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

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.

Co Teaching Models | Overview of Key Concepts

What is Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is an instructional method in which two or more educators collaborate to plan, teach, and engage students in the same physical classroom using one of several co teaching models available. Also known as “push-in teaching,” co-teaching is frequently used in inclusion classrooms where both general population learners and special education students learn together.  In these contexts, a general education teacher may co-teach alongside an English Language Learner (ELL) specialist or a special education teacher. This one of the co teaching models allows for extra support for students with additional learning needs, and teachers can differentiate learning material based on the differing levels in the classroom.

Benefits of Co-Teaching

Co-teaching holds benefits for both students and teachers as can be viewed in the list below of co teaching models.

First, co-teaching can help ensure that special education students remain in general education classrooms, have access to the same curriculum as their peers, and are not isolated according to learning needs. This reduces stigma, promotes a more cohesive school community, and provides more opportunities for social interactions with peers.

For example, a history classroom may have a co-teaching team if it includes both students who are English Language Learners as well as the general population. A co-teaching team made up of a history teacher and an ELL specialist would ensure that non-native English speakers can interact with peers, practice their English, and learn from the same curriculum as their classmates.  General education students, likewise, benefit from the diverse perspective of ELL classmates.

The general education learners also benefit in other ways. History lessons will draw on the strengths and ideas of both teachers, and are therefore more interactive and can apply to a variety of students’ learning styles. The co-teaching model also reduces the student to teacher ratio, allowing all students to receive more individualized instruction and build relationships with teachers.

Teachers can also reap the benefits of a co-teaching team. Teachers are able to learn from one another’s teaching methods, monitor and respond to student behavior, and provide and receive professional feedback.

Co Teaching Models:

Co-teaching teams can choose a variety of formats to best support students in their classroom using one of the co teaching models below.

One Teaches, One Observes

In this method, one teacher provides the bulk of instruction while the other observes the students at work. This method is used when the two teachers are hoping to gain insights into student’s behavior, work, or understanding, and allows one teacher to make observations and collect data throughout the lesson.

Station Teaching:

In station teaching, the two teachers break the class up into two or three different groups, all circled around different “stations” that present material in different formats. Teachers run two of the stations, while students lead other stations themselves. This method allows co-teachers to engage students through targeted teaching styles, promotes collaborative group work, and reduces the student to teacher ratio.

Parallel Teaching:

In this model, the teachers break the students up into two different groups in the classroom. Both teachers deliver the same content, but utilize different teaching styles that are tailored to the unique needs of students. For instance, one teachers’ lesson might include more visual components and easier texts for students with reading challenges, while the other included more difficult texts on the same subject.

Alternative Teaching:

In an alternative teaching setting, the two teachers work to identify students who are most at-risk of falling behind in the classroom. One teacher leads a small group session with at-risk students, while the other continues to provide the curriculum at an accelerated pace to the rest of the class.


The “two bodies, one brain approach,” teaming involves both teachers delivering the same content together. One teacher might facilitate a discussion with the students, while the other writes notes on the board or draws out key themes as their co-teachers speaks.  

One Teaching, One Assisting

In this format, one teacher is the primary instructor, while another teacher floats throughout the room to assist students. For example, one teacher may give the bulk of the lesson, while another rotates among the students, monitors their work, re-directs students who have lost attention, and answers questions students might have. This allows the first teacher to focus on providing high quality instruction, while the second focuses on promoting positive behavior and helping students with challenges.

Challenges of Co-teaching

And while co-teaching can benefit both students and teachers, it is not without its challenges.

Some co-teachers can feel as though there is a lack of parity between the “lead teacher” and the “support teacher.” If students believe that one teacher is the primary instructor, while the other is merely an assistant, students may choose to only listen to or respect the lead teacher.

Co-teachers might also disagree on different modes of instruction, behavior management, and teaching methodologies. Constant communication is necessary to ensure that teachers have a shared understanding of the lesson plan.

Co-teaching also raises challenges in evaluating students. Co-teachers must decide if both teachers grade all the students’ work, if they split grading, and what to do if they disagree on a student’s evaluation.

Tips for Successful Co-Teaching

Many of these challenges can be mitigated through strong communication, planning, and reflection.

