**Activate Prior Knowledge**

Experienced teachers know
that they will often need to review background knowledge before introducing a new
learning objective, and this is my favorite way to begin a lesson. Review can
take several different forms, all leading into the new topic of the day’s
lesson.

- A teacher could free-hand sketch a concept map of previous lessons on a blank slide, prompting students for the appropriate key words as the diagram is completed. “What are the two classes of bony fish?” At the end, an obvious blank spot could prompt, “See this? This is what we’re going to discuss today.” Explicitly mapping how knowledge is related is valuable, especially for younger students.
- A teacher could start with a brief story with supporting images on a slide. Even my high school students enjoy a story time about something they already know that leads naturally into the day’s topic. For example, I often begin discussion of the Cartesian plane (coordinate system) with a brief biographical sketch of René Descartes, beginning with his life as a precocious, sickly college student, his original career as a mercenary, and then his decision to opt for a life of the mind, writing La Géométrie and creating the idea of analytical geometry. “… which is why this is called a Cartesian plane!”
- A teacher could begin with a posted problem, “Remember this?” and take a whole-class poll on multiple-choice answers shown underneath the problem. The problem should be easier, because students should have mastered it earlier. In addition, the problem should be essential to the day’s topic—it’s not so much retrieval practice as it is prior knowledge. Ideally, each wrong answer will be just slightly wrong. Teachers can move down the list of answers and require students to identify why the wrong answers are incorrect. This style of opener has the advantage of settling down an unruly class to focus on the content. In addition, when teachers have quite a bit to cover and limited time to do it in, the straightforward approach saves time. “Now, we’re going to take this and add a little twist.”

### Present Learning Objective

When students are on-topic
and have had their background knowledge refreshed, the teacher is in a good
place to trot out the learning objective on a separate slide. “Today, we are
going to *verb noun*.” The verb should
be explicit, specific, and measurable. For example:

- “Today, we are going to
*add like fractions.*” - “Today, we are going to
*list and describe the stages of meiosis*.” - “Today, we are going to
*compose a thesis sentence*.” - “Today, we are going to
*identify and describe steps in the development of written language*.” - “Today, we are going to
*read a story and use supporting evidence to identify a theme*.”

Notice how often the nouns
lend themselves to key vocabulary for adding to the memory work. Because
students will ask, teachers need to have a clear definition for each of the
verbs. What does compose mean? How does one identify something? The specificity
lends itself to clear expectations. Either the fraction was added correctly, or
it was not. Either all the stages of meiosis were listed, or they were not. Each
objective should be measurable. According to Barak Rosenshine, “the optimal
success rate for fostering student achievement appears to be about 80 percent.” A
student should be able to successfully read a short story and identify a theme
at least 8 out of 10 times.

### Direct Instruction

Now that students are all
clear on the topic of the day, teachers can begin with the presentation of new
material. Different class goals lend themselves to different ways of presenting
new materials. Having clarity on the type of class affects how teachers
approach most lesson presentations.

*survey course* - skims
over major content areas; requires intense vocabulary study

- Western History from 1500 to Present; 5th grade biology

Survey courses require that
teachers identify major themes in the area under study so students have a
framework with which to understand the learning objective. For example, in
middle school biology courses, often a quarter of the school year is given over
to human body systems. Within that theme, teachers can trace components of the
knowledge (traditionally, 11 major organ systems), and then subdivide each of
those into their constituent parts. The integumentary system can be further divided
into the skin, hair, nails, and sometimes glands.

In a survey course, a teacher might begin by
reviewing the theme in a concept map, noting the missing pieces, and then
listing and defining each new piece. Online, each defined term should have its
own slide, with a short, clear definition in a high-contrast color scheme,
preferably with a visual example. Teachers should not *just* read the slides, but they should read the slides for students
with visual impairments, dyslexia, and other special education needs.

When teaching these lessons,
teachers should be prepared with extensive research about the terms and
concepts, centering ideas within a wide, scripted set of background knowledge.
Another way to think of this is practicing zooming deep into a body of knowledge and then zooming out of the body of the knowledge to the larger picture. This is where lesson flexibility comes into play.

