Preparing Your Elementary School or District For Home Based Learning

Preparing Your Elementary School or District For Home Based Learning

TWT Audio

There is the distinct possibility that elementary school students around the country will need to move their learning to their homes in light of the rapid spread and response to COVID-19. For those schools in need of shifting lessons to a home-based learning environment, we at TWT Audio are here to help in any we can.

Before launching TWT Audio, I spent nine years working in a K-6 elementary school district in San Diego County as a Director of Educational Technology. During that time, we were able to provide a mobile device for every student in the district, along with digital learning programs used to create a blended learning environment. While we experienced great success with this transition in many of our classrooms, the implementation was also met with many challenges; not everyone was prepared for the transition. However, one of our most successful endeavors in creating the ideal conditions for a blended learning environment was providing access to a suite of digital tools and curriculum for every teacher and student.

School districts are currently facing a crisis with the spread of coronavirus. Many are considering the option of shutting down schools in order to safeguard students and faculty against the virus. Some are making these decisions now, while others are waiting until they are instructed to close by higher authorities. Whether each school is prepared or not, they will be faced with the challenge of continuing to provide meaningful education to students outside the walls of their classrooms if a mass shutdown occurs, as it has in other nations.

Hopefully each school district has put some thought into preparing for this potential outcome prior to reading this. The reality is that we don’t know if schools will be closed for one week, one month, or longer. Every school should at least be prepared to close for a significant period of time, however. We may not reach the point at which it’s necessary to do so, but not preparing at all simply isn’t an option.

Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of recommendations and personal insights as to how you can best set up your district, school, and students for success. Realistically these suggestions will not translate to every school or student’s situation; the digital divide in America is very real and, up until now, has existed outside the field of view of many. Students who do not have access to a laptop, tablet, and/or the Internet are essentially locked out of their classroom when it moves entirely online. Fortunately, plenty of online educational platforms and programs support mobile devices of different varieties. Many are additionally accessible by a smartphone with Internet connection, which is more prevalent in many homes than laptops or tablets.

Remember: A vast number of schools will be making this up as they go along. Do the best you can and know that a rough launch can still be smoothed out as you proceed.

Role of the School or District

  1. Have grade level teams work together to take on chunks of the planning and deploy to the entire grade level. This will ensure that each teacher is not overworked or struggling to attempt to do this on their own.

  2. Better yet, school districts can also organize by each grade level and do massive courses that the classroom teachers can facilitate. This will distribute the work out evenly to more people. Those teachers more experienced with flipped learning can take on the responsibility for creating the video lessons and content while coaching other teachers how to do the same.

  3. Provide students with the ability to collaborate in real time on projects using a video platform like Google Meet. Districts with Google For Education can enable this function. Districts with Microsoft 360 may be able to provide this as an option for real time collaboration as well.

  4. If a school or district has already done curriculum mapping, it can be used to organize a district-wide curriculum. A lot of this work can be completed in real time by teachers collaborating online, just as if they were prepping for the following week’s lesson. The key is to maintain consistency and student expectations on a daily or weekly basis. For example, children who are ill with the virus may not be able to keep up with the work daily; by making the work due weekly, students are better equipped to keep up with coursework.

  5. Internet access will be a huge requirement for both students and faculty to succeed remotely, as are physical devices. Schools should start planning now how they will distribute and “check out” the devices they have onsite to the students who need them. With the volume of devices available in most schools, this method of device-lending will go a long way toward closing the divide between students who do and don’t have access at home. Shared Internet access will be more of a challenge, but it may be possible to provide a hotspot, or suggest a safe place like a local public library to connect and study.

  6. If online support for your textbooks already exists, utilize this resource as much as you can. It may be the simplest way to maintain continuity in lessons, and the easiest scaffold to rely upon for teachers who are not as skilled in using digital learning tools.

  7. Create learning centers that are well-cleaned and safe for students to attend. The highest level of safety and cleanliness must be adhered to in these situations, and should always be facilitated by adults who will supervise. This will give students access to the internet and devices for their lessons. While there’s no certainty this option will be available, it is a creative way to help support those students without device or Internet access.

