Like it or not, remote learning has become a part of our lives and culture. And it’s not likely to fade away anytime soon (vaccine or not). As educators continue to navigate the remote landscape and all that it entails – which is A LOT – some of the truest and simplest principles of learning are getting lost along the way. The question is: Is remote learning forcing us to revert to bad habits?

In a classic classroom situation, less than 10% of instruction time is driven by student talk. For multilingual learners, this percentage is even smaller at less than 5%. Balancing “teacher talk” with “student talk” is not a new educational effort, and it’s a very important one to revisit now.

Why is student talk important?

Language production is essential to learning new and complex information and for deep comprehension. In a study published in Psychological Science, Elise W. M. Hopman and Maryellen C. MacDonald of the University of Wisconsin-Madison compared the effects of comprehension practice and production practice on new language learning. They concluded that structured speaking activities, paired with immediate actionable feedback, may boost students’ ability to speak and understand the language while learning new content.

Who’s doing the talking during remote instruction?

As educators are focused on effective (and even more so ineffective!) technological systems, simply getting students to attend remote or hybrid learning, and trying to check everything off their daily to-do lists, the trend of reverting to ineffective instructional practices is rising. And it can be analyzed simply by determining WHO’S DOING THE TALKING?

Analyze the amount of time teachers are talking vs. time that students are talking and answer these questions:

  • Is synchronous time dominated by one voice?
  • Is synchronous time used to leverage discussion and peer collaboration?
  • Are students mostly answering procedural or factual recall questions?
  • Do students have a key role in discussing what they are learning and how they are learning?
  • How is asynchronous time being utilized?
  • Can asynchronous time be more focused on direct and individualized instruction?

What are strategies for high-quality instruction and student talk in the remote environment?

  • Set aside social and informal communication time for students
  • Teach academic register… there is a continuum for speaking
  • Increase quantity and quality of student discussions in remote instruction by incorporating universal concepts and generalization – these are the big ideas and themes that inspire critical thought, higher-order thinking, and making connections within and across topics
  • Use REVERT ALERT – Have critical conversations to make colleagues aware of when they are reverting to low-effect measures

In remote and hybrid learning, teachers need to become empowered to know that student voices are necessary, as well as the “awkward pauses” that make many cringes, because quite frankly… that’s where the learning is happening! Practicing language while learning new content (with support) benefits all learners and it is essential for multilingual learners. It also takes some of the pressure off the teachers who are (understandably!) exhausted/burned out at the end of each day.

Sometimes just getting back to the basics is what we need. Supporting students’ social/emotional needs by allowing them ample time to talk is also supporting their learning. So let’s get out of the way and let the students do the talking!

Need help navigating the muddy remote/hybrid learning waters? Fostering Quality Schools has developed a Shared Instructional Framework to leverage academic discourse and learner agency. Reach out to us if we can be of service.


Cover Image Credit:

MRI Brain Scans (Getty Images) Retrieved from Vanderbilt University Language learning and the brain.


Hopman EWM, MacDonald MC. Production Practice During Language Learning Improves Comprehension. Psychological Science. 2018;29(6):961-971. doi:10.1177/0956797618754486


Zwiers, J. (2017). Developing oral language to foster students’ academic literacy: Cultivating students’ inner language of comprehending through classroom conversation. In D. Lapp and D. Fisher (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Teaching the English Language Arts (Ch. 8, 4th ed.). Newark, DE: International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.


How Much Should Teachers Talk in the Classroom? Much Less, Some Say. (2020). Retrieved from


Do those who talk more learn more? The relationship between student classroom talk and student achievement, Learning and Instruction, Volume 63, 2019, Retrieved from Science Direct