5 Essential Practices to Optimize Distance Learning
In March 2020, the life of every American changed almost instantly. Where I reside, in Maryland, the exact day was Thursday, March 12, 2020. On that day, Governor Hogan announced that all Maryland schools would be closed for the next two weeks in response to the pandemic; little did we know that two weeks would stretch into the entire fourth quarter.
As an educator, I never imagined that it to be possible that I could do my job from home. Nevertheless, at the end of the two weeks, when we realized we weren’t going back, EVERYONE had to rethink education. It was not easy and there was definitely a learning curve. Many parents felt forced to step into the role of being a teacher for their children while trying to maintain a full-time job, while teachers felt helpless in determining how to engage students virtually. But, thankfully…
History does not have to repeat itself. Although many states and school districts are choosing to continue distance learning, we can still have a great year! Teachers all around the nation, myself included, have had all summer to reflect and plan for a far more effective and engaging virtual classroom this school year. HOWEVER, education is not an one-sided endeavor. It takes a village to educate a child.
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In a nutshell, the setting is different but the goal remains the same: Prepare our students for college and the real world. That’s it, plain and simple. In order to achieve this goal, here are 5 simple, but sometimes overlooked, practices that will instantly enhance your child’s virtual learning experience and ensure your child has the best school year yet!
Participate in Live Instruction Whenever Possible
Always opt for live streaming over pre-recorded classes. There is a reason we don’t count Sesame Street as a formal preschool education. Watching or listening to a video is not an ideal means of learning. Learning, at any age, is optimized when there is some degree of interaction and engagement with the material whether in the form of choral singing, asking questions or moving manipulatives. It is important to give students an opportunity to interact with the content matter.
If your child’s teacher offers the choice between pre-recorded and live lessons, make a point to attend the live lessons. If live lessons are not an option, look in your community for other parents who are seeking a more engaging learning experience. Learning pods are popping up all over the country and offer unique, tailored instruction to small groups of children in virtual or in-person formats.
Learning pods allow students to get live feedback and social engagement while learning which helps to solidify the knowledge. The Next Door and Facebook apps have tons of networking groups with parents eager to connect and enhance their students' learning. If nothing else, it’s a great idea to join a few networking groups for emotional support and educational resource ideas.
Make and Keep a Schedule
One of the first things you learn in teacher school is that children thrive with structure. Being able to anticipate upcoming events in their day and week, helps students learn self-regulation skills and can reduce feelings of anxiety. In school, every classroom has a daily and weekly schedule that is only diverged from for the occasional assembly and monthly fire drills.
Make a schedule based on the hours of your teacher/school and what works best for your household. It is a good idea to post the schedule in a place where everyone can see it. Ideally, for younger students, provide picture cues to help define the text in your schedule.
Go Back to School Shopping
Yes, this is still a necessity even with distance learning. Since most students will opt to attend class in their pajamas, shopping for back to school clothes may not be necessary, but school supplies are more important than ever. This is especially true in the primary grades where fine motor skills are being strengthened. It is essential that students come to class prepared with scissors, pencils and crayons. Oftentimes in school, classmates share these materials. But with distance learning, it is more important than ever that students have age-appropriate materials readily available to access learning.
Attitude and Preparedness
The virtual classroom can sometimes be underwhelming and students find it easy to disengage. However, it's critical that all participants in the learning experience remain engaged and vigilant in working towards the common goal of college readiness.
So parents, we must have serious conversations with our children that emphasize the importance of online learning to keep us safe and the opportunity that it affords. When children see the virtual classroom as an opportunity for advancement in computer knowledge and a relaxing home learning environment, as oppose to a hindrance or misfortune, it changes the culture of online learning for everyone for the better.
Being well rested is another component of being prepared. In keeping with your schedule discussed earlier, be sure that your children get to sleep around the same time every day and come to class rested and ready to learn.
Limit Household Distractions
This may seem obvious, but the household has many distractions like the television, toys, even parents as they conduct calls and meetings from the home office, which (for many of us) is the kitchen table. Try to find a space in your home with minimal distractions and be sure to include that space in the household schedule, so that it is always available when your child’s class starts.