5 Simple Tips to Make Distance Learning Work for Your Digital Classroom

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Each one of us is dealing with a great deal of personal stress and anxiety amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. On top of this, we as educators are faced with the double-edged sword of ensuring that our students continue to make progress towards their educational goals while simultaneously maintaining a sense of normalcy and calm during these uncertain times. Schools across the United States are relying on teachers to make the switch to distance learning to fill the gap left by school cancellations. However, many teachers have little to no experience or training in using e-learning technologies and may find themselves feeling lost, frustrated, or overwhelmed by the challenge. With the right approach, however, distance learning can be a great opportunity for educators to diversify and revitalize their teaching methods. Students can stay on track—and even excel—at distance learning with the right guidance from their teachers. Read on for some key tips and strategies that can help you make COVID-19 learning productive and fun.

1. Less is more

When creating assignments for students to complete at home, a good rule of thumb is to cut back slightly on what you would normally assign, as it may take up to twice as long for students to complete each task. Remember that your students will be completing the work at their own pace, and many of them may be struggling more than usual to get a handle on the material due to the abrupt transition to an unfamiliar learning medium. Overwhelming them with a heavy workload, even if it is similar to the amount you would cover on a regular day in the classroom, will leave learners feeling discouraged and stressed as they try to adjust to the new normal. On the bright side, one of the positive aspects of distance learning is that it gives students with different learning styles the flexibility they need to excel! You may be pleasantly surprised to see improvement in some of your students during distance learning.

2. Be clear and concise when communicating lesson instructions

Instead of writing paragraph-style explanations for each activity, keep it simple with a few short bullet points that explain each activity step-by-step, using simple language. Be sure to provide objective metrics (e.g. “Please record your response in a 3-minute audio file”), which will ensure that students understand precisely what they are being asked to do. Not only will this lead to better learning outcomes, but you will be less inundated with messages from confused students and parents asking you to explain the assignment. If you plan on showing a movie make sure you have clear expectations of what the students should submit. A site like Movie Sheets has thousands of teacher generated worksheets that go along with movies. If you are looking for a movie but are at a blank of what to show, take a look at the movie guides they offer. For example if you are teaching about environmental science they offer over 148 movie worksheets on that topic.

3. Have a plan to manage distractions if you opt for live video chat

While not all distance learning curricula involve the use of video chat, many educators may use this tool to present new course content to the class, moderate a class discussion, or host one-on-one meetings with individual students. Besides the technical difficulties that can come with using video conferencing technology, however, one of the most common stumbling blocks is the common phenomenon an off-screen distraction derailing the conversation. You can mitigate this with three easy strategies. First, before you initiate a video chat, make sure that all of your participants confirm that they are ready and have found a quiet place to talk. Second, instruct students to mute their microphones when they are not speaking. And third, if a distraction does arise—for example, if a younger sibling or pet wanders into the frame—redirect the class’s attention in a gentle, but firm way. If you have already implemented classroom management tools to refocus attention with your students, be sure to use them just as consistently in the distance learning environment as you would in the classroom!

4. Reach out to parents early and often

As educators, we know that parents have the potential to be either our most helpful allies or our greatest enemies. The same is true for distance learning, except that parents’ roles are even more heightened than usual. The routines that parents implement during social distancing or quarantine at home, and their level of support for distance learning, directly influence how successful you can be with your students. To ensure that you and your students’ parents are on the same page, contact them as soon as possible and explain your plans for the coming weeks (or months) of distance learning. Continue to check in with them regularly to let them know when their children need to be online (if you have set specific times for video chat or other time-sensitive activities) and when assignments are due. Ask for their support! If you show parents that you are serious about their children’s learning despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis, you will gain respect that will last long after regular classes resume at school.

5. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box

View coronavirus learning as an opportunity to expand your students’ horizons—and your own! Even though all of us will be in various stages of cabin fever in the coming weeks, you can use the home setting to your advantage. Try creating digital games for students to review at Review Game Zone. The site allows you to turn multiple choice questions into addicting games for students to play. These games are a nice way to break up the distance learning. Another idea think of warm-up activities that relate to the students’ environment. For example, a foreign language teacher might ask students to take turns describing the room in which they are sitting or what they can see through the nearest window. An English language and literature teacher might seek to harness students’ intense emotional responses to current events in a creative writing or journaling assignment. A biology teacher might ask students to identify a house or garden plant and classify it according to its taxonomic rank. Your students will greatly enjoy the opportunity to learn in a way that feels more personable and spontaneous than a typical day spent in a physical classroom. If you view distance learning during COVID-19 as an opportunity, you and your students can find ways to grow and develop while staying on track. With determination and a positive attitude, we educators will emerge reinvigorated and with fresh perspectives on teaching.