several times a week and list the answers, organize an arranged question time.