Coronavirus Distance Learning & Virtual Teaching Tips
School closings due to COVID-19? First, we want to send a virtual hug and a giant THANK YOU to you. As if your job wasn't already stressful enough, having less than a week to prepare for indefinite long distance learning certainly adds another badge of honor on your hero cape. If you’ve been encouraged to develop plans for e-learning or your classes or already canceled, let’s help load your ever-growing teacher toolbox with some ideas and tips. Buckle up, incentives for those who make it to the end of this post!
First, start slow with fun activities and simple instructions, then build as the basic skills are mastered. Don’t try to teach any new content until your students and their families are comfortable with whatever online format you are using. Listening to someone online for more than 10 minutes is very difficult, so really keep that in mind. Many teachers have been encouraged to have 5 "10-20 minute video sessions" per day. I understand that students need that content being delivered, but consider breaking them down if at all possible. Students are going to be even more easily distracted. This process is brand new for so many of us. Allow students to interact as much as possible during the class. Allow discussion (be sure to check your settings and limit them!), run a poll, use emojis. Start your day with a morning message overviewing the day’s tasks. End the day with a reflection summarizing what they should have learned that day. Just like in your physical classroom, make things engaging and interactive! Over-communicate with parents, but set boundaries with "office hours". As teachers, we already feel like we are "always on" and often feel guilty about availability. The feeling of being needed by your students has likely significantly increased, but please remember your own family and your mental and physical health is vital! Once you find your new normal (which will take some time), intentionally schedule time outside! You have some newfound flexibility with your working hours so be sure to take advantage of daytime walks, bathroom breaks, and un-rushed healthy lunches.
Consistency is key! Your students are going to miss seeing you. Even if you feel uncomfortable on a video screen, simply seeing your smiling face is going to bring a sense of normalcy and calm to your students. Aim for short, 5 minute lesson explanations that get directly to the point. Use humor! Try to laugh and smile! If you need to show your computer screen as you talk, use Screencastify. It is very user friend and free! You can download it on your desktop and then push out to parents or students in a number of ways (Seesaw, Google Classroom). Plan to allow for 5-8 minutes for your video to upload to any platform, especially as they get longer. If showing your screen isn’t necessary, you can also just record on your phone and upload to Google Classrooms. Google recently announced they are making Hangout Meet premium tools such as recording available to all EDU users through July 1. Go “live” if you are using a platform where that’s possible (Google Meet).
On whatever platform you use, "live events" are usually able to be repeated for those not watching at that time, which is important. There's no way to have everyone online at the same time so think of teaching as "snacking rather than full meals" right now and adjust your own expectations. Don’t be nervous or feel the need to be rehearsed! Going live will enable parents or students to ask questions in real time and clear up misconceptions quickly. It will save you from repeating yourself or having to reply to a bunch of different messages. Encourage your students to be interactive outside of "direct instruction time" with Google Jam. It’s basically a mobile interactive whiteboard that many users can edit or collaborate on at once.
Do you have Google Classroom questions? Not sure where to begin? Please email us, we want to help! For the rest of this month, we want to give you the Google Classroom version of any passage purchase for FREE. We will send you the link to a digital version of any passage purchased this month after you complete this form. We know that navigating a new or unfamiliar platform and trying to deliver content is important but time consuming, so we want to help relieve that burden for you and help alleviate some stress!
All that being said, you know you don’t have time to reinvent the wheel. Use what you already have that is FREE…Youtube! There are so many great videos on YouTube. It is very likely that someone has already said what you need to say about 100% of the content you are teaching and they might have even said it in a way that your students might understand more. Find the appropriate videos for the content and share that link out! I'll be sharing some more of my favorite Youtube videos on our channel's playlists in the weeks to come. Have you heard of Edpuzzle? Basically, you search for videos you’d like to show your class, add questions, and share the link in whatever communication platform you are using. It will even grade the quizzes for you and show students how they did. You can also search for videos and quizzes already added by other teachers.
For those of you assembling paper and pencil work for students without internet access, here’s what I would personally do (if planning for 3 weeks):
Reading: Send home 2-3 chapter books that I might have planned to use in guided reading with a reading response packet (be sure to have access to the text at home for yourself!) Students can meet in “virtual guided reading groups” and discuss if you feel "fancy" at that point. Maybe include a “reading log” for 20 minutes a day of some sort of text that parents need to sign off on. Reading never shuts down, provides an endless supply of knowledge, and is always relevant and important. If your students can't do anything else during the school closure, encourage them to read, read, read!!!
