This one was making the rounds on social media (date: March 27, 2020).

Week One is over. Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) Florida district was one of four that reconvened online as the extended Spring break ended. Monday, all 67 districts will be online to provide distance learning as we teach our students from home. This post is a ‘Lessons Learned’ for all those yet to enter this grand experiment.

ONE: The most important thing is to connect with students, who are missing their routine and crave normalcy. Make your first day an easy one. Check-in, ask about their family, ask how they are feeling, assure them you will support them from afar the same as if you were together in the classroom.

One of GOT’s students made a point of showing him her dog yesterday. That’s the kind of emotional connection your students need.

Your first day is going to be rough, full of technological challenges as you find out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t get fussed when things don’t work out or students get upset. They expect the technology to be perfect from the get-go. It won’t be. Don’t make that mistake.

GOT had a class where nothing worked the way the district said it would. (Microsoft at fault; not GOT’s district.) The upshot? Everyone gets full marks for the assignment. It wasn’t their fault.

TWO: Don’t try anything new. You won’t know how it will actually perform and you haven’t had time to train your students in how to use it. All those great apps you’re reading about? Forget it. Don’t use anything you haven’t already been using in your classroom unless you have no other choice.

GOT’s district committed to Microsoft long ago. We use their apps, period. A year or two ago, the district cut off access to other platforms, such as Google Classroom, for many reasons including compliance with FERPA, IDEA, and other federal laws. Don’t get creative. Stick to your district’s plan. It’s the best way to ensure we are protecting the rights of our students.

For example, Teams gives the ability to hold video meetings. If that’s what your district is providing, don’t use Zoom. There are many reports of security concerns with Zoom. You don’t want the trolls bursting into your video classroom in the most inappropriate ways.

THREE: Make attendance easy. Understand that children may be sharing their devices with siblings and may not be able to attend your video meetings when they take place. It may be later in the day. Teens will follow their body clocks: up late at night, sleep in the morning. Adapt to them. Make it easy.

GOT has seen teachers share many ideas for attendance. While he means no disrespect, in the secondary classroom, requiring children to fill out a form or respond to a question is a bit much. They are trying to navigate 6 to 8 classes, all of which have different procedures and expectations, while fighting for computer time with siblings and maybe even parents, if Mom or Dad has a work-at-home routine.

GOT goes the extra mile. If a student interacts with his class in anyway during a two-day period, they are present. When he starts the live video meeting, if he sees the child join, that’s ‘Present.’ If the child leaves a comment in the chat, even hours after the meeting, that’s a ‘Present.’ If a child ignores the video meeting, but views the assignment in Teams within 48 hours of posting, that’s a ‘Present.’ If a child submits work for that class, that’s a ‘Present.’

FOUR: GOT is checking his word count. This post is passing the 600 threshhold. That’s about as long as a blogger can expect an online reader to remain focused on the writing.

Remember the same as true or even more so for children.

Don’t try to replicate your in-person classroom experience online. Cut back on the work. Don’t try to instruct the entire time, then assign the classwork followed by a homework assignment. Parents are reporting that their children are spending upwards of 12 hours online trying to do all the work. We need to stop. Cut back. Teach for 30 minutes, allow the students to work while you give them help like you would in the classroom.

And homework? Forgeddaboutit.

2 thoughts on “Pro Tips for Distance Learning

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