10 Tips to Make Distance Learning Work for Parents And Teachers
Distance Learning: What to Expect When You Didn't Expect the School Year to Look Like This
Full disclosure: None of us saw this coming. In a world where most daily routines involve sending children to school to be educated in person by phenomenal professional teachers-while parents work all day and then pick up said children, bring them home, and play the support role within education-the idea that all students are now being educated full-time at home feels like a random plot twist at the end of a poorly rated sci-fi movie. But this is the current reality. So, what comes next? What can you expect now that schools around the world have closed indefinitely? What role will everyone play in this distance learning era?
Role of the Parent
Your kitchen table is now a classroom desk, but it didn't come with a magic wand that will instantly transform you into a full-time teacher. As the parent, your role is to support your child and help set the stage for their success. Right now, it's important that you:
#1 - Parents: Take time to learn what is expected.
Each district, school, and grade level will have different expectations for distance learning. Before you get too nervous or anxious, take some time to learn what exactly your child is expected to do on a daily/weekly basis. Some schools are sending out "enrichment only" assignments, while others are taking a few weeks to adjust and beginning full-time online learning by the end of the month. Once you know what exactly your child's teacher is expecting, you can create a schedule that will help your child accomplish those tasks.
#2 - Parents: Create a daily routine.
Daily routines help your child feel secure. , To some extent, knowing what each day will look like can help children in these uncertain times. Children really do thrive on structure, whether or not they want to admit it. The key to creating a successful daily routine is to make sure that you've taken into account what each person in your family needs throughout the day and scheduled time to make sure that all of those things happen. As you create your family's routine, be mindful of built-in time for breaks. Remember that your children are used to recess, PE, passing periods, lunch breaks, etc. Make sure you are providing them plenty of time to shut down academically and unwind throughout the day.
#3 - Parents: Help your child take responsibility for his or her learning.
Just as your child is responsible for whatever he or she will learn at school, your child is now responsible for what he or she will learn at home. Your job is to support your child while allowing him or her to celebrate the success and experience the pride that comes with knowing he or she put in the hard work and got the job done! You can help your child take responsibility for each day's learning by starting and ending the day with certain open-ended questions.
In the morning, try asking:
What is your plan for today?
Is there anything you need?
How can I help you be successful?
In the evening, ask your child:
How far did you get on your assignments?
What was your biggest challenge?
What was your greatest success?
What can we do to make tomorrow even better?
These types of questions not only open up a dialogue between parent and child but also continue to put your child in the driver's seat of this distance-learning bus.
#4 - Parents: Partner with other parents.
Here's the good news: Every parent you know is in the same boat you are in right now. Here's the bad news: No one's ever sailed this ship during a global pandemic, so everyone is trying to chart the course at the same time. Partnering with other parents will be critical during this season. Camraderie is key right now, whether it is in the form of connecting with neighbors on Facebook or FaceTiming with other school parents to clarify assignment directions.
#5 - Parents: Stay in close contact with your child's teacher.
It is okay to reach out and ask them questions, although we all recognize that teachers are still trying to figure out exactly what learning will look like over the next few months. It may be helpful to ask for a copy of your child's learning apps and a list of their passwords. You may also want to ask for step-by-step instructions to log-in to the school's learning management system, such as Google Classroom or Canvas. Anything you can have or do during this preparation time will help to make the official launch of digital learning a great success.
Role of the Teacher
While no one expected the end of the schoolyear to look like this, if anyone is capable of changing plans, reworking lessons, and remaining infinitely flexible (while inspiring an entire generation of young people!), it is the teacher. As we transition to distance learning, you can expect your child's teacher to:
#1 - Teachers: Connect and communicate with you and your child.
You can expect your child's teacher to communicate with both of you on a regular basis. That may be through e-mails or text messages, but it may also be through class Zooms, Google Hangouts, or other video-conferencing software through which classmates can all connect with and see each other.
#2 - Teachers: Organize and create assignments.
The ways that teachers deliver assignments may vary, but you can be certain they will provide your children with weekly work. Some teachers will record video lessons, teach live online, or e-mail a packet of work to be completed. Most teachers will strive to think outside the box during this time. Rather than taking traditional tests or assessments, students may be building projects or recording themselves performing a piece. Teachers also may offer options for turning in assignments. Instead of expecting work to be turned in each day, teachers may offer a date range, giving students the freedom to complete assignments on their own timetable.
#3 - Teachers: Begin at the beginning.
Just like the beginning of the year, teachers may need to take a few days to set expectations, teach procedures, and review policies of online learning. While you may be anxious and ready for your child to jump right into the "work" part of schoolwork, trust that establishing these routines up front will be critical for the success of the rest of the year.
Perhaps the biggest change will be the amount of time children are spending doing official schoolwork each day. Research suggests that kindergarten students should spend at least 30 minutes but no more than 90 minutes on assigned schoolwork each day. First and second graders can work between 45 and 90 minutes, while third through fifth graders can be expected to do between 60 and 120 minutes of assignments each day. This is much less than the seven hours we may expect them to do based on a traditional school day. If your child's teacher is following this type of guideline, you may be wondering how exactly you can fill the rest of your child's day. What can you have him or her do while you tackle everything on your to-do list or try and squeeze in your eight-hour workday?
#1 - Ideas for Teaching: Add in some art.
Famous children's author and illustrator and current Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence Mo Willems is offering lunchtime doodle sessions. Have your child tune in to Lunch Doodles with Mo , where they can learn new skills and express their creativity.
#2 - Ideas for Teaching: Take a virtual trip.
While your child can't take a real-life field trip, now is the perfect time to take a virtual field trip. Let your child explore the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago or any of the amazing spots Discovery Education has identified.
#3 - Ideas for Teaching: Set aside time for science.
Certain sites, like National Geographic for Kids, are filled with engaging science experiments that can be done using common household items. Let your child pick a few to explore each week, and then allow him or her to complete the activities at his or her own pace.
#4 - Ideas for Teaching: Get ready to review.
While your teacher will be assigning grade-level appropriate work, having this extra time at home with your child may make you aware of gaps in his or her skill set. Does your child need more time to build fluency with math facts or need extra challenging problems? These weekly math books are exactly what you're looking for! Try printing out a few each day, and encourage your child to review or extend his or her assigned learning.
#5 - Ideas for Teaching: Write it all down.
While it's hard for children to fathom, they are living through a critical time in history. Someday, years from now, people will look back and wonder what life was like for those who lived through it. Encourage your child to keep a journal of his or her days. How are they spending their time? How do they feel about all that is happening? Have them keep track of the joys and the struggles of this season. While many kids are missing their friends and their freedoms, some will look back on this as one of the highlights of their childhood. For the first time in a long while, families are all home together-albeit all the time! Still, they are all in the same place, creating plenty of opportunities for family bonding.
As you wonder what you should expect over the next few months of distance learning, perhaps the most important thing to expect is the fact that each day will be different. Some days will be easy! You'll feel like a distance learning superstar and will think you're ready to homeschool even once school buildings reopen. Other days may leave you in tears, wondering how on earth you will survive the rest of this season. Remember, this is new for everyone. You, your child, and your child's teacher are all trying to navigate through this uncharted territory. Give yourself grace. Give yourself permission to breathe. Promise to do the best you can and trust that your best will be good enough.