Resources mentioned in this episode:

The Distance Learning Playbook by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie

The Build Math Minds Facebook Group

Loom for making short feedback videos for students


Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 72.  Today we are talking about The Distance Learning Playbook.

A playbook is where sports teams keep all their strategies and plays so they can look at it and decide what they will do in any given situation during the game.

It sure would be nice if we had that for education during this crazy time.

Well, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, and John Hattie have tried to do just that.  They recently released the book The Distance Learning Playbook that gives educators ideas for teaching with engagement and impact during this time.

Now I really don’t think anyone has the “playbook” for teaching right now…I don’t think even in regular times there was a “playbook” that we could just go to and it would tell us exactly what to do in any given situation.  But we can look to what research says about best practices for teaching and then decide what works for your specific situation and your group of students.  That’s what they do in this book.  They take the research of Hattie’s Visible Learning and show how it applies to distance learning.  And one thing I really appreciated about this book were all the videos that accompany it of teachers who taught during distance learning.  They share things they did that relate to all the ideas (aka PLAYS) given in the book.

As I was reading through this book, one section stuck out to me the most and maybe it was because of my recent interview with George Couros during the Virtual Math Summit.  Module 3 in the book is all about building Teacher-Student Relationships From a Distance.  Relationships are one of the biggest parts of teaching and during distance learning they can be especially difficult to build.  

On page 59 they write:

“Given the increased challenge that distance learning poses, it is crucial that you develop tools and systems so that you can actively monitor the number and quality of touchpoint interactions with each student on your roster.  Most distance learning schedules have far fewer number of hours of contact than in face-to-face instruction.  Casual conversations in the hallway or the cafeteria aren’t possible, and too often a misplaced focus on doing as much direct instruction as possible in live sessions has meant that interaction opportunities have decreased even more.  Use these approaches to maximize ways to build and maintain relationships across the school year…”

They go into detail about these 4 approaches on pages 59-61:

  • Have a system for calling on students and notice who hasn’t participated.
  • Make sure every live session includes whole group and small group discussions.
  • If you assign discussion boards, actively participate in them.
  • Use “pop-up pedagogy” to increase touchpoints across the week.


One idea they mention in that fourth approach is to use voice recording feedback tools on students’ work.  One tool I absolutely love is Loom and it is free.  It records what’s on my screen and also records my audio.  So you can bring up a student’s work on your computer screen, hit one button, and record your feedback to them quickly.

There are so many parts to distance learning to be thinking about and I just want to encourage you that the content is important but the relationships you build with your students help make the learning of that content possible.  The payoff when you take the time to build those relationships is so impactful.  

Later on in the book on page 69, they talk about how the kids notice the feedback we give them.  They share how one student, Mikayla, described her teacher’s feedback:

“‘On our discussion boards, she gives everybody 10.  It doesn’t matter if we write really interesting things or not.  We just all get 10.  It’s like she doesn’t care. The quizzes are graded by the computer and I don’t even think she knows our scores.  And when we submit assignments, the comments are just like ‘good work’ or ‘I see your point’ or ‘that’s interesting.’  It doesn’t help you get any better.’  As Mikayla noted, lack of honest feedback broke the trust she had with the teacher.”

One small thing that you can do to build up that trust and relationship with your students is letting them know you see the work they are putting in.  I highly recommend using Loom to help you do that.  Also on that page I’ll link up The Distance Learning Playbook so that you can get more plays to put in your distance learning playbook. And if you want to join a community that is talking about how they are doing this distance learning stuff and all other topics related to teaching math, come join the free Build Math Minds Facebook groupWe have over 56,000 educators in there sharing ideas about how we can help kids build their math minds. 

Stay safe and stay healthy….oh and that ties back into the book, the first module of the Playbook is all about taking care of yourself.  So please, while you are working to take care of everyone around you, stop and take care of yourself as well.

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As you start off the school year, I want you to keep in mind what is really important as we're trying to teach mathematics to our students.