Distance learning guide for parents and students.

For many of us, the shape of our days has changed dramatically recently or is set to change very soon.

A matter of weeks ago, weekday mornings might have seen you ushering your offspring out the door and off to school for the day.

If you’re a student, maybe you spent the early hours of Monday through Friday blowing through the house like a cyclone, frantically looking for your homework while a car horn blares outside.

Now, for a sizable number of us, learning no longer takes place daily in that big building called school. Thanks to the ongoing pandemic, It now takes place in the kitchens and bedrooms of our homes.

Such a dramatic shift in learning environments in such a short space of time will no doubt result in a lot of pressure on us at what is already a stressful time.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some basic teaching and learning concepts and you’ll find some practical tips that’ll be helpful to students and parents adapting to the home learning environment.

 

But Is It Homeschooling or Distance Learning?

You could be forgiven for thinking that homeschooling and distance learning refers to the same thing. The terms have been used almost interchangeably in the media in recent months.

The truth is, however, that there are significant differences between the two. To make the most of your time learning in this new context, you’ll need to understand which of these you’re doing in your home.


What Is Distance Learning?

Distance or remote learning takes place when teachers and students are separated by physical space and the regular ‘bricks and mortar classroom experience just isn’t happening.

Usually, the teacher sends work home to the student. The teacher also keeps in contact with the students on an ongoing basis, usually via email and online learning platforms etc.

Chances are that this is the position that many of you find yourself in right now – to a greater or lesser degree.

 

What Is Homeschooling?

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Homeschooling on the other hand usually refers to the educating of a child predominantly in the home and most often by a parent. Homeschooling is usually a conscious choice whereby a parent decides their child will be educated at home on a long term basis, rather than in the public or private school systems.

While most of the home learning currently taking place due to the Covid-19 pandemic could most accurately be described as distance or remote learning, there may well be elements of homeschooling taking place too. To some degree, many parents are now taking on the role of teacher for their children.

Regardless of what shape home learning is taking in your home, or how ill-prepared we might feel we are for taking on this unexpected responsibility, there are plenty of things we can do as students or parents to make our time learning at home a time of progress.

 

7 Tips for Learning at Home

 

1. Set a Schedule and Stick to It

Scheduling will likely be one of the biggest challenges you’ll face as you start home learning.

Far from the reach of a ringing school bell, the student may find a myriad of reasons to postpone learning in favor of a few extra minutes in bed or one more episode of a favorite TV show.

Students may find themselves engaged in bargaining – “If I can have 1 more hour on the Playstation, then I’ll definitely start work at 10 am.” 10 becomes 11, 11 becomes 12, and soon the day has slipped away with nothing achieved.

Set a schedule and stick to it. Not only does scheduling make us more efficient, but it also brings structure to our lives -something that is sorely needed these days.

Having a set schedule provides a framework on which you can build a day and establish a sense of normalcy.

Not only will a schedule make the student more productive, it will help restore confidence and purpose while contributing positively to the overall psychological wellbeing of the household.

A good place to start when designing the day’s routine is by mirroring the shape of the average school day. This helps utilize pre-existing patterns.

For example, you might cycle through the various subjects in the same sequence as during the school timetable.

Be sure to incorporate regular breaks too. For example, you might have a 20-minute break in the morning, then an hour for lunch, with another 20-minute break in the afternoon, before finishing the final session of the day.

A good rule of thumb when organizing a schedule is that the younger the student, the more frequent the breaks that will be needed.

Bear in mind though, home learning sees less time wasted than learning at school does. There’s no travel time between classes, for one thing. So, be sure to allow for some decompression time within the design of the day.

2. Vary Activities

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They say variety is the spice of life. And it’s also the spice of home learning too. It’s essential to keep things fresh; to avoid turning the home learning experience into a drudgery.

With home learning comes a certain level of freedom. Care needs to be taken that all subjects get full coverage, not just those favorite few.

Likewise, we mustn’t become too dependent on a single type of activity.

