October 7, 2020
Teaching Wit & Wisdom at a Distance

every child is capable of greatness.

Posted in: Aha! Blog > Wit & Wisdom Blog > Distance Learning > Teaching Wit & Wisdom at a Distance

this month's focus

Many of the key elements of Wit & Wisdom® translate well to distance learning, and through strategic planning and action, teachers can help ensure the success of distance and hybrid learning. 


For many educators, teaching in 2020–2021 includes in-person classroom instruction, distance learning, or a hybrid approach

To meet essential curricular goals in varying modes of delivery, consider taking the following actions: 

Prioritize content and skills. As learning shifts between in-person, distance, and hybrid environments, teachers will likely have less time with students—and for planning and preparation. Consequently, teachers need to prioritize critical skills and knowledge. To maintain the grade-level rigor of Wit & Wisdom , teachers should identify the goals in the Module Overview that are essential for student success in subsequent grade levels and ultimately college and their careersAs a guide, we recommend the following resource from Student Achievement Partners, which informed our development of Wit & Wisdom in Sync: 

Student Achievement Partners. 2020–2021 Priority Instructional Content in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics. Achieve the Core, 2020.

Those teaching with Wit & Wisdom in Sync Grades K8 are already working with a streamlined curriculum by following the Learn Anywhere Plan (LAP) for each module. Grades K4 teachers who are not using Wit & Wisdom in Sync may want to examine Wit & Wisdom  to determine whether they can remove certain core texts and accompanying lessons from the modules without compromising the corresponding knowledge goals. Grades 58 teachers will not want to do so because those modules typically include only one or two core texts.  

Teachers can also effectively teach some Wit & Wisdom lesson components to small groups or individual students rather than using whole group instructional time. For exampleteachers can direct Deep Dive instruction toward certain students, or small groups can focus on certain aspects of writing as well as speaking and listening instruction. 

Determine the most effective mode of deliveryConsider what is best taught synchronously and what asynchronously.  

Synchronous Instruction 

Asynchronous Instruction 

What It Is 

  • Students learn in real time via live webinars or video- and audioconferencing systems or, in schools with student populations without access to digital devices and the internet, over the phone. 

What It Is 

  • Students learn independently through prerecorded videos, emails, blog posts, or other digital content. 




  • Students interact and collaborate 
  • Teachers can assess student understanding at the point of learning. 
  • Teachers can immediately adjust teaching as needed and answer student questions. 


  • Learners work at their own pace. 
  • Learners can complete work anywhere, anytime. 
  • Teachers can ensure consistent delivery of content to all students.  


  • All learners must engage at the same time.  
  • Technology may pose challenges in real time.  


  • It may be more challenging to create a community of learners.  
  • Learners may feel isolated.  
  • Learners need to be self-motivated. 

wo foundational Wit & Wisdom  tenets align naturally with synchronous and asynchronous instruction: 

  • All students need access to high-quality direct instruction on new content. (This can be asynchronous.) 
  • Teacher-facilitated peer-to-peer discourse is a powerful element of student learning and should be prioritized. (This should be synchronous.) 

Teachers will not want to use precious synchronous or in-person time with students on instruction that could be delivered asynchronously. The following chart provides broad guidelines on how to most effectively deliver specific Wit & Wisdom  components. Note that these guidelines generally describe the division of teaching responsibility between the Great Minds® teacher (video instruction) and the classroom teacher in the Wit & Wisdom in Sync framework.  

Wit & Wisdom  Components Suitable for Synchronous Instruction 

Wit & Wisdom  Components Suitable for  
Asynchronous Instruction 

  • Socratic Seminars
  • Partner or small group discussion
  • Read Alouds with embedded text-dependent questions (TDQs)



  • Independent reading (possible if each student has a copy of the text or access to an e-book  version) 
  • Content delivery (lesson content that translates well to the prerecorded video, with break points for students to pause the video and respond in writing)  

 educators should consider the balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning. Devoting more time to whole- and small-group synchronous learning will support participation, particularly by younger students 


Establish norms for distance learning. Identifying and maintaining classroom norms for distance learning supports academic development and community building. If possible, involve students in articulating these norms. Consider asking questions such as these: 

  • What are the expectations for participation? 
  • What are the guidelines for respectful communications online? 
  • How can we respect a diversity of opinions online? 
  • What are the expectations for group work and team member participation? 
  • Do specific rules exist for participation in digital conferencing platforms? (These might include
    turning the camera on or displaying a picture and muting yourself when not speaking.) 
  • What are the guidelines for communications outside of class time? 


Adapt instruction for distance learning. Distance learning does present new opportunities for teachers and students. Teaching online can also present a number of challenges, including the inability to re-create in-person instruction and routinesin fact, distance learning may be less effective if teachers try to teach as they would in an in-person settingConsider these examples of adaptations as you plan and deliver distance instruction.   


Current Lesson Element or Instructional Routine 

Adaptation for Distance Learning 

Welcome (activity to set the stage for learning) 

Welcome routines are particularly important in times of disruption. Post a question, set up a poll, or introduce a new vocabulary word in the classroom’s online space.  

Launch (sharing of Content Framing Question for the lesson) 

Create an online space to display the module’s Essential Question, Focusing Question, and daily Content Framing and Craft questions.  