If students have more
knowledge than expected, teachers can go deeper because they’ve researched the
topic. If students have less knowledge than expected, teachers can spend more
time breaking the concept down by inserting blank slides, freehand drawing connections between topics, and re-defining difficult terms. In order to do
this well, teachers must have prepared more notes than they’ll need for each
slide.

Teachers often model how they
organize the concepts, and check for understanding by providing students with
blank organizers, asking students where each piece fits, and then requiring
students to justify their decision. Teachers can freehand these on a blank
slide, or put the diagram they’d asked students to label in their skeleton
notes on a slide. Now is a good time to review guided notes, as well.

Asking several students to
create mnemonics on a blank slide can help reveal any misunderstandings in
student understanding. A common mnemonic for the order of the planets is “My
Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Noodles.” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars,
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) But, if a student created a mnemonic with a
different order, a teacher would know the student doesn’t fully have the
organization required, and needs help with their memory work.

*methods course* - mastery
of facts, concepts, and procedures; requires rigorous practice

- Algebra I; Elements of Art and Composition; Expository Writing

Methods courses have a heavy
emphasis on procedures and concepts. Students traditionally demonstrate mastery
by using procedures to solve problem sets. My algebra I students learn seven
procedures for solving quadratic equations and must be able to complete all
seven, as well as be able to explicitly describe when each procedure is the
most appropriate (have conceptual understanding). Students spend a great deal
of time practicing procedures, and ideally, honing discrimination between
appropriate uses of procedures through interleaved, interval spaced, varied
problem sets.

Before demonstrating the
procedure, do not forget to clearly define the concept underlying each
procedure in words. Define terms from the ground up, and have the definitions
already written on the slide. Teachers might be amazed how often students say,
"I never knew that!" when they start with the basic, underlying
terms.

It’s a running joke in my
math classes that many people think they prefer math class to reading class
because there are fewer vocabulary words, and yet here they are, scrabbling to learn
all the vocabulary that I explicitly list and define in each lesson. Good
definitions help students internalize the procedures into a schema of
understanding. For example, my algebra I students learn three methods to solve
systems of equations with two variables, and the definition for each includes
“solve a system of equation with two variables by …”

When presenting information
for a methods course, teachers should be prepared with worked examples,
particularly for complex problems. Often, I present worked examples of
underlying skills and then show students how the underlying skill builds to the
current skill. However, if the problem is lengthy or complex, I find that it is
often better not to scare students by showing them a board full of complex
text, but instead to insert a blank slide and narrate as I work a problem. To
help compensate for less than stellar writing, the next slide will have the
same problem neatly typed up for students to review later.

For example, in the “I Do”
stage, I walk algebra students through adding 1/2 and 3/4 on a blank slide,
gradually replacing each numeral with a variable, but keeping the procedure the
same. Students can trace the similarities and differences as the examples are
shown. Each problem is a different slide. At the end, I type up all five
problems on the same slide so students can compare the procedures. (MathType is
my preferred software for typing in MS PowerPoint.)

Key to this style of
presentation is teacher talk, or thinking aloud as I make choices to solve
problems on the whiteboard. I script this in advance and reuse the script
throughout the year. My goal is to have students internalize the script so that
when they go to work independently, they hear my voice in their head prompting
the next step. If this sounds odd, rest assured that I can still hear my ballet
teacher from 30 years ago prompting me to “Make a diamond in your back.” Many
of us might still remember hearing a coach shout, “Keep your eye on the ball!” We
want that same level of internal support when students perform procedures in
methods classes. Common teacher talk questions include:

- What should I do first?
- Next? And then?
- How do I know what kind of problem this is?
- How did we get …?
- Why did I do that?
- Because ____ I did ….?
- What would happen if I didn’t ….?
- How do you know?
- What’s missing from this?
- Almost! What should we have done instead?
- How do we always finish these types of problems?

Checking for understanding
can occur in the “We Do” stage when I pretend to forget a step, and have a
student tell me what to do next. “We Do” is also useful for having two, three,
or more students solve prepared problems on a single slide, so students can see
that multiple paths lead to correct answers. In my opinion, the best lessons
are when several students work together to solve a single problem, such as
assigning each student a coordinate point and having them graph it on a slide
prepared with a Cartesian plane, so the class works together to graph a single
line. This type of problem has a built-in check for understanding, because if a
student’s point is not on the line, the student doesn’t understand the concept.