Strong communication begins with the teachers knowing one another personally, and taking time to establish rapport and respect between each other. Co-teachers should take time to discuss what makes them feel respected, what is most likely to make them angry, and how disagreements should be solved if they arise during class. Co-teachers must constantly negotiate between differences in teaching styles, and appreciate and learn from each other’s ideas.

Strong co-teachers also plan together before the class begins. By establishing clear roles and responsibilities for the lesson beforehand, co-teachers can ensure that their strengths compliment one another and that there is parity in the classroom. Teachers should also plan how to respond to behavior challenges in the classroom. Teachers can post clear rules and consequences in the classroom, and use these as visual references. Clearly set rules and expectations communicate to students that the co-teachers are an equal team, and that both are responsible for managing the classroom.

Finally, co-teaching teams should take time to hold regular reflections together. Reflections can happen during planning periods, at the end of the day, or at the end of the week. Reflections are an opportunity to discuss what went well during a class and what can be improved, and provide a continuous feedback loop so that teachers can improve.


Co-teaching can be an effective strategy for differentiating lesson plans and creating a supportive, inclusive space. Co-teaching teams may utilize any of the six methods listed above, and adapt their strategies based on their learner’s needs. In doing so, co-teaching teams can be a support system for teachers, and promote equality and inclusivity for special education students. 

Key Traits of a Successful Educator and Related Teaching Synonyms

Lessons Learned ~ The Art of Educating

Let’s consider the characteristics, which can be thought of as teaching synonyms, of our ‘best’ teachers. It is an important exercise because teacher characteristics are essential indicators of student success. What characteristics do we know teachers should possess that translate to student success? Or, if doctors could prescribe teacher characteristics to ensure well-adjusted students, what might those teachers be like? What is a teaching synonym? What’s the prescription for creating classrooms filled with eager learners who will be productive members of this fast-changing world?

Indicators of Student Success

Students of the 21st century must question, solve problems, they should be able to work on projects (often in collaboration), and we want them to find passion and dream of a better future. We might place these character traits under an umbrella called self-empowerment. Educators play a vital role in forming success for our youth. Success is found in teacher characteristics. First, teachers must possess knowledge of pedagogy. But that’s knowledge, not a character trait.

Perhaps the greatest gift the educator can bestow—or, develop in students—is to advocate in all they do toward building self-empowered learners, kids flexible in their responses to change. This takes time as well as patience, but developing self-empowerment and flexibility in youth depends on educators equipped with important qualities. Effective educator character traits might surprise you.

Building Relationships

We know that relationships are built on trust. Students must trust that their teachers respect them, that teachers respect each other, and—above all—teachers are inspired by the job they’ve chosen. These are affective characteristics, and they tend to be observable by others. Relationship building lies upon foundations of caring, kindness, motivations, and honesty. This is communicated to students in actions and it’s even articulated in voice. Educators speak from humility in a manner reflecting devotion to others.

Desiring to learn others’ perspectives helps teachers form their own visions, and the best teachers’ visions involve elevating others’ successes. In the classroom, we see this in acts of questioning over telling. It is further observed in being patient because respect does not come quickly, and the impatient teacher will sow student outcomes of frustration and feelings of inadequacy.

This is not to say that the educator doesn’t allow a student to fail. Instances of failure are learning opportunities. We have all failed in some manner. The patient and respectful teacher will admit obvious failings: “Guys, I forgot the equipment, I’m sorry, and I’ll pack it in the car as soon as I get home.” Such is a moment of building trust and building relationships.

Relationships expand from the classroom, as all trusting teachers soon learn, when during meetings with family members, that teacher’s words are related back by smiling parents, and in voice and manner oddly sounding like the teacher’s own.

One cannot cite relationships without discussing approachability. The manner in which family members approach the educator are noticeably reflective of students’ relationships with their teachers. Families expressly know teachers’ values through student-instructor interpersonal relationships; they hear those values from their young. They understand, too, that despite circumstances, the relationship-building teacher will always work to elevate those with whom s/he works, it is obvious in all acts and mannerisms of the educator. They will observe, too, that their young are blossoming: the positive relationships with teachers beget positive relationships with others. The result is happiness, a satisfaction with learning and being, and an anticipation to be in school to share the joy of learning, endeavoring to learn and know more, of course.


