What Parents Should Know About Virtual Learning

Over the last month I have seen countless parents express their concerns for the 2020-2021 school year. Should students go back to school? Should students stay home? Should parents start to homeschool? For those parents trying to figure it out, I wanted to give you my honest thoughts as a virtual teacher and tutor in the hopes that I can shed some light on virtual learning.

  1. Virtual learning can be effective for special education students. In my opinion, this has been a hot topic over the last few months. I have worked incredibly close with schools, students and families with students with IEPs to ensure that all accommodations are met and supports provided (where I can). Just because a student is classified does not mean that he or she will not thrive in an online learning environment. With the proper guidance from teachers, case managers, tutors and parents, students can still fulfill all requirements needed to pass a course. It may take a little bit of time to figure out what works best, but virtual learning can be effective.
  2. Virtual learning requires organization. When students are in a brick and mortar school, they have a teacher in front of the class outlining the plan. With virtual learning, the information is all there too, but students may need to look at a handful of Google classrooms or web pages to find it. Some students prefer to keep an electronic planner (Google calendar, phone calendar) to record when assignments are due, while others may still prefer a paper planner. To make virtual learning effective, students need to be on top of their assignments, live lessons, teacher meetings, read alouds, etc., so keeping a calendar and being organized is imperative.
  3. Virtual learning requires discipline. Depending on the virtual program a student is enrolled in, he or she may heave to be online from 7-3 every day, or they may need to log 6 hours a day, etc. That’s a lot of time spent working on assignments, watching videos, participating in live lessons and more. It can get frustrating and overwhelming, but the work still needs to get done. Teachers are amazing at breaking down assignments for kids into manageable chunks, but kids still need to have the discipline to sit at home and get it done. This can be challenging for students of all ages. Just because the work is done online doesn’t mean it’s not time consuming.
  4. Virtual learning requires communication. This is the biggest component to virtual learning. In the classroom, I could always look at my students and know who may need a little help or clarification by the looks on their faces or interactions. This doesn’t happen in the virtual world. Even with live lessons, it may not always be easy for a teacher to see that a child needs help, which is why kids  and parents need to communicate with teachers. Depending on the school/program, kids can message their teacher in their course, send a quick text, shoot an email, meet virtually, or even call their teacher. Normally I have kids email or text me with questions because that’s what they feel most comfortable doing. Without this communication virtual learning can be difficult.
  5. Virtual learning requires screen time. In an online learning environment, kids will have everything delivered electronically. The books they read may be in PDF form or lessons may be delivered through online modules. In some cases parents can print out materials, but sometimes that’s not an option or it would be an insane amount of paper and ink. I have had parents purchase paper copies of novels, but it’s important to realize that there will be A LOT of screen time and reading on a device.
  6. Virtual learning requires a lot of reading. Most of the time, students are responsible for reading posts, lessons, directions, comments, etc. from teachers and classmates. Depending on the program or teacher, there may be audio support, but there is still quite a bit of reading that students are required to do in order to complete assignments.
  7. Virtual learning can give students more choices. This is one of my favorite aspects of virtual learning. Kids love having a say in their education, especially when it comes to the classes they take. Virtual learning allows kids to explore new classes, languages, hobbies, and topics that they may not have been able to pursue in a brick and mortar school. For instance, as a virtual teacher I have taught an elective course on Social Media, which was not offered in many high schools.
  8. Virtual learning classes are taught by passionate teachers. I have taught in public, charter, and private schools, and just like in a brick and mortar, virtual teachers have such passion for their work.  Teachers will go out of their way to create incredible supplemental activities, projects and assignments for their students at all grade levels. They are constantly communicating with parents about student progress, providing intervention services, and participating in professional development opportunities.

For more information also check out E-Learning: Setting Kids Up for Success

Little Reading Coach is a certified Teacher of English (K-12) and Reading Specialist (P-12) offering online reading and writing tutoring services for students in grades 3-12. For more information click here.

Tips for Helping Students Stay on Task in ESY

This summer I spent the month of July working with high school students in an extended school year program at a private out of district placement school. Working with 25 teenagers, in the summer, every day, can be challenging to say the least. I co-teach a class of sophomores, and teach a class of juniors and seniors.

We’re currently on day 16 of 20 in ESY, and I would love to share some ideas on how to keep students motivated.

Allow them to listen to music. This is by far the best thing to keep kids calm and somewhat on task. Students in my program are allowed to use Chromebooks to listen to music on Youtube while they work. As long as they are not singing, dancing, rapping, or blasting their music, I’m quite happy with this arrangement.

Allow them to help choose materials. My program requires students to write a book report during summer school. Since we only have 20 days, we’ve been using short stories instead of teaching a novel. This has been super helpful because of vacations, field trips, etc. The first day I told my students the plan and asked for their input. One of the kids actually requested “Lamb to the Slaughter”, so we incorporated that into the curriculum. Students were definitely more engaged with reading and discussing this text.

Utilize film versions of texts. I have always been a huge fan of showing movies or TV shows then teaching, so I continued this in my ESY classes. In the three classes, we read “All Summer in a Day”, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, and “Lamb to the Slaughter”, which all have a movie/short film.

Personally, I think the film versions for “All Summer in a Day” and “Lamb to the Slaughter” are great adaptations that help students with reading comprehension. “All Summer” is super heavy on figurative language, so it was a little overwhelming for some of students. The film version really clarified the setting for them.

Walter Mitty is a full length movie that is very slightly similar to the short story. Walter does have daydreams quite frequently, but that’s the only similarity.

Be flexible. We have about a field trip a day, so I’m constantly losing kids to trips. Some students don’t want to participate with the field trips, so they see me every day. In these cases I work with kids individually to assign them work. For instance, my one student finished the book report, so she brings in a book from home to read. She sits in class every day, reads, listens to music and tells me about something that happened in her reading.

Since I know kids love to use the Chromebooks, I always make sure to have some vocabulary words ready to go for them to define. It’s super easy for them and they can listen to music while staying on task. I also make sure to have a couple of back up reading passages with questions for students to work on as well.

 

However, even with all of these tips, my classes are far from perfect. I still have students show up late, ask for food, walk out of class, and refuse to do their required book report. However, I’ve learned that incorporating these tips can help these situations and help keep my students calm.