As students gain familiarity
with the procedures, include non-examples. In my experience, this works best when
teachers tuck them on an ordinary slide. Don’t distinguish them in any way.
Then, when students are puzzled as to why the procedure doesn’t work, the
teacher can point out the way that this problem doesn’t conform to the
procedure. This way, students are more likely to remember the difference. Have
students refer back to the definition of the underlying concept to distinguish
why this problem didn’t work.

Another way to include non-examples
is to let students tell teachers the wrong way to solve a problem, and then
when it doesn’t work, locate the error and circle the mistake or
misunderstanding. Do not call out the student who made the error. Instead,
point out that all students need to be aware of this common error. By the end
of the lesson, students should be able to list when the procedure doesn’t
apply, and common errors of which they should beware. Ideally, at the end of
the lesson the teacher would have these prepared on a slide that students may
want to take a screenshot of for future reference.

Teachers should include
enough examples so that students gain fluency before the end of the lesson.
When possible, I like to emphasize that there are many ways to solve a problem
and that what I’m teaching them is the quickest route. I routinely allow a
volunteer to solve a problem on a slide, or part of a problem, and then have
the whole class examine the correctly worked problem. “*How many of you would
have done this? Mmhmm. Can you do it this way? Mmhmm. But, how can we do this
faster?*” This is not about embarrassing students, but about showing students
ways to make their life easier. I’m externalizing the most efficient route to
solving the problem.

Finally, faded, worked examples are excellent. In this case, teachers have partially solved problems
on the board, and let students work their way through increasingly large chunks
of the problem type. Often, this may take a half-dozen slides to go from fully
worked problems to blank slides with only the initial problem. Then teachers
should have another three or four slides prepared with only the initial
problem, so students can practice together before they separate out for
independent practice in the course module assignments.

Always have more problems
prepared than students will need, just in case. All students should answer
every problem at the end of the “We Do” portion even if that means that the
teacher prepares several slides of multiple-choice questions for use with the
polling feature in the LMS. Alternatives include having students write their
answer on the prepared slide in set slots, or drawing lines for matching
problems and answers. Teachers can require all students prepare typed answers in the chat
box, but not hit enter until the teacher gives the cue, to prevent copying. Remember,
teachers should aim for 80% of the class to earn an 80% on these problems.
That’s four out of five questions answered correctly.

*remediation course* – must begin at first principles and work forward;
designed to fill gaps

· Preparation for Pre-Algebra; conceptual physics

Remedial courses often have
fewer, precise goals and begin at first principles. Students in a remedial
reading course might find themselves reviewing phonics from the first letter
sounds. Often, students are in remedial courses because they have gaps in their
underlying background knowledge. Their courses should be designed to fill the
gaps. These courses will have less complicated themes but still require an
outlay of student time on assignments.

These classes are often
difficult to teach because teachers must have a deep underlying knowledge of
the structure of the content area in order to identify common underlying gaps
in knowledge. Then, teachers must be able to clearly and directly trace the development
of a given piece of knowledge, skill, or ability across several grade levels in
order to lead students through the material without skipping any necessary
steps.

In other words, teachers must
prepare the content as if for a survey course, but teach using the tools and
techniques of a procedural course. However, the teaching has to be different
from the average classroom, because if the average tools and techniques worked
for these students, they wouldn’t be in the class. In addition, teachers must
establish good working relationships with students who are typically unhappy
and unsuccessful at traditional academics. This is a difficult undertaking.

Since students with working
memory issues frequently show up in remedial classes, teachers should attend to
their needs. One thing these students need is consistent assignments, so they
don’t lose track of what they’re doing while they figure out what the question
means. In a synchronous session, teachers can and should walk them through a
sample assignment using the screen sharing function with the student view in
the assignment itself. Teach students what the words of the question mean and
how to input the answers.