Writing: Paragraph of the Week assignments or Daily Writing Prompts over what I’ve already covered in science and social studies. Maybe include a writing prompt calendar or list of topics they can pick from to write about each day. Also, for a real world application, consider old fashioned letter writing! Since social distancing is going to physically separate us, this might be a wonderful way to encourage practice writing and staying connected. Many nursing homes and elderly care facilities are completely quarantined. The elderly are left without daily or weekly visits from their loved ones. Receiving a letter or coloring page with a friendly note would absolutely make their world!
Math: 15-20 front & back copied printables on all standards taught thus far for review, include math fluency for those students that will need it (Try to send home flash cards, too, if possible for the students you know need them and don’t have access)
*Social Studies: Any of our differentiated reading passages that I have not used at this point in the year (copy by level), interactive vocabulary sorts, comprehension crosswords, or trading cards For some FREE passages to start with, check out our leveled biography texts about Katherine Johnson or Kobe Bryant.
*Science: Any of our differentiated reading passages that I have not used at this point in the year (copy by level), interactive vocabulary sorts, comprehension crosswords. We made an At Home Science Packet with 3-5 weeks of instruction at the request of some colleagues if you are required to have printables.
*Honestly, we would probably send home activities for science and social studies that we had NOT already covered this year. Exposing students to the more “easily digestable” and parent-friendly content now “frees up” more time later to focus on language arts, writing, and math when regular classes resume. These passages will support reading and writing practice anyway so it just seems like an efficient use of time. Activities that are short yet meaningful, and self explanatory for parents could make for a more pleasant experience, but that is just our opinion!
Maslow Before Bloom: If you are still in the classroom and prepping for cancellation, call "those students" aside. You know the ones you are already worried about. Those being sent home into no-telling-what conditions where they will either become a full time babysitter or fend for themselves for the undefined future. Give them some encouraging words and a hug to fill their tank. Let them know that you care about them. Tell them to do what they can to read and do some activities the best they can. But mostly, leave them with some encouragement that they can keep in their hearts for the days ahead. We're sure you’ve got some extra snacks that will need to leave your classroom…so sneak those into their backpacks and let them know of local places their family can get food or resources if needed. And, repeat to them again some positive message that they may not hear until they see you again.
For students that won't be able to learn remotely, remember the reasons behind why they are not set up for this. They'll likely be sharing 1 device (if there is one at all), a data plan if there's no wifi (limited accessibility), and competing with a million other things for attention. They'll be shifted among households for childcare, likely in the care of grandparents who aren't equipped with sufficient tech knowledge, and unsure of when their next meal is coming. If school is already canceled and you have no way of sending things home with these students, we'd personally like to mail you appropriate books and resources to forward to those students. Please reach out.
Lastly, it's sad we even have to say this. But, don’t allow yourself to feel one ounce of state testing pressure. Don't even allow it to cross your mind. In a time like this, it has never been more apparent just how trivial test scores are in the grand scheme of things. No one saw this coming, no one has been appropriately trained, and no one can replace you with your students in your classroom on a daily basis. Some states are already waving testing regulations and making modifications. Don't worry about what you can't control. Platforms will likely be overloaded in the next few weeks so remember to be patient with the tech trying to keep up with this! Parents are going to be juggling multiple kids on multiple platforms with various levels of attention needed, and all of that aside from keeping the home functioning. Give grace and receive grace. We're all in this together. Set those office hours and remember that distant learning requires you to set personal boundaries. Take a deep breath and do your thing! Please let us know how we can help. We are available for ANY questions that you have and would love to help you during this time!
Sites We Love! Most ALL are currently free for the rest of the school year.
Social Studies: Studies Weekly
Science: Mystery Science
Here are some really neat educator collaboration resources that are growing by the minute! Teachers are always THE BEST in times like this. They get it DONE and work together for the kids. This is a growing resource app with links to all sorts of resources by grade, content, or lesson type. Join this facebook group for ideas and feedback on how schools across the country are prepping. This Google Doc has helpful tips for online instruction.
Brian Buffington is a local director of Instructional Technology who is publishing some AMAZING how to videos for teachers for everything listed above (and more). This is likely the best resource I've shared! Click below to find literally everything you need on how to move forward from here.