Text-Dependent Questions (TDQs)

Post TDQs so students can answer them as they read. Then use synchronous learning time to discuss responses and share ideas. Providing the questions in advance helps ensure participation in the later discussion. If students are working completely asynchronously, have them post responses in a shared space and invite them to engage in online discussion.  

Read Alouds 

Post recordings of yourself reading aloud, YouTube read aloud recordings, or other audio book recordings for students and families and caregivers. Avoid the temptation to incorporate round-robin reading, which research has shown is ineffective.  

Teacher-directed instruction  

Record and post an instructional video for students to watch before the next lesson 


AsynchronousAssign students a text, content to read or review, or a task to complete independently by a certain deadline. Pair students and direct them to use the shared virtual space or a Chat feature to discuss and respond to the assignment and offer each other feedback. Direct pairs to post final work or ideas to shared class space by a certain deadline, and then invite all students to read and comment on the work 

SynchronousAssign students a brief text, content to read or review, or a task to review or complete independently. Pause as a group while students work. Then assign students to breakout rooms to discuss and respond to the assignment and offer each other feedback. Return to the whole group for discussion.   

Small group work 

Organize breakout rooms in your online collaboration platform.  

Fluency practice  

Direct students to use a digital recording tool, such as Vocaroo, to record and share their fluent Read Alouds.  


Take steps to meet students’ social-emotional needsMany students have likely returned to school in fall 2020 with social-emotional learning needs related to the disruptions from the pandemic. Wit & Wisdom  offers opportunities for teachers to support students’ social-emotional learning, even at a distance.  

Wit & Wisdom  texts and read alouds allow students to explore the human experience and address universal themes and emotions. Storytelling is a natural bridge between academic and social-emotional competencies.   

Collaborative learning opportunities can take place virtually through video- or audioconferencing platforms. When they collaborate, students build relationships and develop communication and listening skills. Knowledge-based discussions provide students the chance to reflect on and hone academic expertise and social-emotional skills. 

Help students recharge and refocus by building in breaks for simple breathing exercises, stretching, or moments of quiet reflection. 

For more on how to support students’ social-emotional learningread this blog post and explore the resources available from Great Minds and from CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

Connect with families and caregiversThe shifting educational landscape this yeah makes intentional and frequent communication with families and caregivers more important than ever. Here are a few suggestions for engaging with families and caregivers. 

  • Communicate clearly about technical requirements. Provide technology training and support for educators, families, caregivers, and students, and make sure to streamline the digital platforms and procedures for distance and hybrid learning. Host a meeting with the technology that students use to ensure access and ease of use. Consistently use the same technology for the same types of meetings, communications, and assignments.  

    Wit & Wisdom in Sync teachers can share the Help Center link with families for straight-to-the-source answers to questions, such as how to access and submit student work: digitalsupport.greatminds.org  
  • Keep families informed about content. Research shows that family involvement helps students most when parents and caregivers are well-informed about their student’s academic learning. The Wit & Wisdom Family Tip Sheets (in English at witeng.link/wwtips and in Spanish at witeng.link/wwsptips) for each module summarize key knowledge, list texts, and suggest questions caregivers can ask or activities families can do to extend learning at home. Family Tip Sheets are especially important for multilingual learners. When parents know the topics being studied, they can help students build knowledge in their home language—thus supporting development of both languages. If students have copies of core texts, as Wit & Wisdom in Sync students will, encourage families to read the texts and engage in text-based discussions together.  
  • Be clear about expectations. Regular contact with students’ families or caregivers—via a consistent platform and on a predictable schedule—will do much to support families this academic year. Clearly spell out the expectations for learning support, “attendance,” and work submission at home as well as for in-person classroom routines.  
  • Communicate in a variety of ways. Families and students may differ in the modes of communication they find most helpful. Use a variety of formats for communications with families and caregivers, both synchronous and asynchronousincluding sending weekly email updates and reminders, engaging by using the same collaborative conferencing tools students use, and holding weekly office hours.   


  • Establish regular routines and schedulesand communicate these with students and families and caregivers. Habits helps students with daily participation.  
  • Be flexible with pacing. The various contexts for learning—and the shifts between them—may mean less focused teaching and learning time. You may not be able to complete a full lesson each day or all four modules in the academic year. Depending on the daily and weekly schedulesWit & Wisdom in Sync teachers may find that it works better to hold the Great Minds video instruction and classroom teacher instruction on alternate days.  
  • Keep online lessons short (20–30 minutes), and build breaks into any schedule 
  • Use the features of digital and videoconferencing platforms. Assign a poll to spark thinking on a topic or to encourage metacognition or goal setting. Use the Chat feature to engage students in sharing ideasand then ask students to unmute and share aloud. Activate closed captions in your virtual meeting tool, as visual learners, developing readers, and multilingual learners may benefit from hearing and seeing your words. 
  • If allowable under school and district guidelines, build a sense of classroom community by encouraging the use of cameras and minimizing or closing slide presentations or visuals during discussion so students can see their classmates. Seeing their friends motivates students to participate  
  • Share ideas with colleagues. Working with others can make teaching easier and help lessen the burden of these shifts. Seeking different ideas may help expand thinking and lead to more creative approaches to distance learning. 
  • Take care of yourself. This is a challenging time to be an educator, but it has also highlighted the crucial role educators play in the lives of students and caregivers. We are here to support you and appreciate all you do to support all students.   

Topics: Distance Learning