If you’re engaged in remote or distance learning, that is, you still have contact with a teacher or teachers who direct your work, your teachers will most likely ensure you have a mix of learning experiences. One way they may be doing this is by using platforms such as Google Classroom or SeeSaw to deliver various materials and activities to your class.

If they are not yet doing this in any shape or form, be sure to feed this back – most teachers will be only too happy to get some feedback that helps them to do their jobs better.

Note too that learning at home should not exclusively involve screen time and when it does involve screen time it shouldn’t always involve passive activities such as reading or watching videos. Get hands-on with your learning. Be sure it’s interactive as far as possible.

Luckily, there are many high-quality resources available online that engage the student. There are interactive activities and games. Powerpoint presentations and video clips. Graphic organizers and checklists for everything from guided reading units to critical thinking tools.

Students! Spend some time away from the computer, read books – yes, those old-fashioned things made of paper. Curl up in a favorite nook for an hour and lose yourself in this nowadays rare, but ancient pleasure.

Parents! Can you turn a dry English-based activity into an arts and crafts project? Pull out the paint boxes and throw a sheet over the soft furnishings, it’s time to get creative.

Get hands-on with your learning in any way possible. Maybe you can convert a story task into a script and then turn that into a video. Allow yourself to be creative with how you interpret tasks.

One great way to keep learning interesting is to engage in Project-Based Learning. With PBL, students can build their learning around a personal passion.

Not only will these approaches help to stave off boredom, but they’ll also help to develop a broader range of skills too.

We have a multitude of teaching activities you can use today for free right here to get you started.

 

3. Set Up a Learning Space

To make home learning effective you’ll need to set up a well-organized dedicated learning space.

You won’t need to spend a fortune, but you will need to gather up a few essential resources.

Having a well-stocked learning space will mean the student can make the most of their learning time.

The student won’t have to jump up every 5 minutes to scour the house for a paperclip, a pen, or a dictionary. Having these things to hand can ensure less time gets wasted and the flow doesn’t get broken.

Your needs will depend on the specifics of your situation, but some of the things you may well need for your dedicated learning space might include:

 

  • A desk
  • A computer
  • A pencil case with pens, a maths set, an eraser, a ruler etc
  • A printer, ink, paper
  • Resources such as glue, card, crayons, coloring pens, a stapler, scissors etc
  • A dictionary
  • An atlas

 

Where you set up your learning space will depend on the layout of your home. A bedroom may be a good option or a kitchen table.

Wherever you choose, be sure to minimize distractions as far as possible. Whether it’s noise or toys, the fewer interruptions the better.

 

4. Make Time to Collaborate

One of home learning’s biggest disadvantages is isolation. While working in the classroom context, students are exposed not only to working individually, in differentiated groups, and in whole class groups. Collaboration is a very important part of school-based learning.

Unfortunately, home learning can be much more limiting in this regard. However, with a little inventiveness, you can bring an element of collaboration into play.

If you’re remote learning, there’s a fair chance your teacher will have already organized opportunities for members of the same class to have some contact with each other using tools such as Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) such as Google Classroom, Moodle, SeeSaw, and Edmodo.

If this isn’t the case, you can use video chat applications such as Skype, Hangouts, Zoom, etc and email to independently keep in touch with peers, to share ideas, and even to work together on projects.

Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the increased learning possibilities that collaboration offers.

Video chats with school friends aren’t only important to enhance learning, but they serve an important social function too. They offer kids a safe way to interact with each other. Being able to maintain these important relationships at a time of great uncertainty can help provide a much-needed sense of security.

 

 

5. Organize Your Resources

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With a dedicated working space and a well thought out schedule to work to, you’ll need to make sure you also have all the right resources to hand.

Along with physical resources such as paper, scissors, glue etc you’ll need to ensure you have your virtual resources ready too.

This is best done ahead of time, as far as possible. To achieve this, take a look over the learning materials you intend to cover and make a resource list of the things you’ll need to complete these lessons.

