Distance Learning Ideas: Stay Connected to Your Students
Families across the country are adapting to the ever-changing landscape of parenting and at-home learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. For us at Share My Lesson too, work and life have changed drastically. Less than two weeks after our world flipped upside down—with schools closing, parents trying to continue their children’s learning at home, and teachers moving to distance learning—we held our annual Share My Lesson Virtual Conference (likely the only conference not canceled). We had a record-setting 68,000 registrations for the three-day, fully virtual conference, covering topics from STEM to classroom management to the current challenges teachers are facing today. Our presenters all adjusted their sessions to provide suggestions on how to move to distance learning. And most important, our webinars connected teachers with other educators to help them get ideas for reaching their students digitally.
The group chats in each webinar were filled with all the amazing ways educators are working with their students in the new distance learning environment. To capture these ideas, we sifted through hours of webinars and chat transcripts so we could share the tools, ideas and actions teachers are taking to engage students remotely.
Have another example of something you’re doing? Let us know, and we’ll add it to this list.
Common Tools Used for Distance Learning
As we were going through each of the chat transcripts, we noticed some common tools that teachers are using: Google Classroom, Flipgrid and ClassDojo were among the most popular tools. Remind and Edmodo are communication platforms educators are using to stay in touch with their students and their families. Khan Academy, CNN10 and Newsela are being used by teachers to assign work to students. And, of course, Zoom was the most popular distance learning tool mentioned, but there have been some concerns around the online safety of Zoom recently. If you want to use Zoom but have concerns, read our blog about how to safely have Zoom meetings with your students. The best part of all these resources is that they are currently being offered for free, so you can try out as many as you like and pick the one that will work best for you and your students.
If using one of these digital tools feels overwhelming, especially if you’ve never needed to teach online before, there are other options that might work better for you.
- A teacher in Cranberry Township, Pa., said, “If you don't want to create a Google Classroom (which is a ton of work), a workaround can be to create a Google Doc Calendar with a link to a lesson/video/curriculum and a Google Forms link to submit work (if that's part of your need).”
- A teacher from Philadelphia said, “Our district created learning guides to pick up as a packet or view online. My specific school created a PPT [PowerPoint] with more thorough directions.” Students’ completed packets could be returned to a teacher by email or collected when schools reopen.
Check out 42 On-Demand Webinars from Virtual Conference 2020
Distance Learning Ideas & Connecting with Students
Connecting with our students is as important as assigning them work and keeping them busy. During this unpredictable time, our students are probably feeling as much uncertainty as we are. Our webinar attendees had great ideas for how educators can maintain those connections with students, which they’ve work so hard to create—even while schools are closed.
- One elementary educator said, “I’m having quick morning Zoom or phone calls with each student (every other day) to give them positive reinforcement or affirmations for the day.”
- A paraprofessional from New York City said that her class is using Google Hangouts occasionally so that the kids can still talk to each other. Pro tip: If those instructional Zoom calls become too loud and chaotic from the kids’ excitement in seeing each other, allow them to talk as much as they want for 10 minutes and then mute all the participants so you can talk too.
- Along the same lines, this teacher from Chicago says she’s using Zoom “but more for fun. My kiddos are 4 years old. I am not sending any work. I am not taking attendance. Just a relaxing time.”
If you’re concerned that your students don’t have internet access at home and can’t connect with you virtually, you can always call them.
- One teacher said, “Teachers—during this age of remote teaching, if you don't feel comfortable using your own phone number to contact parents, you can make a Google Voice number specifically for teaching. It’s free, you can send calls to your phone, or, if you want to use an old smartphone, you can call/message parents while connected to Wi-Fi with a different number. I just set up an account using my Gmail and now have a work phone so my personal cellphone doesn’t get inundated with calls!”
- A special education teacher is doing something very similar: Each student who has an IEP gets one-to-one time on the phone with her and her co-teacher to make sure they are doing well and to check in with their parents about any concerns they may have.
Many teachers are concerned about students feeling especially anxious during this time.
- “We have done several online/distance learning lessons about anxiety and worry related to the pandemic. I teach students with emotional behavior disorders, so social-emotional learning is key,” said a special education teacher in Saint Marys, Ga.
Want more ideas on how to support the roller coaster of emotions you and your students are feling? Join Dr. Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University for a webinar on the "The Big 7: Healthy Emotion Regulation During Uncertain Times." The webinar will be live on Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 3:00 PM EDT and then available on demand. Register here.