The inquisitive mind—always questioning, always wondering—is a learner for life. Lifelong learning is appropriate. It is a positive educator characteristic indeed. Why? An inquisitive mind translates to respect for learning, an excellent example for youth to see in their adult cohorts. Moreover, remember young children we have known, their penchant for questioning, forever questioning, is their initial learning mode.

Yet, we too often observe the questions diminish, almost as if the onset of mid-childhood brings closure; the children questioned, they found the answer (or did not), so be it. “We’re done.” Such logic was fine a century ago, perhaps, but it is essential now to instill a love of learning through inquisitiveness.

A lack of inquisitiveness inhibits learning, we know, but we live among innovators who insist we adapt to changing needs and new technologies. Some might feel secure in their work knowledge, skills, and abilities, but how might they adapt to having to learn new skills when change disrupts their security? They’ve not wondered for some time, there was no need. School was the time for learning, pondering is for philosophers, they assume.

The inquisitive teacher, though, exhibits the beauty of wonder, of pondering, of wanting to know, and the excitement of inquisitive minds, of examining what, how, and why extends learning within its most natural environment, the classroom. If a teacher asks the first-graders to name the weather, will teacher extend the learning to also ask how and why? The best educators will.

Preparation and Organizational Skills

Preparation and organization are essential within the busy classroom-learning environment. Anything less can make for frenzied frustration. Substitutes can spot prep and organization in a minute. The day’s work is laid out (often in a bucket), student seating is tidy (just don’t look inside desks), preferably as group configurations (best for collaborative work), counters and floors are free of piles. The importance here is that teachers must be able to access daily work and filed information quickly.

Imagine a lesson, a class studying erosion. Discussion leads to sand’s properties, and the teacher recalls an instructive poem (Sand, by Meish Goldish), but forgets its name. Therefore, he is unable to quickly search the Internet. But, poems can be systematically filed in a cabinet or on his computer. The organized teacher’s  search produces the poem in seconds, and learning’s flow, like sand’s expected response to water, naturally continues.

Each day progresses with potential that teacher’s desk will be strewn with clutter. Here’s an easy rule the organized teacher practices: quickly go through the mess and determine its fate by choosing to either

Act on it

File it

Toss it

“Ta dah,” the work of learning continues.

Know the Students

Everyone learns in different ways; some students are spatial learners who struggle learning by words. Others possess mathematical minds and may also prefer to learn on their own, Howard Gardner theorized learning modalities in his theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Though people learn within a blend of various intelligences, teachers must attend to all the needs of all students.

There really isn’t a stereotypical learner; therefore, savvy educators adapt strategies that best meet all student needs. Doing this is possible, and here’s how. The teacher adapts learning experiences to meet the needs of all students. Teaching targets many learning styles and student needs as students move, discuss, sing, organize, work individually and in groups, express their learning in word, music, diagram or puzzle, movement, performance, and more.

But, are basic needs of sleep and nutrition being met? Meeting those needs takes inquiry and observation. It takes time. Knowing students’ physical needs and learning styles provides guidance and direction, and it’s a characteristic that leads to successful learning for all.

Persist with Passion in Subject(s)

There’s bound to be times when teachers realize that their notion of subject matter falls short. The well-intentioned preparation is askew; students do not understand and instructors struggle to make sense of what exactly it is they are meant to teach. This is a learning experience, and it’s actually a great opportunity to model learning.

It is difficult to thoroughly know a subject matter. A microscopic view of various routes the teacher takes to rectify a lack of knowledge is instructive.

 A teacher might generalize their response, especially at the elementary level, because there are so many subjects and concepts that teachers need to know; how can they digest every concept in depth? It is unrealistic to expect teachers to know everything about every subject.

But here’s an opportunity that all teachers should embrace. Questioning one’s knowledge out loud lets students know that it is okay—even good—to want to know more. The teacher is poised here to question out loud, to demonstrate how we question, what types of questions lead to gaining more knowledge. The educator who models questioning techniques is an excellent example for students who learn decision-making that surrounds questioning activities.

We can make a good prognosis for our kids’ futures. Upon close observation, we see the problems of overcrowding and overburdening, but some hopeful signs exist for our kids’ learning. Simply observe the best teachers.

