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How’s your kid’s online class? Here’s the gold standard.

Aimee Rodriguez Webb, a teacher in Cobb County, Ga., prepares for distance learning at her dining room table, which she set up as a virtual classroom. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Doug Lemov’s life changed when he discovered a football player he was tutoring at Indiana University could not write a complete sentence. From childhood, the future Big Ten defensive lineman’s teachers didn’t want to demand hard work from such a nice kid with athletic potential.

Lemov became a teacher so he could stop that from happening, and then he wrote two books full of precise examples of great instruction. They became a publishing sensation: “Teach Like a Champion” and “Teach Like a Champion 2.0” have sold 1.3 million copies, and “TLAC 3.0” arrives this summer.

The books allowed Lemov to create a team of teaching experts who have just produced one of the most useful books ever written for this new year. It describes the best kind of online lessons, and how to turn parts of the worldwide experiment in Zoom pedagogy into something that might enhance future instruction anywhere.

The book is “Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal.” The authors do not think remote instruction is the solution to our educational problems. Instead, they ache to get back into real classrooms.

“We have spent much of our collective careers studying them — every tiny interaction by each tiny interaction — because we think they matter so much, and because we think that classrooms are uniquely suited to build a culture around students that bring out their best,” the authors said.

They demonstrate how to mix learning in real time with learning through prepared videos. They show how to remove the barriers of screens — what they call “learning through a tiny keyhole” — by borrowing proven classroom practices, recognizing individual students in thrilling ways and touching children’s lives offline with happy, private chats. They recommend battling student inattention with good work stations, quick openings, smart pacing and the reading of actual books.

Why teachers should ask more questions

They say remote learning might work better if teachers partnered up, one handling the live classes (what is called synchronous instruction) and one preparing the videos (asynchronous instruction). They extol carefully planned pauses and regular checks for understanding that probe in a friendly way: “Maggie, you always have such interesting insights around problem-solving. What strategy did you use here?”

They raise delicate topics: How are we going to handle schools opening and then suddenly closing again, or opening just for some kids? Are there approaches teachers have learned during this awful year that will help them when they are back in classrooms with students in front of them, waiting expectantly?

Should schools try looping — letting classes stay with the same teacher this fall? The authors acknowledge some students may be left at home because their parents don’t want them at risk of the virus. Those might be reached with emails, texts, phone calls and socially distanced face-to-face meetings, the authors said. They suggest that schools reopening only partially might decide that “who comes back first after a wave of pandemic may be who needs to be back first.”

Children who were furthest behind before pandemic suffer the most

They note many instructors have produced recorded lessons, some quite powerful. Why not use them when schools reopen to help students catch up and encourage periodic reviews essential to long-term learning?

“Having broken the barriers of time and place, we have also potentially opened the door to better and greater use of one of teaching’s scarcest commodities: specific expertise,” the authors said. It is tough to find capable physics, chemistry and higher math teachers in high school. Why not have the best in those categories prepare videos or lesson plans for less-experienced teachers?

The book pulses with enthusiasm for sharing with fellow professionals. I find that more common in teaching than in other kinds of work, such as journalism. Educators aren’t byline hungry like me. But I don’t think they will mind if I reveal the names of those who, with Lemov, wrote the book. In alphabetical order, they are: Emily Badillo, Jaime Brillante, John Costello, Dan Cotton, Colleen Driggs, Kevin Grijalva, Brittany Hargrove, Hilary Lewis, Rob Richard, Jen Rugani, Hannah Solomon, Beth Verrilli, Darryl Williams and Erica Woolway.

They identify several other teachers whose work inspired their recommendations. I was pleased to see many of those techniques being used by the teachers of a certain sixth grader who has let me watch him learn in front of his laptop the past few months.

The book is just one of many instances of teachers helping other teachers. That is a great strength of their profession. It will be with them forever, no matter what devices they have to use to get our children to the next level.

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