This past spring when the world shut down unexpectedly children, parents, teachers and other school support staff were thrown into creating distance learning classrooms. We can all agree that distance learning has some clear advantages and disadvantages. As the new school year gets ready to start and has already started for some, schools around the world are still working to navigate the best ways to make and maintain positive distance learning classrooms.
To help both parents and teachers, as they struggle with distance learning classrooms, I did an informal study to determine what parents suggested or thought based off of their distance learning classrooms in the spring. It is my hope that their responses will help to guide educators as they implement their distance learning classrooms this fall and in so doing help other parents and students experience the most epic distance learning classrooms.
To begin, I think it’s important that we understand what distance learning and a distance learning classroom is. According to Britannica, distance learning is also called “distance education, online learning and e-learning.” Distance learning is described as a type of education where students and teachers are not physically together, but interact in a virtual setting during which teachers use a combination of technological resources to communicate.
As such, a distance learning classroom is an online classroom where teachers and students communicate, using many types of technology, to help children learn. Distance learning classrooms can look very different depending on the resources and tools available to the student and teacher and other factors such as the amount of time the teacher had to prepare, whether the student is elementary, middle or high school aged and many other factors.
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Can distance learning work?
Across the board, when it comes to distance learning and distance learning classrooms, what most people want to know is can distance learning work or to put it another way are distance learning classrooms effective? We can all agree that no type of distance learning or a distance learning classroom can have the same type of impact as in person instruction, especially for students experiencing distance learning elementary and middle school classrooms.
However, we can try to learn from the distance learning advantages and disadvantages, seen in the spring, to be more successful moving forward. Older children, in high school, may be less affected, academically, by the separation from peers and the limitations of distance learning classrooms, but we can still work to improve in those distance learning classroom settings too.
Regardless of the school level and grade level of the families involved in distance learning classrooms, they each had some suggestions and advice to help teachers create the most epic and successful distance learning classrooms. Before we get started, I wanted to share some short inspirational quotes to keep you going on the tough days.
1. Communicate often and clearly in your Distance Learning Classroom
Clear communication and instructions are key in a successful distance learning classroom.
Samantha Radford, from Evidence-Based Mommy, thought her child’s teacher did an excellent job with communication, videos and providing clear instructions. She specifically said, “We’re choosing to homeschool this year. But overall, given the circumstances, I felt my daughter’s teachers did a fantastic job with virtual learning.”
Samantha was not alone in her thoughts as many parents, who reported having their family and student/s having a positive experience with distance learning classrooms praised the teachers’ use of clear and consistent communication and also videos.
How can distance learning be improved?
2. Be Flexible with Distance Learning Classrooms and Expectations
Valerie of A Grammar Nerd's Life had this to say about what teachers should consider when creating the most epic distance learning classrooms, “As long as teachers consider the fact that parents have multiple kids at school at the same time and not enough computers for all of them then I'm okay with that!” Valerie mainly wanted to remind teachers to create schedules that were flexible and considered families with multiple school aged children, using limited computers as they created their epic distance learning classroom.
Christen from Best Money Mom also had similar concerns like Valerie as she has multiple school aged children. She shared, “I have 3 school age daughters, ages 5 to 9. I'm also a Canadian teacher myself, currently on maternity leave with my 4th daughter. The big problem for us was not having access to computers for all my kids at the same time. It was so stressful finding the time for all my girls to get on a computer and do their work. Also, my 9-year-old is the only one that can operate a computer on her own. I really liked it when the teachers used group video chats to teach a lesson to my younger children so I didn't have to look over their shoulders and lead them through how to read a lesson on the computer. “As a teacher preparing for the most epic distance learning classroom, remember to be flexible with distance learning classroom expectations and realize that each family has their own limitations.
3. Provide typed instructions that parents can read and print for help with distance learning classrooms.
55.6% of the parents consulted about distance learning classrooms asked that teachers provide typed instructions that parents can read and print when help is needed with the assignments and tools used in the distance learning classroom. They additionally recommended presenting opportunities for voice calls and videos between the parent and teacher if they can be walked through issues.
4. Carefully consider the timing of lessons in your distance learning classroom
During the spring, distance learning classrooms, in many cases, happened haphazardly or had too much variation in the time of classes. 61.1% of the parents polled suggested that digital learning classrooms should have more structure. They recommended the hours of 10-12 as the best times for distance learning courses and 38.9% thought from 8-10 was ideal.
5. Give parents options about how to turn in work for their students in distance learning classrooms.
Another important consideration teachers need to make when creating the most epic distance learning classroom is how work will be submitted. 33.3% of the parents polled preferred to take a picture or scan their child’s work and then email it to the teacher. 27.8% liked using an editable form provided by the teacher or attaching completed work in Google Classroom.
