Well, it’s here. A global pandemic. Schools across the country are closing, and mine was one of those that decided to close as of Thursday. With the closing of so many schools came the question: How do we continue learning under these circumstances?
I, for one, am a bit conflicted. While I understand the desire to preserve instructional time, we have to come to terms with the fact that we are going to lose an immense amount of instructional time–and for good reason. We are losing instructional time in an effort to prioritize the health and safety of our students, their families, and our communities at-large.
That said, a crisis like this is, without a doubt, unearthing the cracks and chasms within the social systems at the foundation of society–education included. Some families rely on schools for child care while they work; without it, they face near-impossible decisions, deciding whether to pay for child care or miss work. In either situation, this creates an unimaginable financial burden. Others rely on schools for basic needs like meals. For them, closing down schools means closing down an access point for breakfast and lunch.
Truthfully, it feels a bit crass to be talking about “remote learning” at a time like this. Parents have enough to deal with, no less having to manage their kids’ assignments while they work from home or manage the complexities of child care so they can continue to make ends-meet. On the other hand, it could be a way that we, teachers, support our families and provide the usual structure and rhythm of the school day as they navigate this change of pace.
The answer certainly is not to simply throw our hands up and do nothing to support the students and families that are spending time at home. On the other hand, we must be sensitive to the diversity of situations that exist within our students’ home lives, which will undoubtedly impact how each of them handles our current crisis.
If you’re engaging in remote learning over the next few weeks, consider the following three guidelines.
Make it authentic.
We all know that endless worksheets makes for an inauthentic learning experience. Even more than that, asking students to fill in endless boxes will only make things harder on their parents.
No, this global pandemic isn’t the time to print out endless worksheets on Teachers-Pay-Teachers. It is the time to provide authentic “assignments” that help them uncover academics in their everyday lives. If you’re like so many teachers who did not have time or advanced notice to send real books home with them, you might feel the inclination to simply send home a packet of worksheets. And while reproducibles may be somewhat necessary during this time, there are other options.
Instead of simply sending home worksheets that require students to fill in blanks, try the following:
- Record yourself reading to them. Put it on YouTube, Seesaw, or Google Classroom. While you’re recording, think aloud (Keene, 2007) and model some of the metacognitive strategies you use as a reader. In your video, encourage them to talk with someone near them about what they’re thinking. Ask them to journal about it afterwards, recording their thinking or drawing a picture in response to what they read.
- Provide writing prompts that review or reinforce genres you’ve already covered over the course of the year. You could even provide high-interest creative writing prompts that build stamina and make writing fun at home. There is no better time than now to remember that writing is a human experience–not just a skill to be mastered. We use writing to share pieces of ourselves and make the abstract thoughts in our minds concrete. Give your students time to explore this.
- Find opportunities for math in your home. Cooking in the kitchen? Video yourself and have a conversation about volume or liquid measurement. Completing a task at home? Show pictures of the clock at the start and ending times, and ask them to calculate how much time it took you. Not an option? Provide some open ended tasks from Illustrative Mathematics that really get kids thinking and maybe even collaborating with their families.
Make it optional.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a proponent of providing options for parents while their kids are supposed to be school. In fact, if you are like me (currently healthy, no children to take care of, still earning a salary through a school closure), then it only makes sense that I be here to support parents and families through this crisis.
But we must remember that support looks different for everyone. Some families will want some activities to keep their kids engaged, while others may want to take advantage of some more family time. Some will have extenuating circumstances like sick family members or pressures to continue their jobs (or even work overtime) that will make it very difficult for them to support remote learning.
For this reason, the work you provide should be optional–not mandatory. Don’t assign high-stakes work that will make certain students fall behind and provide others with more unearned advantage for acceleration. This will create inequities in your class that will be hard to remedy upon your return. This is a great time to provide review and reinforcement activities, send videos of you reading stories aloud, or even providing some fun journal prompts to continue building writing stamina.
Make it accessible.
Remote learning should be sparking conversations about privilege in communities across the nation. Remote learning is more challenging in homes without rich libraries of children’s books. It’s hard for families who don’t have consistent access to Internet or electronic devices that allow them to communicate with teachers over long distances. It feels near impossible to prioritize when there are questions about paying for healthcare, accessing a hospital, or maintaining a livable income through the crisis.
That’s why, if you choose to pursue remote learning, it must be something that is accessible to all students in your classroom. If it’s not, then you are only contributing to the opportunity gap that exists without our society.
This is a time where we must trust our teachers to know their communities. Building relationships students and families is the most important thing we do, and something we’ve taken all school year to cultivate. We must trust them to make decisions that are inclusive and respectful of the constraints that so many are currently under.
We’re all doing the best we can.
It is time to show ourselves and others grace. It is not time to put unrealistic expectations upon each other, whether you’re a parent, teacher, student, or administrator. We must all use whatever resources we have to support one another through this uncertain time. That means providing support and care without expectation of it being used or even needed. We must trust families to do what’s best for their children, and we must hope that families will provide that to us, teachers, in return.
Stay well, and stay safe, friends.