Holding ALL Students Accountable to the Learning When You’re Teaching and Learning Remotely

by Valentina Gonzalez

Remote or distance learning can be described as learning environments where teachers and students are physically separated. Many educators in the United States and in the world no longer have to imagine what remote or distance learning is like, because they are living it. This situation is challenging, to say the least. 

Remote teaching and learning won’t look the same everywhere. It varies among states, districts, and classrooms. If this is your first experience with remote teaching and your students’ first experiences with remote learning, you probably have some hurdles to face and bumps in the road to overcome. 

Among many challenges, one of the biggest one that educators report with teaching remotely is holding students accountable for the learning. It can be described like herding cats. You might constantly be asking yourself questions like this:

  • Did Emma turn that in?
  • Has Juan responded to the discussion board?
  • Who has submitted their video response and who hasn’t?

One thing that is clear is that if we let students get by with not submitting assignments even during remote learning, they will begin to form the notion that we don’t expect them to achieve. But holding kids accountable sends them the message that we believe they can do this work. Remote teaching will not look or feel the same as face-to-face teaching. In some ways it has to be even more engaging than what we do in the classroom. It has to be so compelling that students won’t need us to be there to make sure they complete it. They will want to do it because it is so interesting. 

Valentina Gonzalez Holding Students Accountable During Remote Learning

In the classroom we teach students what to say instead of “I don’t know” (Seidlitz & Perryman, 2011). We teach them responses such like these: 

  • May I please have some more information?
  • May I please have some time to think?
  • Would you please repeat the question?
  • Where could I find more information about that?
  • May I ask a friend for help?

When these responses become practices in the classroom, they will pay off during times when students and teachers are physically separated.  Students who are equipped with the tools to find out how to solve problems and figure what to do when they are faced with an unanswered question become more independent outside of the classroom, too. 

However, don’t fret if your students have not learned these response stems. You can teach students this strategy remotely, and they will still benefit. Here’s how. 

Steps to Holding All Students Accountable to the Learning REMOTELY. 

  1. Set up a class meeting using a district-approved platform that allows students to see and hear you. Live video works best, allowing students to ask questions and interact, but you can also record yourself and share it with students to watch at their leisure. 
  2. Walk students through the WHY. Why is knowing what to say instead of “I don’t know” important for them? Depending on the grade level, share with your students how they can use this information in real life. For example, I tell them that we are going to learn responses that will sound smarter than saying “I don’t know” or shrugging our shoulders. And that they can use these responses when their grandmother, their doctor, a neighbor, a teacher, or really anyone, anywhere asks them a question! These are not just for school. With older students, I make them aware that this information is useful even during job interviews and college visits. 
  3. After discussing WHY, begin making an anchor chart in front of students. Yes, even online, remotely. There is power in letting students watch you create the chart. They need to see you write and explain each of the response choices. Discuss how to use each one. Model for students what it looks like to use the response. 
  4. Once you complete the anchor chart, take a picture of it and house it on your remote learning platform (Canvas, Google Classroom, SeeSaw, etc.). Let students know that it will be there for them. 


Two Perspectives During Remote Learning

Let’s imagine that you gave students an assignment on your remote learning platform, but Rafael didn’t do it. We could assume that he just didn’t want to do it. We could assume that he was off task. Or that he’s being lazy. There’s a lot of room for assumptions.

On the other hand, if we ask Rafael, he might tell us that he didn’t understand the assignment or the expectations. He just didn’t know what to do, so he avoided the assignment, and he’s been worried about it ever since. 

Remote teaching is challenging, and remote learning can be just as challenging for many of our students. Often when students don’t know what to do, are confused, or feel frustrated, this can manifest into avoidance. To us, it looks like they are just not completing work. The good news is that we can empower students with tools to handle situations like the one above. As Rafael’s teacher, if I notice that he hasn’t completed the assignment, during a discussion or an online conference, I can refer him to the anchor chart we created. 

Teacher: Rafael, which of these responses would you like to use?

Rafael: May I please have some more information?

Teacher: Sure, Rafael. What I’m asking is that you take the book you are reading and you analyze the main character. Tell us about the character. Who are they? What are they like?

No matter what, all of our students need to know that we expect them to achieve, to participate, and to engage even when instruction is remote. Student success hinges on our expectations for them. Holding all students accountable to expectations demonstrates our belief in them.  



Additional Tips and Considerations for Remotely Teaching English Learners:


  1. Find out which families have access to technology and which do not. This information will help you to determine what remote learning will look like (paper or technology based).
  2. Find out if you will be expected to create seperate ELD lessons or if you will be collaborating with content teachers to enhance and accommodate general education lessons.
  3. “Meet” or make contact  with families of English learners as quickly as you can to let them know what remote learning will look and feel like. This initial meeting can be a phone call or video conference. 
  4. Plan regular interactions with ELs and families to touch base regarding instruction and needs. 


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