6. Provide training videos for parents on your distance learning classroom.
Many parents have never seen or had to use some of the tools and resources being implemented in Distance Learning classrooms. Parents who completed the poll (38.9%) recommended the use of distance learning classroom training video to help parents and families get the help they need.
7. Be careful when scheduling distance learning classroom lessons
Above, parents pointed out that the best block of time daily for distance learning classrooms was between 10 and 12. They also think it is a great idea to consult families and create a schedule based on feedback from the children and parents in the distance learning classroom.
8. Pay attention to the length of time of your distance learning classroom lessons
Several parents from the poll reported being uncomfortable with the amount of screen time their children spent in during distance learning classrooms. When asked about the ideal amount of time for distance learning classroom lessons, 61.1% of parents said 30 minutes was best for each lesson, with 31.3 % saying 45 minutes was ideal. 5.6% of the parents polled wanted hour long lessons in distance learning classrooms.
How distance learning is done?
There is no “ correct way” to do distance learning that I have been able to observe, but there are tools and resources that have a better impact as reported by parents and students on distance learning outcomes.
9. Use daily Zoom calls or Google Meets
66.7% of parents reported that their children were most excited about Zoom meetings because it gave and gives them opportunities to interact with their classmates and teachers. Alex Green, over at the The Conifer Collective, said “I think daily Zoom calls would be beneficial. I know they can be chaotic with so many kids, but I think it makes it easier for kids to feel more like they’re participating in the classroom (which made it easier for my kids to focus).”
10. Use videos and Google Classroom when creating your epic distance learning classroom
38.9% of the parents consulted about distance learning classrooms said their children were excited about videos from their teachers and 27.8% enjoyed using Google Classroom as they completed their distance learning classroom lessons.
What distance learning looks like?
Distance learning and distance learning classrooms, as I mentioned above, do not necessarily have a set look. However, there are some common features of distance learning classrooms that appeared during the spring, which can help as you try to create the most epic distance learning classroom.
11. Use a variety of resources in your distance learning classroom
Children learn in a variety of ways and even in a distance learning classroom it is important to give different learners opportunities to receive information in a format that makes them feel successful. Some popular distance learning classroom resources, that are fun, but educational and that made students feel successful, are weekly choice boards of learning activities, elearning or online learning programs adopted and used by the school or school district, synchronous (live) or asynchronous (prerecorded) video meetings, writing or research prompts and instruction provided through the use of online learning websites and games.
Sienny Yong from Sienny Loves Drawing talked about the importance of using a variety of resources when she asks teachers “To make the virtual class more interactive & exciting with a variety of activities to keep the kids attention and help them focus, be engaged & participate.”
12. Offer different options to accommodate more families in your epic distance learning classroom
Rachel Kamath, a parent who blogs over at Small World Spanish, said, “We would love to have a combination of live and pre recorded videos, as sometimes it's hard for us to keep a schedule at home.” This sentiment was shared by many parents, 66.7% to be exact, who thought a combination of live and pre recorded videos and meetings were the best to create an epic distance learning classroom. 22.2% of the parents interviewed preferred pre recorded videos and 11.1% said they were in favor of live videos for their ideal distance learning classroom.
AJSSmith, from The Primary Pathway, also shared a positive experience with her child’s teacher in which live lessons were hosted 3 times a week. This is not to say that you need to do the same, but to provide ideas on what your distance learning classroom can look like.
13. Aim for Balance in your Epic Distance Learning Classroom
Michelle, from Moms, Munchkins and Muscles, thought that balance was an important factor to consider when creating the most epic distance learning classroom. She shared, “I think a mixture of video lessons and actual work to do at home is good! It gives them a balance.” Teachers who are struggling to create the most epic distance learning classroom should definitely plan to maintain some type of balance for students.
Why distance learning is not effective?
Try as they did, many teachers and schools struggled with distance learning classrooms in the spring. One of the questions I posed to parents to guide teachers and schools as they create the most epic distance learning classrooms was what didn’t work in their previous distance learning classrooms. There were four major drawbacks parents shared that could affect creating the most epic distance learning classroom and they were that students missed their friends, they missed their teacher, the instructions for assignments were unclear and the distance learning classroom and activities weren’t engaging enough.
14. Give Feedback in your Distance Learning Classroom
Navixha, from Organicize Your Life mentioned that she would have liked “for the teacher to provide feedback on assignments that were not done well.” She also noted that there wasn’t enough interaction between the teacher and the class and that instructions for assignments were not clear enough in the distance learning classroom.
