Like me, you’re probably now being inundated with emails, links to resources, and social media shares offering free access to educational programming for home learning. You’re also juggling directives and restrictions from your district, administration, and technology department. Your students’ families are scrambling to figure out working from home, child care, and what supplies they may need while awaiting information from you and the school about home learning. And you’ve got your own life and family to take care of.
Know that nearly every educator is in the same boat. As a result, the educational community is focusing—a huge professional learning community—on the goal of providing our students with activities they can do to continue to love learning and not lose that spark we’ve worked so hard to nurture throughout the school year.
In the current push for online learning, it’s important to remember that some households don’t have internet, and some don’t have laptops, tablets, or smartphones. If they do, device management may be a huge challenge for families—the adults may need to use the only device they have to do work from home.
Jumping Into Home Learning
Communication that builds community should be where you start. Reassure your students and their families that you’re in this together and that you’ll provide options for them to continue learning in the coming weeks. Treat this like a new school year: Send home communication for the adults and students to help ease fears.
Here’s the first email I sent to my students’ parents and guardians when my school closed: “Dear Families, I’ll be in touch soon with more information about home learning, including fun ways to keep your children engaged and focused on exploring life around them, albeit at home, and not lose that spark of curiosity and learning we’ve worked so hard at developing up to this point in the school year. But that can wait a bit—first and foremost please take this time to take care of your family’s needs. Hopefully, you can find ways to reconnect as a family and still manage all the things you need to do professionally and personally.”
I followed up with a short video directed at my students to reassure them there will be some familiar and fun activities coming their way—I have found that watching a video of their teacher can help ease students’ fears. And students will have fears about the coronavirus, so I shared a handbook for young kids from Amanda McGuinness, the Autism Educator, to help explain the coronavirus.
Creating a Sense of Familiarity
Next up is sharing a classroom plan for how learning will take place. One of the challenges is to find a way to provide assurance, support, routines, and familiarity.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can take your current classroom routines and send them home. If you do a morning meeting, reflect on the elements you have in your meeting and what could be completed virtually at home. If technology allows, record and share daily video announcements and story read-aloud.
I’m going to use Seesaw for two-way communication. Communicate often—students will find comfort in seeing your face and hearing your voice. Record at school if you can, so they see a familiar setting. Have students share a photo or video of a toy, hobby, collection, stuffed animal, pet, or favourite book—students can share only with the teacher using Seesaw, not with each other, but teachers can create a blog to choose what gets shared with the whole class.
Dig out all your ideas for building a responsive classroom from the beginning of the year—I use The First Six Weeks of School—and see what you can use virtually to strengthen the learning community.
When you send work home, include daily SEL prompts for your students to reflect on, ideally one for the beginning and end of their day.
Possible SEL check-ins:
- How are you doing?
- What have you done today that was fun, and why was it fun?
- What’s your internal weather?
- Roses and Thorns
Get your students communicating with their peers. If technology doesn’t allow, create pen pals or other paper-and-pen activities by sending home envelopes, paper, and stamps if your school is able. Or mimic “turn and talk to a neighbour” by setting up phone pals where students call each other on the phone several times a week to discuss specific topics or prompts. Perhaps send home a link to a virtual field trip.
Just as you would in your classroom, be sure to have some individual communication with your students. If time allows, send a personal email, message, or video check-in, especially for students who may have a more difficult transition.
Getting Started on Academics
When you begin work on academic content, I would focus on no new material at first and keep it simple. Start with something successful and build from there. Send activities to students that they can feel confident in completing while they navigate working from home. Review topics are good, especially as your families figure out the technology aspect. We should remember the amount of pressure on families right now and have realistic expectations about what can be achieved due to juggling work, child care, siblings, illnesses, and caring for extended family.
We all want the best for our students, so let’s keep things in perspective. While students will be challenged, they will be learning more about technology, problem-solving, working together, and communicating, as well as any academic concepts we can integrate into our plans.
In the big picture, we’re talking about a few weeks to a month or two over the course of a 13-year educational career. While we should try to provide activities that are as meaningful as possible, we should also remember that on short notice we can’t switch seamlessly to online learning and tackle everything we wanted to do, especially when many of us and our students and families have limited experience utilizing these technology tools.
It’s OK to give ourselves time and permission to figure this out. Please realize home learning will be different, and that’s OK too—it will be hard, and it won’t replace interacting face-to-face. But we can work to set up home learning activities that we hope our students will use to keep their love of learning alive.
By John S. Thomas for edutopia.org