It’s officially back-to-school season, and for many families this year that means switching gears to start the academic year remotely.
Virtual learning was new to many parents, students and teachers this spring when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close, and some found the transition from in-person to online classes to be a challenge. This fall Coloradans are increasingly having to adapt to this format, as concerns about the virus keep schools from reopening and more parents opt for an educational stopgap rather than a return to traditional learning.
Armed with the right tools and strategies, any family or teacher can make it work, said Faylyn Emma, a high school math teacher at Colorado Connections Academy, which specializes in online education and serves more than 2,000 students throughout the Centennial State.
Here are five tips to making remote education a success in your household.
Build a routine
Children thrive when they have a routine, and that includes when school takes place from home, Emma said. Parents may want to get their kids up and ready for the school day like they normally would to help get them in the habit of preparing to learn.
Depending on the school and teacher, learning may be synchronous, meaning live in real time, or asynchronous, meaning lessons are prepared ahead of time and completed on the students schedule. That offers parents flexibility to develop a school schedule that works for their circumstances or their child’s individual needs.
It also helps to look at the week ahead holistically, she said.
“See what’s on the schedule for the week and map it out with what you plan to accomplish each day including breaks, lunch and family activities,” Emma said.
She suggests having a designated space for schoolwork where students have access to their computer, a charger and other supplies, but are also removed from distractions around the house.
“Chunk” out the day and know when to take breaks
Traditional classes are composed of about 15 to 20 minutes of instruction and 15 to 20 minutes of guided practice, Emma said. Families should plan their day in what she calls “learning chunks” like this to make the school day more manageable.
“Students will have a very difficult time sitting in front of their computer for hours on end, so you’ll want to chunk those learning blocks to about 30 or 50 minutes,” Emma said. That gives students time to learn the information, comprehend it and then apply it.
Families should also work breaks into their school schedules, which will not only help students recharge but also give them a break from staring at a screen. High school students at Colorado Connections Academy spend about six hour per day on coursework, while younger students work about four to five hours per day.
“I would not recommend any consistent screen time for more than 45 minutes to an hour without taking some sort of break in between, even if it’s a brief 5 to 10 minutes,” Emma said.
Blue light glasses can also help kids suffering from screen-induced headaches, as can printing certain activities to be completed on paper, she said.
Education reporter Tiney Ricciardi talks with Faylyn Emma, a teacher at Colorado Connections Academy, about going back to school online.
A post shared by The Denver Post (@denverpost) on
Keep in touch
When education is happening remotely, the best thing teachers, parents and students can do is communicate regularly, Emma said.
Parents and students need to provide their instructor with a good phone number and email address to follow up on assignments and vice versa, so families can reach out when they need classroom support. Attending live lessons is another good way to ensure you’ll reach the teacher, Emma said.
Should communication with a family drop off, Emma said she has also used postcards or home visits to touch base.
“We will use all of that to make sure that a student is OK and doing their learning,” she said.
As a virtual educator, Emma believes her job is as much about facilitating students to become independent learners as is it about academic instruction. That means familiarizing students with the vocabulary related to online platforms, making it easy for them to access course materials and developing clear instructions on how lessons should be completed, she said. This also helps set expectations.
Teachers should also consider students who have a learning difference and tailor instructions to fit those preferences, she said.
“What do students need to access and learn the curriculum, and how can you make sure that’s happening?” Emma said. “Encouraging them to have that ownership of their learning really does help with the process.”
Be patient, especially with yourself
Both families and educators are bound to encounter challenges with online education, and Emma advocates for both parties not to be hard on themselves. There will be assignments that slip through the cracks. There will be situations that impede the school day. The most important thing is that you don’t give up, she said — “just like we teach our students you’re not going to ace every test.
“Sometimes we learn from our mistakes or through failing,” Emma said. “There’s nothing wrong with trying something you think might help and if it doesn’t try something else.”
Get more tips from our full interview with Faylyn Emma on Instagram.
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