Bee from Mummy Bong Bong also had issues with timely feedback in distance learning classrooms. She specifically mentioned that there was “ late communication about missed homework assignments.” Bee also suggests that anyone working to create the most epic distance learning classroom should provide “Bite sized lessons and suitable difficulty homework.”
15. Give chances for children to interact in your Epic Distance Learning Classroom
Elizabeth Voyles over at Worth Writing For shared the same sentiments as Navixsha about things that can negatively affect creating an epic distance learning classroom and said, “It would be helpful to have more connection to other students in the classroom via Zoom or some other means to feel a connection with other kids.“ She additionally shared, “There was not enough contact with or connection to my child’s teacher and classmates.” As teachers work to create their epic distance learning classrooms, they need to be sure to think about and plan opportunities for students to connect with each other and for students to connect with them.
Sydney from SydneyCSays on Instagram also agreed that the most difficult part of social distancing for her older daughter was missing school. Everything else about the distance learning classroom was fine and it was not seen to have any problems.
Adriane from Raising Kids With Purpose also shared that some difficulties with distance learning classrooms for her family was “Not being with friends. Also having me as their “teacher”.” Holly from At Home With Holly also “Disliked the lack of social interaction” during distance learning classrooms.
16. Offer opportunities for children to receive help in your epic distance learning classroom
April from Rodes on the Road went into even more detail as she explained some of the challenges she faces with her children with distance learning classrooms. She said, “My children prefer to be with their teachers. They like the idea that when they are confused about something they can easily approach and ask their teacher for help in person. In virtual learning or distance learning classrooms, parents who are not great at teaching have a hard time explaining things to their children. It was especially hard for our 6th grade daughter last year. We had a hard time helping her as the subjects are getting harder and we don’t really understand what method the teacher is using. (You know the way they do their math now is different than we used to growing up). Even my sister who’s been a teacher before was complaining that it’s even hard for her to figure out how to do the work and we’re adults, so how much more difficult is it for a child who’s eleven years old.”
17. Set up a time for virtual students to talk and ask questions
April also suggested that teachers who want to create the most epic and successful distance learning classroom set up “a time for kids to talk to their teacher online and ask questions directly to them daily. If they can all put a time, let’s say 10-12 noon, to meet with their students it would be helpful for us parents too. Amy, another parent, agreed with April, but also thought that teachers should create schedules, so that children and parents can be aware of what is coming next.
Donna from Packed for Life also had similar recommendations for the most epic distance learning classrooms. She recommended “Clear, well described lessons, that require minimal prep from parents or resources. Regular one on one check-ins between teachers and parents / kids.”
18. Look out for and plan around grading, workload and required screen time in your epic distance learning classroom.
Some other negatives that can affect a successful distance learning classroom that teachers should look out for and try to avoid are issues in grading work, assigning too heavy of a workload and assigning work that requires too much overall screen time.
19. Think about ways to engage special groups in your epic distance learning classroom
Having to attend a distance learning classroom is hard for most children, but it is especially hard for special groups of children like those with special needs, those who struggle and those in milestone grades. Kristen from Act2Mom didn’t have a good experience with distance learning in the spring, but thought the fact that her “daughter is a rising senior in high school” may have played a part in her response to distance learning. She added that her daughter “really missed going to school.”
Culturally Responsive Teaching Online in your Distance Learning Classroom
When you are setting up your epic distance learning classroom, try to think about the different students you have in your care and how their culture and home life may affect their learning. For example, a student might not want to turn on his/her camera because of where he lives.
When will distance learning end?
None of us can speak with any certainty about when distance learning, especially distance learning for elementary, middle and high school levels will end and go completely back to normal. However, if we all engage in more open communication where we talk, listen, give and receive constructive feedback we can ensure that distance learning is as positive an experience as it can be for everyone involved.
Distance learning classrooms were essential in the spring to keep learning going, but now in some states and countries there is a move to return to in person classes soon. Even though in person learning is slowly becoming an option, many families will still be relying on distance learning for a while longer.
Parents and teachers need to be prepared to work together to create epic distance learning classrooms, ones where students receive what they need and the load is as light as possible for parents and teachers.
Are you a parent who’s looking for additional resources to help your child/ children who is experiencing distance learning classrooms? Here are some resources you may find useful to add to what they are already receiving in their distance learning classroom. Get your preschooler engaged with STEM at an early age to learn skills like problem solving. Break up the hours of the regular academic and screen time with fun outdoor walking activities and unique activities for preschoolers. Give your child the gift of the best book subscription box for kids. Get 10% off your subscription book by using my affiliate code: OPBKIMBERLIE.
Do you have a reader at home who loves to find out about new countries and cultures? Then, my I am an Island Girl series, which is a collection of short stories that talk about what it was like growing up in Jamaica, may be a good fit for them.
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