Tune in with Andrew Fuller to consider COVID-19 issues for teachers and students

Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller has submitted the articles that follow in order to provide tips and advice for teachers and students dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Andrew started working in psychiatric crisis teams with people who were at the point of having lost hope. That inspired him to create with people futures they could fall in love with. During his subsequent work with over 2000 schools and with more than 500 000 young people he identified the concept of The Resilient Mindset. As Andrew describes it, resilience is ‘the happy knack of being able to bungy jump through the pitfalls of life—to rise above adversity and obstacles’. Andrew has recently been described as an, ‘interesting mixture of Billy Connolly, Tim Winton and Frasier Crane’, and as someone who, ‘puts the heart back into psychology’.

Remote learning: Utilising Learning Strengths

Engaging their students in remote learning is a major opportunity for schools to refine their lesson planning and delivery. The efforts of teachers to adapt classes to online platforms have been nothing less than heroic. Now we have the chance to incorporate into lesson planning and delivery the ingredients that create effective remote learning, accelerate expertise and enhance the experience of our students.

The current rapid shift to remote learning en masse is unprecedented and we are all learning as we go through it together. At its worst, remote learning can be disorienting and disconnecting. For it to be at its best, we all need to innovate to create learning that engages and motivates our students. The ideas in this article are derived from my research and work with schools of the air and distance education, as well as from my work with students who have been unable to attend school due to mental-health issues.

Brains online—key ideas

The laptop screen can either be a barrier to or an invitation to feeling included. Keep the camera at eye height with a light facing towards you, unless you want to look down on your students and appear as startled as a frightened rabbit.

In the online world the brain is like a dog let off the leash, sniffing out new sources of dopamine hits. What appears to be distractibility is actually very targeted. For this reason, we need to use a range of dopamine-enhancing strategies including challenges, polls, memory quizzes, discussion forums, Google Documents and videos.

The brain has severe processing limitations online. We need to be careful not to overdose students on information or to let them feel uninvolved or else they will switch off.

Concentration wanes after 20 minutes, with maximal input of knowledge occurring between the fifth and the fifteenth minutes of learning. This is the time to cover the main concepts. Brief intensive learning sessions work best.

Repetition at spaced intervals makes a gigantic impact on retention and understanding.

What game designers can teach us

  • Visuals win every time.
  • Create tribes through contribution.
  • Three strikes and they are out.
  • Start with mastery and back-fill the details.
  • Increase the amount of individual requests.Make rewards random—emojis, sound effects, avatars and praise—but the best type is utilising their expertise.
  • Develop a sense of flow.
  • Interactions are more compelling than using a single talking head.
  • Kids love to talk—let them (in bursts).
  • Kids love to be acknowledged—use learning strengths to differentiate and do this.

Using these ideas will increase student engagement in remote learning.

The four main choices for remote learning

  1. Replicate class-based formats on an online platform.
  2. Flipped/blended learning—students are given a stimulus piece such as a related video before a class and the lesson time is used to share, discuss and deepen their ideas.
  3. The 8-8-8-8-8 model—remote learning classes run for 40 minutes and are divided into 8 minutes of instruction; 8 minutes of smaller-group processing of ideas; another 8 minutes of instruction; and so on.
  4. GET IT—segment learning into five stages:
    • Getting ready to learn—use quizzes and polling
    • Experiencing difference—concise instruction
    • Trying it out—small-group work
    • Information processing—clarification
    • Transfer—application (e.g., need-to-know-more links, podcasts and cheat sheets).

Consider testing each of these options to better inform your strategy and your decisions. Different options will most likely work best for different subject areas.

Remote learning doesn’t have to mean distant learning

In times of disconnection, we need to work harder to create a sense of belonging. Intersperse online sessions with personal messages and connections. Thank your students for choosing to be part of the lesson. At the end of each lesson, invite feedback from your learners and ask them for their suggestions.