Doctors will tell you that looking into the eyes reveals much about the health of the patient. We need only peer into the eyes of students whose teachers possess outstanding pedagogical characteristics. What we’ll see is sparkle and excitement. We’ll see questioning eyes, purposeful eyes that reflect confidence.

And when we look into the eyes of the successful teacher, we will see questioning eyes, reflections of pondering, “How can I make learning better for my students?”

Back-to-School Scheduling | How to Prepare before the First Day of School

Getting Started

Getting back into the school routine can be tough for older students and their parents. Everyone must readjust to early mornings, long academic days, homework, activities, and so on. The stress of juggling so much can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary tension. However, there are ways for students and their families to keep a balanced and healthy schedule when getting back to school and maintain it throughout the year.

The key to achieving a reasonable schedule for older students and parents is to start before the school year begins. The more preparation that takes place before the first day of school, the easier it is for all family members to balance and adjust to the busy schedule.

Make a Calendar

A family calendar can make a big difference when it comes to scheduling during the school year, especially with older students who may have several extracurricular activities. Most school calendars and sports practices are posted over the summer, so families can add “known” events and their dates to the shared calendar before the first day of school. As the year progresses, families can have a “submission” day each week to update the calendar with more specific information.

Last-minute schedule changes will happen, but overall a regularly updated family calendar will help all members have a general idea of what to expect each week. This allows for routine planning and time management, which will decrease overall family stress.

Make Meals

One of the downsides of back-to-school is that with the long, filled days there is less time for preparing and enjoying family meals. Breakfast can be chaotic with everyone getting ready, and many teens opt to sleep a few more minutes rather than eat. Lunches may not offer as many healthy options at school as at home, and dinner is often squeezed in between activities and homework.

The school weekdays may be too hectic for sit-down dinners for the whole family, and that’s understandable. However, it’s still important for teenagers (and parents) to eat healthy meals as much as possible. One solution is to take a little preparation time in the kitchen each weekend so there are healthier options during the busy week. Families can share in cutting fruits and vegetables for snacks and even making larger portions of healthy meals to be refrigerated and eaten during the week. Before school begins, families can make a list of monthly meals to prepare over weekends so that everyone has a share in a healthy food routine.

Waste Time

When students are focused on academics, athletics, activities, and after-school jobs, they often don’t take any time to truly unwind. Many parents are guilty of the same, especially with the amount of screen time and online presence that takes over each day. One healthy activity that family members can do together, yet one of the toughest to schedule, is wasting time. Summer is the perfect chance to build time-wasting into the family routine.

Obviously, on some level, no time is really wasted—especially when family members are together. However, it’s important to remember to take a few minutes each week (or even day) and do nothing. This helps the brain and nervous system experience calm, which can alleviate stress and tension. One idea is for families to set a timer for 5 minutes when together and just visit about a particular topic. Some families may use the time for meditation or to play a game. So long as it’s not outcome-driven, it’s healthy.

Parents and students often clash when getting used to the back-to-school routine. However, preparing some aspects of the schedule before the first day of school can help alleviate tension and stress, and bring a healthy balance to the school year.

Back-to-School and Looking Ahead | Getting Ready for the Future


Most high school juniors and seniors spend a large amount of time “getting ready.” They get ready for class, sports, activities, jobs, and other responsibilities. They also face a distinct and added pressure to prepare for their futures. Upcoming graduation not only signifies a successful end to their primary education, but that they need to be ready to find something else to do.

This pressure to be ready for so many changes can be discouraging and overwhelming. Recognizing how to manage that pressure before junior or senior years begin is the best way to prepare for making decisions, accomplishing goals, and establishing readiness for the future.

The Near Future

It’s common for juniors and seniors to focus so much on what’s ahead that they lose sight of more immediate tasks and responsibilities. Of course, it’s important to manage the deadlines of college entrance exams, applications, essays, and interviews. It’s also important for those near-graduates who plan to enter the work force to network, apply, and gain experience.

However, looking too far ahead can interfere with what should be accomplished in the present. As juniors and seniors, students still have schoolwork and many other extracurriculars that need their focus. Much of their far future depends on the success of their near future.

For this reason, high school juniors and seniors need to prioritize their short-term goals as much as their long-term plans. Students should have an outline of goals for the present and focus on taking the steps to achieve them. This will enhance their planning and management of long-term goals as well.