Many of the online resources you’ll use will be needed time and again. You’ll need a quick means of accessing these without having to repeatedly type in web addresses into the search bar. So, be sure to bookmark useful sites so that you can return to them as needed with minimal fuss.

For soft copies of things, be sure to organize your work into well-labelled folders on your desktop or in a cloud application such as Google Drive or Dropbox. Use the label and folder functions to organize your email inbox too.

Likewise, keep your paperwork well organized too. For hard copies of things, be sure to have some drawer space available and label these clearly.

Get creative with your learning resources too. Repurpose and reuse household items, sign up online to your local library – most have a wealth of ebooks and audiobooks available and use family members as sounding boards for discussion.

Though there’s no possibility to reinforce learning through field trips in the current climate, remember that you can still take virtual tours online of many art galleries and museums.

If creating resources for online learning is not your strong suit there are thousands of excellent resources available from companies such as TpT and Innvoative Teaching Ideas. for under five dollars.

 

6. Stay Productive

Studying at home makes heavy demands on a student’s ability to stay motivated without the looming presence of a teacher to cajole and encourage.

For younger students, this is where parents need to be active, while older students should be able to keep themselves motivated more independently.

Here are some things you can do yourself, or encourage your child to do, to help with staying on task:

 

●     Set Realistic Goals Make sure the student knows what is expected of them and that those expectations are realistic in terms of their age and ability. Having a set goal helps the student to focus. Having an attainable goal can inspire optimism and enthusiasm for the work.

●     Give a Time Frame – Just as with the goal-setting above, be realistic. Set a time frame to work to which is realistic. The introduction of a time limit on the completion of tasks can introduce an element of urgency that drives the work along. But, be careful not to turn up the pressure too much, as this can be counter-productive.

●     Incentivize the Work – More carrots, fewer sticks! Using rewards can be a great way to encourage staying on task. Whether the reward is gaming time, a snack, or watching a favorite TV show etc, deciding on a reward for the completion of a job well done is a great way to incentivize productivity.

●     Use Graphic Organizers – Planning adequately before beginning a task is an effective way to make the most of the time available for work. Graphic organizers, in particular, are a great way to plan work, especially writing tasks. You’ll find some well-designed, writable templates to help here.

 

7. Use Goal Ladders to Break Big Tasks Into Small Ones

When you have a lesson objective that appears overwhelming, take a step back to consider how you can break this objective into a series of smaller, more attainable steps.

Sometimes a big project can see us get frozen by the sheer scale of the task before us.

To overcome this paralysis, we need to break the task down into more manageable steps or goals. One excellent strategy for doing this is to use Goal Ladders.

To create a goal ladder, take a significant goal you, or your child is working on and write this goal as the DREAM at the top of an outline of a ladder you’ve drawn on a piece of paper.

At the bottom of the ladder, you should write the first action that needs to be taken on the path to achieving this objective.

Start from where you or your child are right now. Don’t be tempted to skip steps, this is about building progress incrementally. Be sure to include plenty of details on each rung of the ladder, things like relevant deadlines, doodles, quotes, anything that will motivate.

Keep going until you have a step-by-step plan on exactly how to achieve the larger Dream you started with!

 

Lean Into Home Learning

So, we’ve taken a look at some of the more critical areas that we need to consider to make the most of this period of home learning.

We’ve discussed the importance of setting up a suitable working space and what to equip that space with.

We’ve discussed the importance of setting up a schedule and sticking to it, setting goals and breaking them down into achievable steps and we’ve even dropped in a few organizational and productivity hacks – now you’re ready to go, right?

The truth is you’ll most likely never feel completely on top of things and that’s ok. It’s more than ok it’s par for the course.

To let you into a little secret, we teachers rarely feel completely on top of things either.

Just make a start, get going, and harness the momentum this creates. Don’t let a desire for perfection lead to paralysis.

Confucious put it best:

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”


The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing, can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.