And, of course, it’s still important to have some fun.
- Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia had a virtual spirit week for their students. Each day was a new theme, and students posted pictures in their outfits and costumes on social media every day using a common hashtag.
Explore distance learning ideas that support students with disabilities.
Distance Learning Ideas: English Language Arts and Writing
English language arts and writing educators have gotten super creative when it comes to their students’ assignments.
- One teacher is using Google Docs to have students collaborate despite the distance. “One thing I love to do,” she said, “is have students correct each other’s writings. Individual students check for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. They provide ideas to make writing better.”
- Other teachers encourage collaboration by having students explain literary devices on Flipgrid.
- Some educators are also bringing back the telephone and having students collaborate on vocabulary assignments and then email them to their teacher.
Journaling or expressing one’s feelings can be very important during this time.
- One kindergarten teacher from New Jersey feels like technology is too much for her students. She has her students working with pencil and paper, and their parents text or email pictures of their kids’ work at the end of the day. With older students, however, it’s possible to have students complete journals online.
- One fourth-grade teacher has her students complete daily journals via Google Classroom.
- Journals can also be private, as this teacher from Seaside, Ore., suggests: “My students all have a journal that I purchased for them. I asked them to write daily and to let me know what page they wrote in. I don't need to see what they wrote, it’s personal and private!”
Another important reading tip to note: Many publishers understand the hardships some students are facing by not being able to complete their read-aloud books before schools closed. Some have loosened copyright rules and are allowing educators to use a virtual platform to read aloud to their students. Go to their websites to find out which publishers are working with teachers right now to make this happen.
Distance Learning Ideas: STEM
Science can be a tough subject to get students to do at home—especially if you work in a secondary school and your students have to complete lab assignment.
- One science teacher from Labadie, Mo., is trying to get her elementary students’ families involved in some hands-on projects to keep students’ brains thinking scientifically.
- For middle and high school students, learning about science virtually might be the key to keep them learning. One webinar attendee has her students listen to the Science Friday podcasts every week and write about what they find most interesting.
- A middle school science teacher suggested using Discover Education’s virtual field trips to help students learn about different parts of the world and their wildlife.
Math teachers are also coming up with unique ways to keep their students learning about math.
- A teacher from Oregon was in the middle of teaching about shapes when schools closed. Now she is having her students take pictures of shapes all over their homes and outside. They then upload the pics and label them with the name of the shape.
- Another teacher, from Mesa, Ariz., is finding virtual ways to help students with math problems they’re struggling with. “I have kids send photos of problems they can’t solve through Remind 101, and then I write out an answer and send a photo back. This is very new to me but it seems to work.”
Distance Learning Ideas: Arts
Teaching any arts classes during this time might feel overwhelming, but arts teachers are finding that helping their students appreciate the beauty in the world is more important now than ever.
- One teacher from Hopatcong, N.J., wants to keep the arts on students’ minds. “I have made videos for all of the art lessons, providing step-by-step guided instruction. I was fortunate enough to send all of my students home with brand-new art supplies. The kids are doing great.”
- Another educator is still having students participate in gallery walks to look at each other’s artwork. “I use Google Slides as a virtual gallery walk. Students can use the comments feature to comment on each other’s work.”
Read about AFT President Randi Weingarten's latest blog featuring distance learning ideas, capstone projects and creating an environment of positivity for students and educators.
Distance Learning Ideas: Be Student-Centered
Most importantly, remember that all the lessons, activities and meetings with our students are to make sure students feel safe and connected to learning in some way. Some teachers are putting a lot of work on the front end to ensure students’ lessons meet their individual needs.
- One teacher said that she and her co-teacher are “looking at test results and figuring out what students mastered and what they independently need to do while out of the classroom. A lot of work for the teacher, but more meaningful for the students.”
Other educators are focusing on project-based learning.
- One teacher suggests that educators “pay attention to the student's interests, talents and gifts. Keep his/her schoolwork during this time related to his/her interests (assignment on baseball, for example). Acknowledge the importance of their interests/talents.”
- Another educator, from East Lansing, Mich., wants his students to feel like they have a choice in what work they complete. He is “emailing out OPTIONS for my students to keep them actively learning and engaged.”
There’s no right or wrong way to engage in distance learning right now. We would love to know what you’re doing. What is working for you and your students?