The coronavirus (COVID-19) has put us all in a world that we did not see coming. The rapid deployment of social distancing took many by surprise, and each state, school, and individual teacher will contend with their own unique challenges as they tackle this crisis. Yet, as educators, we must figure out how to continue the learning. In times like this, even our teachers will be learning – learning new skills and pedagogy.
As the former Online & Blended Learning Director, in Nevada’s Clark County School District, I’m a huge fan of digital learning. Even today, I help others across the nation establish actively engaging learning environments so that students are empowered to take ownership in their learning as the founder of i3DigitalPD with numerous blogs on partnering with digital content and author of a book titled: Think Outside the Box, but I never expected a world quite like the one we have been pushed into today.
Ideally, designing effective distance learning programs requires planning and targeted professional development. However, in our current state of emergency, educators are caught in triage mode and are not in a position to craft an ideal online learning program. The key is to maintain the indispensable human touch of teaching and learning during this period of social distancing.
With school closures, our focus should not be online or distance learning, it’s about maintaining continuous learning. Technology will be a crucial tool for learning when physical classrooms and schools are closed. Yet, teaching and learning is not about the technology. Try to focus on the core business of schools: relationships and learning.
In the words of our president, as declared on March 13, “the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States constitutes a national emergency.” Bear in mind, the definition of emergency—a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action. Thus, the school year will not unfold as planned. All curricular goals will not be met. Therefore, expectations should be managed accordingly. Rather, than try to push the same learning expectations into a new modality, it will be more important to support the larger community by keeping kids stimulated, productively occupied, and focused on the ESSENTIAL STANDARDS for this time of year.
Nobody expects business as usual. A positive attitude and a flexible mindset are key in making this transition as smooth as possible. Classes will not continue seamlessly, and lessons will have to be reworked within the constraints of time and technology. Don’t let the anxiety of the times overwhelm you or your students. Be flexible and remember students need caring adults in their lives during these troubled times. Teachers should try to maintain personal connections with their students. Though this will be challenging when moving online, your smiling face, voice, and calm tone will bring a much-needed feel of normalcy for all.
The COVID-19 evolving crisis will continue and be compounded by educators who may now have their own children to care for at home, ill family members, the stress of managing household resources to comply with social distancing measures, or they too may fall ill themselves. As we transition, most importantly, be kind and forgiving of yourself and your students. The next few months will be emotionally taxing for all. Again, focus your efforts on the core business of schools: relationships and learning.
Establish an Online Presence
You or your school may already be using a learning management system (e.g., Canvas, Schoology) or other platform (e.g., Google Classroom, teacher websites), if so, go with what you and your students already know. To continue learning, an online presence will be essential. You will need a place where you can distribute student learning tasks, share resources, gather feedback, and keep everyone in the loop.
During these eLearning days, you will need an online environment. Looking for an easy authoring tool? Check out getting started with SoftChalk. If you can use a text editor, you can build a page-turning digital lesson. It has a gradebook too! That means you can create knowledge objects for students to practice and test. Better yet, just search for pre-built learning objects (lessons, activities, and assessments), which can be added to any online learning environment with a quick link or via embedded HTML code, within the robust SoftChalk Share Repository.
Gather Content and Tools
Start with instructional resources students and teachers are already familiar with – such as your textbook. Do students have physical textbooks at home to reference?” if so, then use them. Is there an online version of the textbook? In the past you may have not needed it, so you didn’t look into it. Some publishers have online activities, practices, and assessments that accompany their products. Now is the time to check!
As for digital, think about what you have already been using in your face-to-face classroom. You probably already use some digital content [software full with math, science, English…] and technology tools, apps, or platforms [software used to create content or assessments]. Continue to access what you and your students are familiar with. REMEMBER: Less is more: you don’t need a huge range of different digital content and tools. Limit your selections to a manageable handful (3-5 software). Keep the cognitive load down for both you and your students. Many companies, like SoftChalk, are also lending their support and offering free premium access to content and tool for schools affected by coronavirus concerns.
Keep Students Motivated
Think about how to motivate your students to ‘want to come’ to your class. Here are a few ideas – use daily jokes or quotes, music sound clips or silly videos. Praise often. Make public announcements praising students. Look for ways to celebrate successes (e.g., student quotes). The sweetest sound to the human ear, is one’s own name. Call out student names often!
The fastest way to demotivate students is by not providing clear instructions. It is VERY important that you detail instructions in numbered steps and simple language. Also having a routine and clear pattern in lesson format will keep students on track. See next week’s blog on lesson planning.
Path to Success
The key will be to “Keep it Simple” and focus on the ESSENTIAL STANDARDS for this time of year. We cannot afford these trying times to completely derail all learning expectations. Review your state and district standards to determine power standards that must be mastered in your grade or content area by the end of the school year. Start there!
When learning ‘from a distance,’ the pace is typically slower. Reduce expectations accordingly. Lessons will take longer to complete at home, so simplify your instructional approach. Just like you would do in your traditional classroom, provide weekly agendas to help students and families schedule their time wisely.
The sudden shift to online education will undoubtedly pose a challenge, but there’s also an upside. Change provides intense and immediate professional growth. Discover new tools, resources, and approaches to nourish your practice. See your students in a new light and consider continuing to blend the learning when returning to your four-walled classroom.
Continuous learning means we will find times where we fail and we’ll need to pick ourselves back up. We are all learners in this new arena. It’s important to continue to try and try again. Listen to your students. Ask for feedback. This is all new to us – district leaders, school administrators, classroom teachers, students and families. Most of all be patient with yourself and those around you.
SoftChalk is offering free access to SoftChalk Cloud from now through May 31, 2020 to anyone who may need it to quickly and easily create online lessons and course materials for delivery to students.
(Signing up for this extended trial is not a requirement to attend the webinar on the 26th.)
Kim Loomis recently retired as the Director of K-12 Online and Blended Learning in Nevada's Clark County School District (CCSD), the fifth largest district in the nation with over 320,000 students. Kim has a rich experience in education, professional development, and innovative program design—from online instruction, course development, and vendor contracting/deployment, with over 20 years with CCSD as a former high school math teacher, building administrator, high school reform coordinator, curriculum coordinator, and innovative projects manager. She was a founding teacher and former administrator at the Nevada Learning Academy at CCSD. Today, Kim leads i3DigitalPD.com where she continues her deep passion for blended learning. She loves working with schools to create digital learning environments designed for student success!