5 Ways to Encourage Participation During Distance Learning

Will you be distance learning for back to school 2020?  I've been trying not to worry about it for the past month because it was out of my control and up in the air.  But now that our state has received more guidance that we'll be doing part time remote learning and possibly part time in person, I can start to prepare.  I can think back to what worked well in the spring and then grow from there.  So here is what worked for our elementary school when we started teaching during the pandemic. 

How to Make Distance Learning More Engaging

1.  Access to the internet is a serious issue.  It affects families at my school and it was one of our  biggest struggles.  Our city was fortunate enough to have some assistance for families who needed it.  Here is a list of companies that provide internet access during Covid-19.  Note that some of the offers on the page have extended their deadlines for application, so check each company page on the list that provides service in your area. 

2.  Think about the home environment.  Of course everyone’s home is different, and not everyone has equal access.  However it is likely children have access to kitchen and pantry items, a freezer, a microwave or stove (with supervision) and running water that is shared among fewer people than in the classroom.  How can these materials be leveraged in science?  Are there beans or fruits that can be used for your life science standards?  Can water be heated and/or cooled to demonstrate aspects of physical changes to matter, or do you have weather standards for precipitation and condensation that can be taught with a model?  

3.  Think about siblings, especially younger siblings.  A big pain point for parents who are distance learning is helping children of varying ages complete different things.  Here’s the silver lining: we know one of the best ways to learn material is to teach material.  What practice activities can you choose to encourage students to play with or teach a younger sibling?  Dice games with a variety of levels, such as estimating to different place values can work on lots of levels, making it easier for family members of different ages to play.  

4.  Consider how to use audio recordings for formative assessment.  In the classroom it can be difficult to find time to listen to every student every day.  With audio recordings, you can listen to students, especially those struggling writers.  SeeSaw has this capability built right in but Google Classroom can be a little tricky.  Flipgrid is a great website to use for students to record video if you need to supplement Google Classroom.

5.  Phone your students who need extra support.  I had some students who were showing signs of mental health decline in April.  Of course as teachers it is not our role or area of expertise to treat these students, and the first thing we should do is to notify our guidance councilor and other specialists who are.  See if your district has additional programs designed to help your students.  But also reach out yourself.  Contact the parents to set up a good time.  To help protect your privacy, there are 2 ways you can hide your number.  If your school district uses Google Suite you may have access to a Google Voice line.  Otherwise, simply dial *67, listen for a change in the dial tone, then dial the phone number.

Bonus Tips for Making Distance Learning More Successful

6.  Hold informal synchronous meetings.  This was so important for the kids and me too!  Our class does Morning Meeting in person, so it was only natural to carry this through.  If you don't have time to look through my blog series on Morning Meeting, during distance learning you want to consider doing a fun greeting for every student, give opportunities for students to share (it can be open ended or focused on a topic) and have a fun activity.

7.  Get parents on board and keep them on board.  Connecting with parents was such a struggle for me during my first several years as a teacher.  In my next post I plan to share another list of strategies dedicated to how we can support parents. 

I was hoping I didn't need to write this post, because distance learning was definitely not ideal.  I've written a piece on "hey there are perks to distance learning" and I wrote a super dark piece about sending us back when I was feeling unsafe.  Because writing helps me organize my thoughts and feelings...but those ones are just for me (I won't be posting them).  I was finally able to write this (hopefully more helpful) blog post series because my district has a plan that attempts to keep us safe while helping us carry on with our need to work, teach, and learn, and that is some comfort.  So I'm going to do my best with it, and Shut the Door and Teach however my students learn.  But open the windows because ventilation is important.

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