Schools are turning to distance learning to help keep students learning and progressing during the corona virus.
While distance learning can be a bit intimidating if you’re new to it and are suddenly forced to make changes to the way you teach, that doesn’t have to be the case.
This post will help you get your digital classroom started and help you manage it without the overwhelm.
Let’s dive in!
What is distance learning?
Quite simply, distance learning is a way for students and teachers to communicate by using technology.
If your school will be implementing distance learning and you’ve never done this before, first of all don’t panic!
You are a highly educated teacher! You can do this!
There are so many ways to set up distance learning.
Unfortunately, your school or district may not have time to hold training. But before you try to learn everything on your own, read on for resources and tips to make the process easier.
How to get started
There are many platforms you can use for your virtual classroom.
Here are two:
1. Edmodo. I love this free platform!
What’s to love:
- Students only need a code to join your digital classroom.
- You’ll send parents a code so they can see an abridged version of your digital classroom.
- Post daily work, links, pdfs, videos, and quizzes.
- Schedule assignments ahead of time, grade assignments, give students badges, and even create groups — like reading groups or project groups.
- Students can upload assignments, see grades, and leave comments.
2. Google Classroom
If your school already uses Google for email, you already have access to Google Classroom…and it’s so easy to use!
My friend Cassi wrote this awesome post about using your Google Classroom to create distance learning lessons.
You can also set up a class blog (I love Edublogs — also free) or simply use email to communicate with your students via their parents.
Tips for whatever platform you use
1. If this is new for you and your students, start slow!
Students will have issues with logging on, submitting work, and so on.
Start with simple tasks that will help them practice submitting work, watching a video, and using the platform.
2. Stay on track.
Keep up with your yearlong or unit plans.
Avoid the temptation to try a random, fun digital lesson you find online or veer off into another direction.
By continuing with your curriculum and yearlong plan, you will be moving your students forward.
3. Avoid assigning busywork!
Just like in your face-to-face classroom, your assignments should be meaningful and based on your objectives.
4. Know the objective of the online lesson.
Make sure it’s clear to the students by stating in on the day’s lesson.
5. Don’t overwhelm – use mini lessons.
Rather than an assignment like this: “Write an essay on the theme of ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers.‘“
Use a mini lesson like this: “Paraphrase the poem ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers.'”
Remember that you can build one mini lesson onto the next…kind of like creating a house!
When you use mini lessons your students are less likely to get confused or overwhelmed. Since you aren’t there to guide them through the task of the day.
Need help with digital lessons? I have a ton in my TeachersPayTeachers store. You can find them here.
6. Use what you have.
Yes, it’s that ever-popular refrain: “Don’t reinvent the wheel!”
You can scan or even photograph pages of a text or workbook pages to share with your students (just be sure you check the copyright).
Give yourself a break and use the textbooks that you have — many are available online. By using what you have, you are also giving yourself time to learn the platform and understand the pace at which your students work.
7. Create a video — yes, you can!
Rather than write out all the directions for an assignment, create a quick video with directions.
Yes, it’s kind of scary taking a video of yourself, so if you don’t want to, you can focus your camera on the cover of a text book, the ceiling, or even on your dog.
Providing students with a video means they can review it more than once — this is helpful if you have multiple steps for directions. Additionally, it can be reassuring for students to hear your voice and see your face (or your dog!).
8. Provide a video lesson
You don’t have to just have assignments and tasks. You can record an actual lesson.
If you still have access to your classroom, use your phone to record a video.
If you don’t have access to your classroom, consider taking a screen cast.
This is another great way to provide directions or teach a lesson. You can even use it to help students to log into Edmodo or Google Classroom for the first time.
Three free screen cast options:
1. Screencast-o-matic – very easy to use and edit.
2. Screencastify — also very easy to use and will save right to your Google drive or Google classroom.
3. Loom is offering their free pro version to students and teachers. Loom is also very easy to use, and and you’ll have the option of recording your screen with a video of you or with just your voice.
Remember that your screen cast or video doesn’t have to be perfect!
9. Provide time
Manage your expectations of your students.
Give them time to complete assignments — even a few days is reasonable. Most platforms will give students reminders about turning in assignments.
10. Build in routine
Just like in your physical classroom, routine is helpful in your digital classroom.
If you like your students to complete a journal prompt or warm up, keep it going in your digital classroom.
Keep your students reading! Set up a reading challenge.
11. Decide how you’ll grade this
On one hand, setting up distance learning seems easy. But you don’t want to flood your email box with notices that tons and tons of work is coming in, and now you need to spend the next ten hours grading it!
This goes back to point #3. We know that our students won’t always do the work if we aren’t grading it, so make assignments and assessments that are manageable for you.
12. Academic honesty
This can be a tricky bit. We aren’t always sure it’s the student who is actually doing the work.
You may want to ask students and parents to sign an academic honesty agreement.
Be sure you are in regular, frequent contact with parents and your administration.
This isn’t “set it and forget it.” Be ready for student and parent questions and respond as soon as you are able.
- Most importantly — take care of yourself and your family!
- Help your students understand the issues here. The CDC has an information poster about stopping the spread of CoVid19 here. This could be your first DL lesson — a study of Public Safety Announcements.
- Watch the very helpful workshop my friend Cassi put together on creating a learning path for distance learning. She shows you how to do this with Google Classroom. Her directions are so clear and easy to follow! Even though she is teaching math concepts, you will see how easily you can adapt this for your own subject matter.
- Consider how much you are going to learn as an educator through this process!
But don’t do this
- Don’t get overwhelmed with all options for technology! Keep it simple and add what you need as time goes on.
You can do this!
You are a teacher who can adapt and create new learning opportunities for your students!
And, I’m here to help. Let me know if you have any questions!