Teachers Teach: Content, Online Tools, Assessment


As we take overall precautions to protect ourselves and loved ones, something amazing is happening in education. We are in a time of opportunity to see different approaches for learning and using different tools and resources for students to gain access to new knowledge. Even though the approach and locations have shifted, teachers are still teaching because teachers are exemplars in adaptation.

We’re seeing an understandable amount of anxiety around the emergency measures to make an overnight switch to virtual learning. Teachers are being forced to take what is known, comfortable, and accepted by all in a learning community and replace it over a single weekend with something that has for many, long been theoretical.

Even for states with solid eLearning policy in place, nobody is pretending the coronavirus outbreak is simply an extended snowpocalypse where you’ll just make up a couple of days later this spring. This is forcing the rapid deployment of technology, technique, and talent.

At Getting Smart, we’re eager to provide support in the days and weeks ahead through shared dialogue, curated resources, and highlighted voices from the field for the duration as we journey together through uncharted territory.

To do so pragmatically, let’s keep the core of our instructional philosophy organized around the essentials that translate from the classroom to the homefront: content, online tools, and assessment.


The value of trusting students to consume content that you don’t perform for them will build self-agency as they engage with the same piece of content you provide, whether it’s plain text on the screen or a well-produced video. And building lessons where you can’t rely upon your improvisation skills in the classroom will hone your own capacity for evaluating quality content as you consider the needs of each of your learners.

As formally packaged digital content abounds, it’s easy to forget that content is all around! It’s in our homes, on our bookshelves, and in our stacks of board games. Let’s start indoors and get acclimated to those resources unaffected by weather and time of day. The following are a few options for instruction and content across multiple subject areas that we appreciate :

  • Curriculum Associates: Curriculum Associates has launched a microsite to give more students access to learning resources away from school. They’ve also increased flexibility with their i-Ready program to ensure more students can access and complete i-Ready online instruction at home. They’ve also provided guidance for families and teachers (in both English and Spanish), for learning at home, regardless of access to the internet or devices.
  • LearnZillion has published content diverse in scope and designed by innovative, practicing educators. Whether you’re looking for specific content areas or standards, you could spend weeks getting acclimated to their library.
  • InquirED has created Together When Apart, a free inquiry-based distance learning curriculum that explores the question: How can we stay connected when we’re apart? Daily activities can be shared directly with students and are structured to build toward the creation of a weekly project.
  • LRNG has an engaging and rich platform for middle and high school learners that could help them discover or dive deeper into what they’re passionate about. With well curated playlists on topics such as beat making, building your brand, game design, coding and e-textiles.

Online Tools

Being in the same room as your students is undeniably loaded with an energy that can’t be replicated. However, the ways educators are already taking advantage of cheap-to-free resources for real-time video conferencing to intuitive and efficient means or asynchronous exchanges between teachers and students, let alone the students themselves foster a sense of confidence for those we know feel marginalized in the school environment itself.

What matters is creating space for them to respond to the content and/or skills you’ve introduced and continuing to have visibility into their process and attempts against learning objectives. Students seeing each other respond and having means to interact with each other can further close the connection gap we’re all experiencing.  If your school doesn’t offer support for a learning management system (even something as ubiquitous as Google Classroom), there are ample tutorials online Here are some of our favorite options for teacher/student interaction:

  • ZOOM has famously empowered the work from home and learn from home response and has offered K-12 educators free access during this time. This is just one example to bring the real-time interaction to the foreground and teachers are already using it as a direct replacement to the live classroom.
  • FlipGrid lets students post video responses, and then collates them for you so the entire class can share without the pressure of a live audience.
  • Course Networking, a learning management system is currently offering free access to its platform.
  • Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Google apps are all great ways to connect live with students.


“Always Be Assessing”. It’s a motto of every teacher because your students will often unexpectedly surprise you with their growth as learners and we’ve covered this topic before for families. The more opportunities you provide for them to be immersed in engaging content or sequentially practice skills you’ve modeled informs what next steps are needed to spur a student onwards in their learning journey.

And though many content sources out there offer native feedback in-app, how do you formatively assess real-world learning opportunities during a nature walk or with student-designed work from their homes? Whether one is a veteran teacher new to online instruction or parent working with their children, revisiting some assessment philosophy should reveal certain considerations:

  1. Make assessment expectations clear from the start (because clear is kind). If students know what you’re paying attention to, they can direct their focus and even self-assess.
  2. Less is more. Tracking a few targets in shorter activities is better for both you and the student. In fact, the Single-Point Rubric has likely never had a better time to shine!
  3. High-quality, empathetic, and immediate feedback is essential. And if you start with the student’s self-assessment of how they did on an attempt, your positive words will reinforce continued attempts!

Learners should inherently know from the start what is being assessed, that the rigor is challenging, attractive and not overwhelming, and that the feedback is intended to guide them towards success. It can be written or verbal, “gamified” or on a rubric — whatever your learner responds to more.

Here are some of our favorite assessment approaches from simple rubrics (to a total curriculum overhaul because we know some of you are going to take advantage of not having cafeteria and recess duty until further notice):

Did we miss something? Have you discovered a new resource your learners are enjoying while at home? A tool or program you’re using to support them from afar? Leave it in the comments below!

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This post includes mentions of a Getting Smart partner. For a full list of partners, affiliate organizations and all other disclosures please see our Partner page.

Getting Smart has launched the Getting Through series to support educators, leaders, and families on the path forward during such an uncertain time. This series will provide resources and inspiration as we face long term school closures, new learning environments, and address equity and access from a new lens. Whether you are just getting started with distance or online learning, or you’ve had plans in place and have the opportunity to share your work and guidance with others, there is a place for your voice and an opportunity to learn.

We’re going to get through this together, and we invite you to join us. Please email [email protected] with any questions or content you’d like considered for publication. We also invite you to join the conversation and on social media using #GettingThrough.

Eric Nentrup

Eric is an avid writer and education evangelist. With experience in media, edtech, sales and the classroom, he shares a unique cross-section of interests and understanding.

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