Learning Remotely during Covid-19, a teacher's practical response

What is the best practice?
Nicole Richards
May 9, 2020
Remote learning and engagement
Nicole Richards seeks best practice for remote learning

Some educators, as a response to teaching remotely have turned to providing a multitude of worksheets as an assignment, along with a ten-minute chat on line at the beginning of the day. Is this best practice? Do we walk into our classroom, give them a task, give a brief ten-minute overview and leave the room?

We must create a learning climate which resembles, as closely as possible, our regular classrooms. The core questions we should be asking are, how can this be achieved and how can we motivate students to engage in their virtual classrooms for learning outcomes to be achieved? In this discussion we should remember our fundamental goal should not be founded solely on providing a set of tasks along a continuum towards expertise. Most importantly, it is to design a rich climate which will lead to students achieving their potential in an academic, social and emotional context. It is evident that learning through dialogue, scaffolding tasks within a student's zone of proximal development has been overlooked in the frenzy of Covid-19.

The question teachers should be asking is, ‘How can we motivate students to join the discourse of learning online and maintain their engagement within their virtual classrooms?’

This core question is fundamental to supporting and designing a quality learning climate essential for skills along the progression to be germane. It is evident that this challenging climate will be enabled using advanced technology. Teachers, being extremely adaptable, are tapping into artefacts such as ‘Google Classroom’ as a platform to provide tasks with supporting audio and visual applications such as ‘Zoom’ or ‘Microsoft Teams’. This virtual classroom is prone to variance in pitfalls and gains as any other learning climate. Evidently, teaching style will fundamentally rely on the individual teacher’s personal philosophy and educational doctrine they associate with. However, most educators agree that successful learning occurs when students are provided a climate which involves appropriate levels of scaffolding and promotes intrinsic motivational sources to flourish.

General Self-determination theorists (Reeve & Halusic, 2009) and Gaming researchers (Rigby & Ryan, 2011) agree that a successful learning climate is rooted in satisfying the psychological needs of students. Research into motivational drives has been found to have a wealth of positive outcomes for students in preschool (Koestener et al., 1984), primary school (Deci et al., 1981), high school (Reeve et al., 2004) and students with special needs (Deci et al., 1992). 

Psychological needs of competency, relatedness and autonomy form the basis of self-regulation and motivational doctrines. Competency is defined as the individual feeling that they are competent and effective learners. Relatedness, is concerned with the feeling of belonging to a community and regarding themselves as a valued member of a social network. The psychological need for autonomy is the third critical dimension for the desire to join or engage in the discourse in the ‘virtual classroom’. Autonomy can be defined as students feeling that they have a voice, are independent and have the right to self government. Gaining autonomy is an overarching psychological need which depends on the feeling of competency and relatedness. It is in this climate where individuals maintain engagement and have the drive to set and carry out goals designed by themselves or formed by a mentor for expertise in KLA’s to be achieved. 

This paper turns to recommendations on how to derive autonomy-supportive moves in a ‘virtual classroom’ as outlined by Reeve and Halusic (2009) along with Rigby and Ryan’s (2011). In addition the framework turns to sociocultural theory which insists that people learn from interacting with others as we are social beings who need to discuss ideas in pairs or within a group. This is a dynamic way to assess whether the learning climate is appropriate for your students and the level of difficulty is adjusted for understanding to occur. As educators we tend to do this in the classroom by observing and listening to clues from our students. This is evidently more challenging when teaching remotely and cannot replace the ‘normal’ classroom climate but it can reflect the same principles through the use of tools available today.

Reeve and Halusic (2009) formed eight teacher generated questions which have been modified to provide functional tips for teaching in a ‘virtual learning’ climate. These self reflective questions have been organised into different stages of the designing process of a learning climate. The precursor question that must be asked is, ‘What is the goal of autonomy-supportive teaching in a remote teaching climate?’ Self-determination theorists argue that, “The goal of autonomy supportive teaching is to identify, nurture, and develop the inner motivational resources that exist in students.” (Reeve and Halusic, 2009, p146) The following framework outlines teaching tips designed to help K-12 teachers to put an autonomy supportive motivational style into virtual classroom practice (See below for the framework).

Figure 1: A framework to help k-12 teachers to put an autonomy supportive motivational style into their virtual classroom practice (Nicole Richards, 2020)

Teacher-asked questions about an autonomy-supportive motivating style based on Reeve and Halusic: Classroom practice p146 and Nicole Richards (2020)

Pre-design Question

Pre-lesson reflection 

Motivating  Students

Solving problems

Post-lesson reflection

Q1: What tools (artefacts) can be used to support the goal of autonomy supportive teaching?


Dialectical tools which permits novices and experts to communicate through an ongoing stream of ideas creating a unified understanding of concepts and skills (e.g. Teams, Zoom, Adobe).  This is essential for the student to be provided the appropriate level of support within their zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978). 

Promoting autonomy in a constructive climate rather than a laissez-faire permissiveness environment (Jang et al., in press b). 

Q2: What is the goal of autonomy supportive teaching within a virtual classroom?

Q3: How is autonomy- supportive teaching unique?


An autonomy constructive climate triggers self regulated intrinsic motivational moves which propels learning, creativity and innovation. 

Q4: How would I encourage students’ initial engagement in remote tasks provided in a ‘virtual classroom’?

Q5: How could I help students maintain their engagement, remain in the ‘chat room’?

Q6: What would I say? How might I talk?

How could I encourage students to vocalise their thinking?

Q7: How can I solve motivational and behavioural problems?

Q8: How do I know if I provided instruction in an autonomy-supportive way within a virtual classroom?