The Far Future

It’s difficult for the most accomplished adult to know what they plan to do in the future, let alone a junior or senior in high school. Yet these students face enormous decisions that seem to determine whether they will be successful or not. That type of pressure can cause undue stress and undermine their path to goal achievement.

Rather than providing answers for their far future plans, students are better served by asking questions and discussing their concerns. If they know an adult who seems passionate about a career, or they have interest in a particular field of study, they should ask as many questions to get as much information as possible. In addition, students should be encouraged to voice concerns about the future or how to achieve their goals. They will realize in talking to others the possibilities of experience, what goals are important, and the different paths to success.

Very few people take a linear road when it comes to higher education and careers. It’s important for high school juniors and seniors to understand that detours and obstacles are not only expected in college or the workforce but welcomed. Primary K-12 education prepares students for many things, but post-graduation reality is more complex. Students who learn to communicate their concerns and are encouraged to ask questions will be far more ready for an unpredictable future.


The best approach to managing getting back to school for juniors and seniors and getting ready for the future is balance. Parents, teachers, and school counselors can help by providing patience, guidance, and support. Often the best tool is allowing these students to ask questions and truly listening to their goals and concerns.

Students can keep a balance between returning for their last half of high school and facing college/employment decisions by asking questions, voicing concerns, outlining goals, and focusing on present tasks. This balance creates a healthy way to manage responsibilities for the near future and decisions for the far future.

STEM in the Summer | Keep the Kids Engaged with Fun Hands On Activities

STEM is a growing buzzword in contemporary education. For those who are unaware, the acronym represents an educational movement that encourages training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is considered crucial to teach these skills to young people because many jobs in the current workforce require them. STEM skills are responsible for sparking some of the world’s most vital accomplishments from discovering entirely new elements to putting a man on the moon. And the need for STEM is not slowing down anytime soon.

With the growing need for expertise in these fields, one can imagine the push to keep these talents alive. In 2018, the Department of Education donated $279 million to various STEM organizations including 66.8 million to Education Innovation and Research and 28.2 to million to Supporting Effective Educator Development. Considering the funds involved, it can be assumed that this is a priority for education spending.

If parents and teachers are not paying close attention to STEM learning, they should be. In fact, summer is a great time to get students involved in extra-curricular STEM learning. Igniting a passion for science, technology, engineering and math can happen at a young age. Through STEM-focused summer programs, students of all ages can learn important skills and develop an interest in these fields.

With some online research, one can find a litany of fantastic STEM camps and programs nearby. Various summer enrichment programs are held all over the United States and internationally. They can range from one week to over a month and are offered online and in person. In these programs, students can expect to learn several hard and soft skills:

Hard skills associated with STEM:

  • Coding
  • Robotics
  • Virtual Reality
  • Programming
  • 3D Printing

Soft skills associated with STEM:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Collaboration

Although summer camps and programs are great for all ages, adolescents might consider more of a challenge. Internships are a wonderful way to gain real-world experience in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Applying for and landing an internship is more of a self-driven process than say, signing up for a camp, but mature and responsible students are very capable. Older students should take advantage of community opportunities and get involved.

The first step to getting a summer internship at a local business is reaching out to them independently. Some organizations will post openings at high schools and online. Try asking a school administrator if the campus has any affiliations with local businesses that they trust. Consider medical facilities, engineering companies, veterinary clinics, etc. Often, students will need to reach out to businesses completely on their own and express interest.

The cooperating businesses might ask for recommendations, a resume or an interview so students should be prepared. Once an internship is earned, the hands-on experience can prove invaluable. The student will leave the internship with in-demand life skills and a glowing resume.

Look for ways students can become involved with STEM programs this summer. For young children, encourage a fun and interesting introduction to these fields.  Older students can seek a challenge and attempt to develop a potential career.

Multi-age Classrooms For 21st Century Learning

Any family with more than one child experiences what it is like to watch children copy, emulate and mimic their siblings at one time or another. This can happen very early in development, as soon as the child is aware of his/her surroundings. As children grow in a household together, these actions become even more distinct and many times the younger of the sibling hits milestones faster, simply because the older assumes the role of a coach or teacher. We learn by watching, doing and having someone beside us, to share in the shaping of our actions.

