Distance Learning: Best Practices for Teachers – #3

Schools are doing their best all over the nation to open safely and responsibly for their students. Some schools are opening entirely in person, while others are opening using distance learning. Distance learning is the use of technology, such as Google Classroom, Seesaw, Schoology, Class Dojo, Zoom, and many more platforms to teach students remotely. Another model is the hybrid model, where schools combine these two methods in a unique way. Today we’re going to be focusing on distance learning, and ways to encourage best practices for all involved.

  • How can teachers make their workload easier?
  1. Use the “three before me” method for tech issues. Google, a sibling, and then FT a friend before asking the teacher for help
  2. Unlock your empathy- realize that students are struggling with their work-life balance just as you are. They are living in different situations, sometimes ones we can’t imagine, and are doing the best they can. If a student asks for an extension for a deadline, give it. If a student explains that an assignment feels impossible, look for modifications.
  3. Good teaching strategies are relevant today as well. Simplify your instructions, and just like you might walk over to a student you know struggles with certain things when assigning something that will trigger that struggle, offer that student a 1:1 Zoom call or small group call for that assignment.
  4. Look into peer-tutoring options for extra credit for students who are excelling. This may provide relief for you, while cementing their understanding. We know that students truly understand when they can teach others, and this is a great way to ensure that your struggling students have access to more help without adding additional hours on your plate of work.
  5. If you check out my website, I will have links posted to resources that may help. I will continue to add to this list as I find resources, so check back every time you listen in to see if there’s anything new. I’ll include cheat sheets for technology, projects and lessons that are already created, and much more.
  • How can teachers attract more engagement from their students?
  1. Use “high touch” learning- involving more collaborative activities and synchronous interaction with teachers and classmates
  2. Greater interactivity: games, web-based simulations, and interactive videos- fewer worksheets
  3. Personalized learning- a range of activities that address students’ skills, abilities, interests, and home situations. This can be done by providing students a menu or choice board for displaying their learning.
  4. Focus on balancing direct instruction, cognitive models of learning (structured activities that don’t just put info in students heads but get knowledge out- inductive reasoning, open-ended questioning, experiments, metacognitive strategies, and problem-solving), and social models of learning (jigsaw approaches, reciprocal teaching, discussions, debates, and peer tutoring)
  5. Students need to see the relevance of what they are learning, or they will be less motivated. Studies have shown time and time again that motivation is one of the major factors in successful learning, and now more than ever, students will be less engaged if they feel the work is “busy work”.
  6. Project-Based Learning may be a life saver. If you are familiar with this mode of teaching, you’ll know how it can be used to teach multiple subjects with one goal- students gaining confidence in their own ability to produce relevant projects based on their learning. PBL is highly motivating for students when done well. It can also enhance students ability to monitor their own learning, which can only help them in this time of distance learning. If you have little to no experience using PBL, now is probably not the time to dive in and create projects yourself (unless you want to, get hyped and creative!). There are resources for this type of learning available online for free or close to free. PBL Works, for example.
  • How can teachers make things easier for the parents or guardians trying to help their students, or the students who are trying to do it alone?
  1. Try to use a limited number of communication tools. If this is already decided by your campus, even better. If your campus chose Google but you like Seesaw better, this year might be one to do what is best for your students at the expense of your own comfort. Students are already having to become more responsible for their learning than they’ve ever been, so limiting the number of interfaces they have to learn will help to limit their feeling of overwhelming.
  2. Record yourself giving the directions for every assignment, and post it on your teaching platform so that if students didn’t hear it or are confused, they can find it easily. This will be helpful to you and your students. Offer “office hours” where you’re on an open Zoom (or whatever) call, and students can pop in as needed for clarification if they need more help.
  3. My math teacher posted recorded math lessons so that when I got home and couldn’t remember a word he said, I could go back and rewatch the parts I needed for my homework. This could be helpful for students.
  4. Take emotion checks- use a survey or Google doc where students can type in answers. It’s essential to know where they are emotional, as this will affect their learning. This will allow you to focus on those who are obviously struggling.
  5. Focus on creating a sense of community your students are missing. Use virtual ice breakers, such as asking students to choose an object or draw a picture of something that represents their personality to share with the class. Create class traditions and routines that make them feel safe and at home. Use collaborative projects. Remember to make individual connections. Besides 1:1 calls, you can send letters, have driveway visits, or drive-by celebrations for big goals being met.
  6. Create rubrics for students, and example work. This way students can see what is expected of them and aren’t trying to create something they have no reference of. Imagine being asked to make a Google site for the first time without being shown what it is. Students often lack research skills, especially younger students. They might not know how to figure out how to make something they’ve never heard of, or only seen quick examples of without putting much thought into it.
  7. Assign large tasks in small doses. My professors have done that for me through ensuring that what I am making each week is a part of my final project, so I simply have to piece together, revise, and add small details to make the final project.
  8. Create expectations and teach them explicitly. Before that, check out your expectations and see if they are realistic. An assignment at the beginning of the year maybe to find their learning spot in the house, take a picture, and explain why it’s a good spot for them.
  9. Create a screencast of how to navigate the technology used
  10. Make take-home kits- math manipulatives, books, dice, counters. Makes planning easier
  11. Keep office hours the same each week. Have a morning meeting if possible. Routines.

Below are some resources that may prove helpful for you this year:

Technology Resources:

Project Based Learning Resources:

Tips For Starting the School Year:

Additional Resources:

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