Response tip:

Ensure that their learning is made visible 

(See Harvard University Visible thinking protocols) 

v v v v v

Listen to the students’ perspective

Display patience to allow time for learning 


  • Provide choices of activities, resources (e.g. books), themes, topics 
  • Ensure the task is age appropriate and is achievable within their ZPD 
  • Provides constructive reinforcements building competency levels
  • The tools should provide a platform for the expert and groups of novices to create joint constructions

Take the students’ perspective

Encourage students to voice their thoughts 

(no wrong answers)

Display patience allowing time for students to adapt to using the technological tools.

Provide time for students to generate germane ideas and understandings

Nurture inner motivational resources

Share students’ ideas, designs, projects and final written work in their virtual classroom or in the Stream within the Chat room.

Provide explanatory rationales 

(purpose of why the task is important)

Provide a schedule or time frame when to meet, present the core concept or skill required for expertise

Once the initial phases of the learning process has been introduced with a worked example,

students self-regulate the level of support they need.  This may involve leaving the chat room to complete the assignment or stay on to continue gaining support from the teacher.

Evidently, ongoing monitoring and assessment of learning is required. 

Avoid using controlling language, rely rather on non controlling positive statements which indicates/proves that their views, ideas are valued and ‘listened to’

Acknowledge and accept their reflections which may have a positive or negative effect


Take the students’ perspective


Welcome students’ thoughts’ feelings, goals and behaviours

Support students’ motivational development

(Reeve & Halusic, 2009, p 147)

 Recommended autonomy-supportive instructional strategies

During the past several weeks I have implemented the above framework to teach my Year 3 class.  I observed that I successfully engaged my students to participate effectively in a remote classroom setting. This was evident in the discussions held in Microsoft Teams, the work submitted in Google Classroom, Spelling City, Mathletics and Reading Eggs. Feedback from parents and my students have demonstrated a high level of commitment, engagement and innovation in the work they have submitted, reflecting self-determination findings (Reeve 2012).

My typical day begins with providing an overview of what is on the agenda for the day. The classwork, links to be viewed and extracurricular events are available for my students and parents to preview the night before. As a result they are given the opportunity to download or print out, depending on personal preferences, material required for outcomes to be achieved for the day. In addition, as my students are made aware of our daily meeting schedule they would often preview any links such as BTN  prior to the lesson, this helped generate conversation as they were given time to process the concepts and make connections to previously learnt skills. This has led to interesting and dynamic conversations with many students demonstrating that they are feeling comfortable in our ‘virtual classroom’.

Outside of the ClassDojo messaging system established at the beginning of the year for me to communicate with the parents, the ‘Class parent’ created a Whatsapp 3NR account as a support network for parents only. In the early days I was made aware that a parent provided a scanned copy of the March School Magazine which belied the attitude that we were in it together. Evidently a successful learning climate does depend on the support of the community. As a result, in the first week of Covid-19 lockdown I established the following daily routine in consultation with the parents and my students. As mentioned above the schedule reflected closely what I would have on my board as a ‘Daily Plan’ in my regular classroom (9:15am Roll call; literacy explicit lesson (chat line); 10am Mathematics (chat line); 11am Recess (play time); 11:20 Reading Groups (chat line in groups); 12:10 pm Extra Curricula (chat line with whole class or in groups); 12:50 pm lunchtime (play time); 1:50pm Extra Curricula (usually creative arts chat line for introduction); 2:30/2:45pm ( chat line, DEAR time, group analysis of how the day went, what they learnt and so on. The final 20 minutes of the day before bell time at 3:15pm I read to my students and discuss the book. We are currently reading Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda, which we are all enjoying.  

As in my regular classroom, students who require minimal support would leave the chat line to work independently while others remained on line for further support until they communicated a solid understanding of the concept or skill being taught or reinforced. Hence, students are being taught in a autonomy supportive climate which is designed to satisfy outcomes along the progression for expertise in all KLA’s to occur.

In conclusion, I propose that ‘virtual classrooms’ must reflect best practice evident in regular classrooms. This requires an interactive environment involving a two way video and audio dialogue between teacher to student, student to teacher and student to student (Vygotsky, 1978). In addition, self -determination principles must be enforced for best practice to occur (Reeve & Halusic, 2009; Rigby & Ryan, 2011; Reeve, 2012). Fortunately today’s advanced technology provides our students with the opportunity to satisfy their psychological needs. These motivational drives are fostered by creating a climate which promotes autonomy supportive strategies. In my own remote learning ‘virtual classroom’ I have found that students are participating for extended periods of time in discussions and  achieving outcomes in a creative and innovative way. These early findings are extremely promising.  Evidently this model has only been applied for a short period of time and I look forward to analysing long term gains. I believe that this framework provides a bouncing board for discussion on how educators should be creating a rich learning climate. In addition the framework sheds some light as to how educators can take advantage of technological tools available today, propelling our students into the next millennium.

 A ‘Turned In’ photo as a response to being asked to create a pirate ship using materials available at home April 2020.

Reeve, Johnmarshall (2012). A Self-determination Theory Perspective on Students Engagement, Chapter 7. S.L. Christenson et al.(eds), Handbook on Research on Student Engagement. © Springer Science + Business Media, LLC2012

Reeve, Johnmarshall, & Halusic, Marc (2009) How k-12 teachers can put self-determination theory principles into practice. Theory and Research in Education 2009 7:145

Rigby, S., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). New directions in media. Glued to games: How video games draw us in and hold us spellbound. Praeger/ABC-CLIO.

Field, Rachael, Duffy, James, & Huggins, Anna (2014) Independent learning skills, self-determination theory and psychological well-being: strategies for supporting the first year university experience. In Creagh, T (Ed.) Proceedings of the 17th International First Year in Higher Education Conference. Queensland University of Technology, Australia, pp. 1-10

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press