When students enter public school, a grade level separates them by age, also naturally putting a wall up between developmental milestones. Most children in a kindergarten classroom cannot read a short story unassisted, nor add two and three-digit numbers. We separate students even further by dividing our schools into buildings: elementary, middle and high school. When we schedule students, we put them in the lunchroom by grade levels, and the same goes for the playground at recess. In our specialty area classes like physical education and arts, we keep them separated as well. Why are our schools determined to keep children from interacting when they are not the same age?


Let’s revisit the idea of developmental milestones, just as mentioned with siblings living under the same roof. A kindergartener and a second grader would be three to four years apart in age, depending on the birthdays and original enrollment into the education sector. A kindergartener can read some letters, possibly even sight words, while the second-grader may be reading 60 to 70 words per minute in a text.  The height and weight of the children may vary in a 10-15 pound, 2-3 inch difference. The kindergartener may be able to share without prompting and the second-grader understands what it feels like to be left out of a peer group. Why would it be a great idea to put these two students together in a classroom, and what would be the negative implications of that decision?


A younger child may begin to share even faster with an older child because the level of competition isn’t the same. Consequently, older children may exude more patience for a younger child than that of a peer because of the identity they are shaping in themselves. How does this support academics? Imagine the level of personalized attention that the teacher can give to small group instruction when projects are put together with various age learners? We know that the greatest determining factor in mastery is when we are savvy enough to teach a lesson ourselves, so by giving opportunities to a child by assuming a teaching role, we give even our weakest the chance to shine for him/herself.

Older Students Can Benefit from Multi-Age Interaction

Multi-Age classrooms can be more tricky in middle school because of curriculum requirements, but it doesn’t have to be. In terms of high school and beyond, a real-life classroom can have an age range of several years. Our specialty area courses can pave the way for these shifts in dynamic as well.  Instead of having a beginning art, advanced art and multimedia class for grades 6, 7 and 8, we can put students of all ages together and let them share the techniques that they have used, mastered and still struggle within various forms. Instead of being worried about what will happen when the older students are around the younger, we create a community of learners and leaders. We build our government, our school projects, and our recreational activities as a team, instead of individual units.

Simulating the Real World for A Better Real World

Students don’t know how to interact unless they have been given the chance to interact. The way that we constantly divide our buildings by grade level and age sends the message that the adults want the students separated. Having mixed grade-level classrooms is a small start, but there are lots of creative ways to build a community of students by bridging projects, special days and traditions. Imagine how different Book Fair Day could be if a third grader and sixth grader partnered to talk about books in a media center and were in charge of helping one another find something that they were interested in purchasing. Why couldn’t International Night combine three ages of students to showcase how to put a project and presentation together? How different would the experience be for a sixth-grader to mentor a second and fourth-grader in their global study?

We are building classrooms to shape our future. We should examine our future workspaces and places to do this. Multi-Age classrooms are a great innovative tool to help strengthen the student body, the school community, and collaborative learning. It is a simple way to hop on the 21st-century learning bandwagon in order to foster an education preparing everyone for their future.

The Case For Bringing Library Time Back In The Middle School Schedule

Before the Common Core Standards were introduced across the states, Middle School English Language Arts classes still visited the school’s library each week as part of its ninety-minute block. During this time, students worked with the media center specialist and their teacher to do a number of short tasks. Schools differed, but the age of the “Accelerated Reader” program became a platform for quick check reading comprehension at the independent level of each child. Books were color-coded and labeled, students knew which books were at their “best fit” level and a comprehensive program with built-in rewards motivated every child during their school’s “Drop Everything And Read” time. Teachers watched students take their A.R. tests and get new books as they earned points and prizes.

The library also paved the way to engage children in their first research experience. The media specialist began to envelop skills that still demanded readers to find print books about their topics and look on the school’s portal to find multiple primary sources to develop their information center for creating a formal paper. The internet, while valuable, didn’t lose to the idea of a text-based project.

 Fast forward fifteen years and our Internet is now the research hub students use to gather information. Five and six-years-olds are unable to define an encyclopedia, atlas, or periodical. Upper elementary students rely on Wikipedia for their information and middle school students can pay for a written paper online, without ever having to research the topic. The middle school library has been forgotten as a hub for printed history, geography, and most importantly joy.

