Distance Learning Tips and Strategies

This blog post is sponsored by VIPKid.

Many teachers are transitioning from brick-and-mortar classrooms to virtual instructional settings as schools temporarily close across the United States to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus). Offline and online educators alike know that support and learning among peers is crucial to success in the classroom, whether physical or virtual. At VIPKid, fostering community has been key to our success as online educators, and it has never been more important for all of us to lean on and support each other so that we can be there for our students. With roughly 200,000 daily online classes occurring on the VIPKid platform led by 100,000 online educators across the United States and Canada, we are eager to share some of our learnings and online teaching strategies with those who are transitioning to a virtual classroom for the first time.

Good Pedagogy Is Good Pedagogy

It is important to remember that classic educational techniques are still important and valuable when teaching online; just because there is a screen between you and your students now doesn’t mean you can’t use many of the techniques you have previously learned. Such techniques include

  • adapting instruction to meet the needs of the learners in front of you,
  • designing activities to keep learners engaged, and
  • ensuring that every student has time to reflect and produce output that demonstrates their learning.

Good pedagogy is good pedagogy, delivered in person or online. Undoubtedly, there are important differences that pose certain challenges but also present unique learning opportunities.

A Classroom Is a Construct

In order to successfully make the transition from brick-and-mortar classroom instruction to teaching from home, you’ll want to ensure that students feel safe and comfortable. Let’s be honest: Nowadays most kids can swipe on a tablet by the time they are 2 years old. That said, students may be uncertain about learning in their new online classroom. Here are some considerations when selecting resources and orienting your students to their new learning environment:

  • Be Selective: If possible, choose tools that are familiar to students or are easy for them to learn. Try to limit the number of platforms and apps to just a few that make the most sense for you and your students.
  • Select in Context: If you are able to select which platform to use for instruction, remember to take students’ developmental levels and digital accessibility into account.
  • Features to Enhance Instruction: Consider platforms that allow you to share your screen, use an interactive whiteboard feature, and/or integrate other apps and web 2.0 products to enhance online instruction.
  • Classroom Orientation: Take time to familiarize your students with classroom tools and features so that they become comfortable in the new learning environment. Additionally, orient students to ensure that they understand the expectations about how to use the tools to continue their learning.
  • Set Expectations: Once you have a sense of your new online learning environment, create class norms and reiterate your normal classroom expectations for students and the importance of carrying them over to the new format so that everyone feels informed, and maybe even excited, to continue their learning.
  • Create Structure: To the extent possible, establish routines and plan experiences that will maximize student engagement and participation. Routines that are consistent and predictable create a sense of security for students.
  • At Their Own Pace: If possible, use prerecorded video instruction or digital assignments that allow students to work at their own pace.

For tips on how to set up an online classroom on a budget that makes it easy to teach virtually, read more here.

Social and Emotional Learning Is Important, Too

Teachers should also consider that social-emotional learning will become even more important during times of immense change. Students may feel apprehensive about their routines being changed, and they will need to know that there is consistency in your expectations of their performance and that you are committed to providing stability in the classroom. Your actions and attitude will convey how committed you are to ensuring student success and will directly translate to their commitment to tasks. Although there inevitably will be bumps along the way as we’re all learning, the positive tone you set and the care you show will go a long way.

Consider using bibliotherapy techniques to guide students toward quality literature that focuses their thinking on overcoming challenging situations or hopefulness. Many biographies are available that speak to these themes. Extend learning by asking students to write about their gratitude for being given “bonus” time to explore, wonder, and learn with their families.  

In addition, don’t forget about your own emotional state right now. You are also going through a lot, so don’t lose track of your own mental health. Eat, take breaks, and try to maintain normal working hours.

Patience, Patience, Patience

Though traditional instructional methods are a staple in most classrooms, modern educators need to keep in mind that students working from home may face some unique challenges. Even when students have access to internet and devices, they might now be sharing hardware, internet bandwidth, or data packages with work-from-home parents and siblings, or some students just may not have the same level of home support as others. Here are some tips to be patient, flexible, and resourceful with your instruction in an online environment:

  • Flexible Access: Strive to offer a variety of ways to receive and submit information in order to increase access to educational materials.
  • Adapt: Work with students to creatively adapt instruction to provide opportunities to master content. For example, here are some creative writing exercises and classic games used by VIPKid teachers in the virtual classroom that may stimulate your students’ imaginations, too.
  • Scale Back: You may need to scale back the number of hours or assignments that you would normally give in a day. Many students will be caring for siblings or caring for the home, or they may be asked to take on other responsibilities while at home. Give them flexibility in their day to do these things.
  • Teach Reflection: Consider giving students an opportunity to earn credit for nonacademic tasks by reflecting on what they are doing and what they are learning about time management, resilience, working toward a common goal, and so on. In every task, there is a lesson, and teaching students the ability to reflect, find these lessons, and determine their application in the greater scheme of things is a lesson that speaks to lifelong learning.
  • Life Skills: Reach out of the standard curriculum and ask students to learn at least one “life skill” per week and report to the class. Whether it is how to sew a button or change a tire, you may be surprised to hear what your students are learning on their own when given the opportunity.
  • Small Groups, Too: Take time to plan for the whole group, small group, and individual instruction online. On some platforms, digital breakout rooms can be used to allow small groups to talk and work together. This is an excellent way to continue literature circles or Socratic seminars.
  • Office Hours: Planning online office hours is also helpful so that teachers can continue to check in on students’ mental and educational well-being. Use the individual appointments to continue to build rapport and target instruction by assigning small challenges for students to explore or research on their own.

As educators, we are being given a unique opportunity to find life lessons and think differently about how we respond in challenging situations. Capitalize on this and redirect your students to find the joy and keep learning no matter what. Additionally, LearningKeepsGoing.org has a  comprehensive list of digital resources available at little or no cost to school communities affected by coronavirus, as well as professional learning resources for educators preparing for online instruction.

As Fred Rogers famously said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news…my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” VIPKid stands in solidarity with teachers around the world.

About Lauren Conn and Kristin Fawaz

Lauren Conn and Kristin Fawaz
Lauren Conn is senior manager of social impact at VIPKid, one of the world's leading education technology companies. She leads social impact initiatives, including the establishment of VIPTeach, a nonprofit organization seed-funded by VIPKid to empower educators as drivers of innovation and equity in education. She holds an MBA from Georgetown University, an MAEd, and a BA in Hispanic Studies from the College of William and Mary, and was a Rotary World Peace Fellow at the Universidad del Salvador in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Kristin Fawaz, MEd, is a career educator with more than 24 years of experience in public education and the EdTech space, where she served as a teacher, school administrator, program coordinator, and learner advocate. As the community program coordinator for VIPKid, Kristin works to empower the VIPKid teacher community through programs and opportunities for online educators to connect and share best practices. She holds a masters of education degree in gifted and talented education and educational leadership.
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One Response to
Distance Learning Tips and Strategies

  1. Deepak Sitaula says:

    Teaching and learning is at critical juncture in/after covid19 pandemic. Many vibrent efforts have been done to update the field. However, the hurdles created by plethoras of information among the time servers, it has been a geing field. Most of the teachers reveal their luke worm response for the change management. Which has created learning defecits. In this perilous situation this coure has really helped to run distance classes using different platforms and in different ways.

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