For the first time in our country’s history, a majority of schools have been forced to shift to distance learning. Problems were inevitable because of the drastic change this has required. But now that we’ve had a couple of weeks to reassess our situation, schools have a good opportunity to employ a more targeted distance learning plan.
In this post, I’m proposing five steps to address some of the big distance learning problems. Of course every school and district is different, but I think if every school across the country took these five steps, our students will be in a pretty good place once we come out the other end of this crisis.
1. Get a device (laptop or Chromebook) in the hands of every student who needs one. Then partner with local internet service companies to ensure all kids have internet access.
This is an equity issue, and any comprehensive distance learning plan needs to start here. The divide between paper-based and tech-based distance learning is just too great. It’s hard to address any additional problems without this one in place.
Further, the longer students of need continue to be without devices and/or internet during distance learning, the greater the achievement gap will continue to grow. Depending on the length of school closures, this could be the next crisis on our hands if it’s not quickly addressed.
2. Revise priority standards/targets.
Because our learning context has greatly changed, our priority standards also need to change. Teacher teams should reprioritize standards by deciding which are most essential (for this school year and going into next year) and which are feasible for students to learn on their own (standards that have already been taught to some extent).
Teachers should clearly communicate these standards to their students.
3. Use Google Classroom as a learning hub for each class and school.
Google Classroom is intuitive and free, and many teachers and students are already familiar with it. Teachers can post unit maps, assignments, and feedback through this platform. Just as importantly, teachers and schools can communicate with students and parents here.
Schools need a virtual central location for education, and Google Classroom can serve this purpose. Teachers, students, and parents can use this as their central education hub.
4. Create meaningful and engaging learning activities.
Let’s learn from our initial mistakes. Clearly, packets are not the answer. Packets usually lack meaning and engagement. Instead, teachers can work in teams, considering their new priority standards and the many free online resources to develop learning activities that are both important and engaging to students.
When doing so, teachers should allow flexibility with timelines, as every student’s home situation is different, and COVID-19 is a real concern for everyone.
Teachers should also focus their learning activities around authentic reading and writing, as these are the most essential skills in our students’ education.
Further, students should be provided with choice whenever possible, as this helps to personalize the learning experience.
5. Provide frequent, timely feedback.
Of course teaching is much more than developing curriculum and assigning learning activities. Now more than ever, student feedback is essential, and technology provides many opportunities to do this. Whether it’s through Google Docs, Zoom, Google Meet, or another technologies, students need plenty of feedback as quickly and often as possible. In fact, this is where the majority of time is likely spent by the distance teacher.