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We’re all overwhelmed right now and can use some tips for distance learning. As teachers, we’ve been thrown a curveball. You are no longer a teacher within a building with resources and live people, you’re an online teacher. Some of your learners may not even have internet or digital access to “see” you. As parents, we’ve been told that our children are now essentially being homeschooled. Sure, there will be resources (through remote/distance/or e-learning) from teachers, but it’s not the same as having your student at school.

I am feeling the pull in both directions right now, as a middle school teacher and a mom to a third-grader. As scary as this is, I know we can rock distance learning during school closures with these tips!

Tips for Distance Learning

Be flexible.

Whether you are a parent or a teacher, this is your time to let things go. You don’t have to cover everything in a curriculum guide or every enrichment suggestion a teacher sends you.

Parents

  • Take advantage of beautiful weather and take a walk (with appropriate social distance) around the neighborhood.
  • Let your child’s curiosity guide what they learn. Try having your child explore their own passion project at home!
  • Allow a later start and flexible scheduling if your child’s class is not meeting “live”. Some school start times are SO EARLY. This is a chance to have your child work when they learn best.

Teachers

  • Don’t feel like you have to cover everything in your curriculum. It’s not feasible, and it’s not necessary. Focus on your end goals. What do you want your students to know and be able to do? How can you get there digitally?
  • Know that this is new for everyone. Chances are, you’ve never taught online. Your scholars haven’t been online learners.
  • If you are live teaching, give your students a bit of time at the beginning of class to share. Your learners may be struggling with social distancing right now. Some of their parents may have lost their jobs. Let them share what’s on their mind.

Pay attention to social-emotional needs.

At home, I am encouraging my daughter to talk about what she’s feeling every day. I do the same with my students. Pre-social distancing, I had a Google form where the kids could “check-in”. I adapted this from several other teachers online to make it my own for my students.

This works just as well when the students are participating in distance learning.

Here are some questions you’ll want to ask your students on the Google Form:

How are you feeling today?

I give multiple-choice options to answer this question. That way, in my spreadsheet, I can quickly scan the students that need a check-in or conversation.

  • 1. I am great.
  • 2. I am OK.
  • 3. I am “meh”.
  • 4. I am struggling.
  • 5. I am having a tough time and wouldn’t mind a check-in.
  • 6. I am not doing great.
  • For younger learners, you may want to use emoji options to have them express how they are feeling.

How did you sleep last night?

On a scale of 1-5 (little to no sleep to a perfect night of sleep), ask your students how they are sleeping. If you notice trends, you may want to have conversations with students, parents, or your counselor to make sure your students are getting enough rest to keep them healthy.

How was your breakfast or lunch?

I give a scale of 1-5 (skipped breakfast/lunch to the best breakfast/lunch ever). If you see that your students are frequently not getting to eat, you can reach out to your school counselor or administrator to help parents get resources if needed.

Anything else I need to know?

Give your students a chance to share things that are going on in their life. This is an overwhelming time for everyone. Leave this question optional since many students will be managing just fine!

Other questions

Daily check-in forms are also places to ask quick check for understanding questions or just for fun questions (What Netflix show are you watching? What do you miss the most about school? Who is your favorite Disney character?). You may ask your students to provide questions as well!

Don’t make it all about the tech.

I write a blog called Creative Tech Teacher, but I don’t think distance learning needs to be centered around technology. If your students have the tools to connect with you digitally, go for it! However, focus on learning, not the tools.

For example, I am having my students write a historical account of their time away from school. They’ll do daily journaling using Google Slides with a template I share. However, if they want to write a paper journal or scrapbook, I will let them! It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

If your students do have access to the internet and devices, here are some awesome tools you may want to use for remote or distance learning!

Embrace play!

Don’t forget to give your students (and your own kids) time to play and explore during this time. Whether it’s playing outside (no play dates for now) or free play activities engaging their imaginations indoors, let your learners have time to play and share about their experiences!

Ask for help.

One of the few benefits of being away from my classroom is the way I’ve seen the community (and really the world) come together. Teachers are sharing their resources, parents are praising teachers and asking for help, and we’re all in this together! Some of my colleagues started a GlideApp (it is a website but looks like an app) where everyone is sharing and curating resources to help teachers during this time. Search for resources or add your ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I promise that if you send me an email (see my website in the bio), I will do my best to help you during this time!

We’re all in this together. Whether you are a parent or a teacher, follow these tips to learn how to rock distance learning during school closures. Ask for help, be flexible, and try new things!

Biography: Jen is a middle school public school teacher and PhD student in Omaha, Nebraska. She writes about education at Creative Tech Teacher.