  1. Whichever of the four remote-learning methods you select, you will need to consider the following three essential aspects:
  2. Will sessions—Some sessions need to be about helping students to connect, to belong and to believe in themselves (as well as dealing with stressors if they are confined at home).
  3. Knowledge and skill sessions—Other sessions can be more structured and focused on the acquisition of new learning.
  4. Cooperative learning—In small groups cooperative learning is essential, especially in situations where students are distant from each other. They need to connect with their peers. Sometimes they will do things for their peers that they won’t do for adults.

Let’s talk about how to do this

A weekly schedule for remote learning

Monday and Tuesday—mastery classes
This is intensive instruction in new concepts in brief lessons, usually of no more than 20–30 minutes duration. It involves a mixture of flipped and blended classes so students are primed for learning. This requires educators to clarify, prioritise and optimise learning.
Wellbeing Wednesdays—reflect, recharge, plan
This involves individual contact from learning mentors, development of personalised learning plans, and setting students up to end the week well. Educators have planning time.
Thursday and Fridays—blocks of time allocated for learning based on student needs and feedback
This is time when students can self-determine when to access virtual resources, live support and videos produced by educators. It includes student-centred learning projects and passion projects—completing assessment tasks designed around the concept of teaching another student how to do something.

Utilising Learning Strengths in remote learning

Go to www.mylearningstrengths.com and complete the analysis. Begin by completing the analysis for yourself. You will be emailed a free letter outlining your top Learning Strengths and suggestions about how to use these to increase your learning in other areas.

Knowing your own Learning Strength profile will help you to consider your own preferences in learning. So that you are clear, the Learning Strengths identified in your analysis should not be confused with learning styles or multiple intelligences. These are not the same concepts. Learning Strengths are based on much more recent research on how different brain-system areas input, process and retrieve information.

We can use that knowledge to assess learning strengths in:

  • Spatial Reasoning
  • Number Smarts
  • Word Smarts
  • Perceptual Motor Skills
  • Concentration and Memory
  • Planning and Sequencing
  • People Smarts
  • Thinking and Logic.

Once you know your own Learning Strengths, ask your students to complete their own analyses and discuss their results with them. Make sure they enter their email addresses correctly!

Develop a class grid with the name of each of your student and their top learning strength. Use this information to differentiate the delivery of remote learning. Call upon the expertise of your students.

Consider different groupings, some where all share the same learning strength, some with a diverse range. For example:

Jack and Jill, you both have learning strengths in concentration and memory. Fred and Wilma, you both have perceptual-motor strengths. Can you please form a group and work out a physical movement for the rest of the class that will help us all remember this information?

For children younger than Year 4, you may need to do the analyses with them. For very young children you could complete them on their behalf and treat the results as a rough guide as they develop and mature.

While you can repeat the Learning Strengths analysis as many times as you like, generally once a term is sufficient. A full report outlining a detailed pattern of Learning Strengths along with strategies and the basis of a personalised learning plan is available for $20.

Assessment can also be based on Learning Strengths. Students can be asked to submit work using their existing Learning Strengths that teaches other students about a core concept in a subject area.

Your students may be more tech-savvy than you are

In building remote-learning communities, we can call upon each other’s skills and knowledge. Young people will often have great experience and expertise in creating online connections with one another and may have suggestions that we adults haven’t even thought about.

We are all learning as we go along. Using the strengths and suggestions of our students makes sense as we create vibrant ways of learning and linking together.

The opportunity

In troubled times such as these, educators demonstrate their level of professionalism. When students across the country are anxious, disconnected and sometimes despondent, we can provide them with a kind reminder that they belong, that we believe in them as people and that, just as importantly, we believe they can create great futures.

We can do this by shaping remote learning into exemplary experiences that support them, that teach them in exciting new ways and that help them to develop possibilities for themselves and others.

I would to thank all the teachers who have worked so hard in recent weeks to create remote learning for your students. In my mind, you are all champions.

Copyright Andrew Fuller, 2020

Stay in touch with Andrew


I would be delighted if this article creates a conversation. If you would like to make suggestions about this issue you could raise them by emailing Andrew at inyahead@satlink.com.au