Public Library Programs Are Thriving

Summertime is a season for library specials, but it’s not the only time of year that public library programs are still booming with text-filled inspiration. Parents bring their infants, toddlers and pre-k children in for story hours, crafts, puppet shows, and plays. Alphabet letters, puzzles, and games are found all over the place. As the school year commences, reading programs pull in school-age children by offering incentives and activities each week. The older the child, the less demand and availability of the library program. Where is the disconnect between middle school readers, and middle school reading programs?

School Libraries Can Bring Back Text Joy

After the initiation of Common Core Standards, educators had the perfect opportunity to bring back the library time to the middle school student. Reading programs were substituted with Chromebooks, Ipads and other digital tools to increase “student engagement.” With this digital explosion, our libraries have become a WIFI hub, instead of a museum of text history. Teachers, media specialists, and administrators have all the power in the world to bring back library joy, so why don’t they? Why do schools move further away from books and reading books for research?

Libraries and media centers can serve as both collaborative zones for project-based learning and places for middle school students to employ text for tools of information, but stakeholders and patrons have to see the value. Educators can do this by bringing library time back once again. Spending two to three minutes with each student and helping them finding a novel or book that is on a topic they are interested in discovering is a great start. YouTube book reviews can take a book report and digitalize it into a project that students are geeked to record and produce. Teachers can assign projects that push students to use print books as a source, by making it a requirement in their research design. Students of all ages can compare and contrast the information that they find both online and in print while rediscovering what it is like to see topics presented in different ways.

The Gifts the Library Can Bring to A Middle School Student

Middle school libraries are the place that can provide exactly what the preteen and teenager need in terms of human development. Unfortunately, a lot of times, middle school students are expected to visit on their own time and it might just not be enough motive for the “on the fence” reader. The already engaged readers can tap into interests and find a secure spot with plenty of pieces of text to support what they want to learn about. Middle school media centers can also give students a safe space to explore independently on a campus that might be large, or intimidating to a new student. Spending time each week being present in the media center gives students who may never have the summer library opportunities a chance to go back to one of their favorite spaces from the elementary school. A media specialist can also take the time to dig into digital media, digital safety and the newest releases of books perfect for the ever-changing tween and teen. This is a twenty-minute segment that needs to be recharged and turned back into a school “special” so that we send the message into High School and beyond that libraries are so much more than a WIFI hub. We can build trust back in the system of literacy, research, and development, while also helping supplement our students with new things to see and explore.  Instead of trying to put more into our ‘Common Core’ Language Arts classes, we can revisit some of the best resources that will invitingly prepare our digitized learners for careers, college or beyond. 

How to Go Back To School and Not Go Broke

Going back to school shopping can be stressful and expensive.  Clothes, shoes, supplies…the list goes on and on.  Find out how to shop for this year’s must-haves without going broke this fall season.


If your child goes to a private school you get off easy with having to purchase a few uniform pieces.  Generally these can be bought and resold right at the school.  Parents hold a uniform sales night where they can purchase gently worn uniforms.  This is a great way to save a few bucks.  Those that attend public school have a few more options.  Check out clothing resale shops.  If there is a clothing consignment shop in your town it is worth taking a few moments to investigate.  Mostly all the clothes are designer labels.  They are marked down to a fraction of the original price.  The clothing has been gently worn and in some cases tags are still on them.  One can save hundreds of dollars on jeans, shoes and purses.  A parent knows that these are high ticket items for a student.  A new hand bag alone can run hundreds if not thousands of dollars and let’s not even talk about the cost of designer jeans.  It’s worth the time to investigate this money saving tip.


The list seems to go on and on and on…notebooks, lined paper, and pencils oh my!  Supplies can be costly and they really add up.  Do yourself a favor and scour your home.  Do you have an extra set of ear buds laying around? How about another package of crayons, glue sticks or pencils? Households tend to accumulate these items and they can be forgotten about.  It may be time to look around.  If you can’t locate these items, do yourself a favor and go to the Dollar Store.  That store is a teacher’s paradise.  Nothing is over a dollar and you can be sure to find everything on your list. 


Do yourself a favor and stick to a budget.  Many families have more than one child and the going back to school list can seem like a mile.  Set a budget and stick to it.  Tell your kids NO to the expensive book bag or shoes.  Or better yet, start buying these items little by little.  Don’t overwhelm yourself getting all the shopping done at once.  Break it up in stages and that way your children will have something to look forward too as well! 