  8. Start running some regular school work through LMS or other learning platforms now; this will help to prepare in case school closures extend past a few weeks and extended online learning becomes a reality.

  9. Make the best you can of the situation. Poorly implemented home learning is still better than the alternative. There may be a lot of frustration and trepidation among the teaching staff, especially in the early days. It will be key to assign staff members that already have skills in implementing online learning to mentor other, less confident instructors. If one person at the grade level is skilled and unafraid to lead, let them lead and assist other staff members. You’ll likely find some of the younger teachers taking on more leadership opportunities within their group if given the chance.

  10. Evaluate what your district has already invested in. Districts and schools should be able to create a directory of all their tools, including some basic training on how to use them for those teachers who haven’t used them before. Having a clear reference of the tools and content available will make the transition that much easier for teachers who haven’t already adopted them. Any additional training that can take place now with teaching faculty will help. Digital mentors currently working with the staff can also take on responsibility for helping a teacher and their students make the transition.

  11. Offer a single platform the teaching community can use to share resources. Even if teachers are planning lessons from home, enable them to jump on a phone call or use a video collaboration tool like Google Meet or Zoom. Treat remote planning as if it were normal planning time. Have daily scheduled meetings, if you need to. Districts that have already built PLCs will have a much easier time coordinating this.

  12. Ensure everything you do can be accessed on mobile devices. This will greatly increase equitable access amongst both students and faculty. Work with your communities to collect donations of older smartphones still capable of connecting to wifi and used laptops that are no longer being utilized. Donate them to students who don't have access to mobile devices at home.

Teacher Role and Prep

  1. Use existing LMS to structure lessons. If there is no LMS available, use free tools like Google Classroom or Edmodo to create a virtual class.

  2. Record lectures or direct instruction on video and post them to the LMS. This will give students some familiar contact with their teacher. Teachers do not need to be in front of their students all day, but smart planning with periodic check ins will be useful.

  3. Utilize programs that will automatically grade and give feedback to students.

  4. Use this time to break down the walls of the classroom and truly collaborate. Teachers who metaphorically shut their door and collaborate little or none with their fellow educators will either need to become a contributing part of the team or go it alone.

  5. Prepared teachers have the year generally planned out and should be able to spend more time figuring out how to adapt their lessons to a new learning environment. Merely having students go home to complete pages 230-270, odd problems only, is not as effective as other learning methods that impart more meaning and require interactivity.

  6. For teachers at ill-prepared schools or districts, don’t worry. There is still a lot you can do on your own with available resources that are free to access. If you don’t want to have to create a video for every lesson from scratch, find one that you think does a good job of teaching a concept on Khan Academy, or even YouTube. Follow up video lessons with some basic practice on an online tool that will provide students feedback. After completing a quick assessment of the students understanding of the concept, they can apply their learning in a multitude of ways. For those students who don’t have a strong grasp of the material, organize a small group of students that you can provide follow up instruction with. These are skills that teachers already have. There’s no sense in totally reinventing the wheel; you just need to adapt to a new delivery platform.

  7. Assign less work than normal because students may be taking more time to complete. Yes, it may slightly water down the curriculum, but consider the alternative of no learning at all.

  8. Keep in constant communication with your grade level or subject level teams through Slack. Slack is a free program that you can use to create your own private chat channels to focus on a variety of subjects.

All of these recommendations and points of guidance apply to the same realities that we experience when students are sitting in a classroom. Some students will be disengaged when learning remotely, and they’ll be able to hide it more easily than ever. Some students may disappear completely, but maybe not for obvious reasons. The digital divide is real and this pandemic is going to make that abundantly clear. The same students that are already disadvantaged at school will be more disadvantaged when away from the classroom.

We hope the country can get on top of the pandemic and students can spend as little time away from school as possible. That is the great unknown that all of us have to be prepared for.

Good Luck and Be Safe,

Mike Guerena
TWT Audio