Often, students in remedial
courses need more practice than the average student for changes in long-term
memory to occur, i.e., it takes them longer to learn new material. Therefore,
teachers should be prepared to repeat instruction on a regular basis. In my
Preparation for Pre-Algebra class, I repeat instruction every three to five
weeks for the 32 weeks of the school year—i.e., I conduct a week of synchronous
sessions on decimals at least six times, going a little bit deeper each time.

Furthermore, students with
working memory issues are not able to easily re-derive procedures, and often
don’t have good executive functioning to focus through lengthy procedures. They
need to be able to just do the work by combining memorized chunks of processes
in limited working memory. Teachers need to build in explicit memorization
expectations and routines. My Preparation for Pre-Algebra students spend months
on independent practice of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
tables in the computer-adaptive software.

In my experience, successful
online teaching of remedial courses involves offline supplemental texts and
manipulatives for students who have difficulty with abstract concepts. For
example, in my Preparation for Pre-Algebra course, students have a paper workbook,
a work-text (a consumable textbook, meant for students to write in), a
multiplication card deck, a fraction card deck, and an account on
computer-adaptive software. Students work in both books and online every week,
as well as play carefully designed math games to reinforce fraction skills.

Teachers in remedial courses
should include explicit teaching and practice for parts-to-whole instruction of
complicated concepts. For example, during a synchronous session studying the
digestive system, ask students to define and label each part individually, from
beginning to end, on prepared slides. When students are confident with the
vocabulary, use screensharing to show a cued-up animation of the digestive
system process. The “pre-training principle” reduces strain on a student’s
working memory when understanding a complex topic.

Another way to think of this
is to start with a concrete example, with something the student can touch. If
this is not possible, use a visual display. Then move to a general rule, such
as “all triangles have 3 sides” or “a noun is a person, place, or thing.” Apply
the abstract rule with multiple examples: “Pencil is a noun because it is a
thing.” “Fairmont is a noun because it is a place.” “Tommy is a noun because he
is a person.” Do not forget to include non-examples when checking for
understanding. “Is ‘warmth’ a noun?” “Is ‘running’ a noun?” “Is ‘the’ a noun?”
Then assign independent practice—and keep assigning it. These are never
once-and-done activities. A general rule of 80% old material and 20% new
material helps etch information into long-term memory.

- teachers must lead students through years of material
- if the average tools and techniques worked for these students, they wouldn’t be in the class
- walk students through sample assignments using the screen sharing function
- use offline supplemental texts and manipulatives
- spend months on independent practice for memorization
- regularly repeat synchronous instruction
- include explicit teaching and practice for parts-to-whole instruction of complicated concepts
- use the concrete-visual-abstract sequence with examples and non-examples
- assign varied, interleaved, interval-spaced independent practice

*Wrapping Up the Lesson*

Often this step is overlooked
in favor of sending students directly to independent practice, but online
teachers should carefully prepare slide decks that include clear summaries of
the lesson. If the day’s lesson was on a procedure, then teachers should make
an easy-to-read flow-chart of the procedure that students can use as a
reference when they work on the independent practice. If the day’s lesson was
on a concept or declarative knowledge, then the teacher should provide students
with a completed graphic organizer.

No, this is not “giving
students the answer.” This is telling students precisely what the teacher wants
students to do and telling students exactly how the teacher wants students to
do it. Remember, the teacher isn’t there when students go to do independent
practice, so it is critical that the lesson wrap-up be explicit. Students need
to be able to flip through the PDF of the slide deck and find the definitions
of all the vocabulary, an easy to follow procedure, and a completed graphic
organizer.

My favored method is to create
double slides—the first slide has the flow chart or list of steps, but it’s
blank. The students should be able to fill it in, and the teacher writes the
students’ answers on the board during the synchronous session. The second slide
is the same thing, but neatly typed up for later reference. This double slide
set works well with faded, worked examples, too.

At the end of the class, end
the recording and then take individual student questions that are not
necessarily about the academic content. Offering formal before and after
question times limits off-topic question times during the lesson. If students
ask an off-topic question, say, “Good question, Austin! Save it ‘til after
class, thanks.” The recording is automatically made available to the students
in the LMS. Many students review the recording later, while completing problem
sets.

Want to read more about direct instruction? Pick up a copy of Explicit Direct Instruction (EDI): The Power of the Well-Crafted, Well-Taught Lesson