Back to school shopping doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive.  Try one of these money saving tips and keep your wallet happy this school year. 

How Teachers Can Help Parents with Reading in the Home Without Really Doing Anything At All

Since the early introduction of “ABCmouse.com,” parents have been given a handful of digital tools to help their children become early readers so that the adjustment to pre-k, t-k or kindergarten is a painless process for the newly schooled student. Various apps allow parents to have reading instruction instantly available on their phones for the perfect car ride or restaurant distraction. This seems like it is a great way for a child to independently engage in phonics and word study in a manner that is both convenient and cost-effective.

But could this screen time actually be doing more harm than good in terms of supporting parents at home with reading instruction and literacy development tools?  Is something better than nothing? What happens when children transition to the school setting and they begin using the various apps in classrooms and computer labs. Is this complimentary to parents’ digital support? Is it overkill? Is it teaching and reinforcing reading instruction at all? Real reading, with real books, is the best thing a parent can do to support any age of reading instruction.

Kindle VS Print

Teachers need to truly encourage parents to continue the reading of handheld books. This means handheld, paper-print books with pictures, words, and pages. Kindles are great for travel, and they do serve a purpose for students who need a different engagement strategy for reading, but when it comes to home reading practice, print books open up a different world for children. Many children need to feel the sense of actually turning the page as they read, it acts as a visual motivator when a child starts with one page and moves through a chapter or even an entire book. Print books also teach children to care for something. They understand how a book is bound and the importance and significance of the pieces that make up a book, ie, cover page, title page, glossary, spine, and actual binding.  

Print Books Encourage Reading Together

When a child holds a Kindle or IPad and works on various reading apps, they are doing it completely independently. A conversation between parent and child during this time usually involves a technology issue, and after the parent scrolls, clicks and corrects, the interaction ceases. Occasionally, a child may ask for help with a word if the app doesn’t have a pronunciation tool, but this interaction leads to a parent reading the word and the student continuing with his/her game. Print books are held together and parents can actually use tracking or tracing as they read, or have their child track/trace during oral reading. Reading is slowed down and true fluency can be identified as a parent can hear a child word for word as they work through the pages together.

When a parent sits with a child, it opens the child up to naturally asking questions about a story. Children want to know “why?” when it comes to things that fairy tale characters do or say and even if a parent doesn’t know the answer, a conversation about pictures, words, and story elements boosts a child’s overall engagement and understanding of a book.

Giving Parents Books to Do the Work

Parents of all socioeconomic statuses, races, and geographic areas want the same thing in terms of reading: they want their children to be good readers. If an app is convenient and available, then the parent will give it to their child because they believe it is helping do some of the leg work to support reading. What parents need to understand is that reading aloud with their mom or dad, by itself is more than any digital tool can give their child. Sending home weekly books that are easy, short and simple is the first thing that teachers can do. The only homework assignment is to read (or if your child can read to you) and talk about the books. This interaction opens up questions, conversations and a positive relationship between families and reading. If teachers want to add a bookmark with some talking stems, they can do this only to support but not regulate the “reading with each other” movement.

Age is Only a Number

This idea of reading together doesn’t have to end when a child hits novels or middle school-and it shouldn’t. One of the easiest ways to connect to an over-emotional preteen is to do an activity that is completely neutral, like reading. Having a child sit and take turns reading a non-fiction book that they are into, or a new graphic novel can build quality moments and minutes with no pressure. This is not a homework activity. This is a family activity. Both parties leave their phones for 20 minutes and read something together. It can be a cookbook, a manual, a sports magazine. The idea is print, language, and discussion.  

Teachers already have so many things on their to-do list, asking parents to help with reading and reading strategies don’t have to be one of those things. It is a simple as sending the message that parents can also be reading teachers if they read with their children and talk about what they are reading. Children will bring home the strategies that they use in class, they have plenty of questions that aren’t answered in class and they truly want that one-on-one time with an adult. A book is a bridge that a digital device can’t always provide. The book is the magic in the parent-child reading. The parent only needs to know this and they will be great reading support for the education system and the race to make sure that all of our children become great readers.