Breakthroughs: Distance Learning Will Occur in Different Ways and Different Places

This is a time for us to collaborate and share our skills like never before.

Giovanna Papa is a third grade teacher in a Title I school. In 2019, she was given the Distinguished Teacher Candidate Award by the Maryland Association of Teacher Educators. She serves on the Early Career Educator Task Force for MSEA and leads the Early Career Educator Network in Washington County.

Distance learning will most likely take place in different ways in different places as we head back to school. Educators are life-long learners and this new normal is a challenge for us to collaborate and share our skills like never before. Here are some things that work for me …

Keep it simple—have one location

Distance learning can be overwhelming, so it is our job to keep it as simple as possible so students can be successful. It is important to have one designated location in your virtual classroom where stu­dents can go in order to find their assignments and instructions. If directions and assignments are in one location, students are more likely to complete work and less likely to be confused. I like to color code my presentations according to the day. I also pro­vide corresponding color-coded checklists so students and their families can stay on track with turning in assignments.

Pre-record instructions & models

Even though virtual learning prevents teachers and students from being together face-to-face, pre-recorded videos allow instruc­tion to continue. Pre-recording on different apps and/or websites allows teachers to give detailed instructions and model concepts that students will need to know to successfully complete assignments. A student can replay these videos as many times as they need to better understand content.

These videos can range from screen sharing the presentation and going step-by-step through assign­ments to modeling a skill on a virtual whiteboard with shared writing or using math manipula­tives. Pre-recorded vid­eos can also be differentiated by providing a range of models and difficulty and by adjusting the degree of details in instruction.

Engaging and interactive

My favorite interactive platform is the SeeSaw app. It allows students to highlight, draw, type, insert pictures, insert shapes for models, and voice record. SeeSaw can be used in a multitude of ways to promote student engagement! The incorporation of live sessions during virtual learning can also motivate students. Live sessions can include educational games, partner work with breakout rooms, and other fun activities.

Setting expectations

In any normal classroom setting, expectations need to be set. It’s no different for the virtual learning environment. Students need to be aware of the expectations regarding at­tendance of live meetings, timelines for the completion of assignments, how to ask questions, how to use technology, digital citizen­ship, and more.

Live online meetings with students are uncharted territory and can be intimidating. While these meetings can be very valuable, they have the potential to turn into chaos so we need to establish online etiquette stan­dards for our students. A fun way to do this with elementary students can in­clude a funny video of what to do and what not to do during the live meetings.

My teammates and I chose one of us to act as the teacher and the others acted as students. We modeled common things that may happen during these ses­sions that would interfere with student learning. The students seemed to think it was very entertaining; for us, it set the standard for behavior.

It takes a village

Distance learning is a new journey that all teachers have be­gun. No one has all of the answers because this is still very new territory for all of us. Even though it may be difficult, we must work smarter, not harder. Utilize resources that are offered to you by the state, county, and your own school. Do not be afraid to reach out to your teammates. Splitting up the creation of assignments and vid­eos between teammates can be extremely useful. Because there are so many new responsibili­ties required for virtual learning, time management is key.

I believe the unique challenge of this time can bring students, families, and educators closer together. If we can tackle virtual learning together, we can get through anything.