Many of the common social norms that we were accustomed to before COVID-19 have been dramatically changed over the course of the previous year, and perhaps none more so than primary school education. Education has not been spared as the requirements for social distancing demand that most students and teachers stay home. In fact, more than any time in history, more people are electing to – and being instructed to – stay home and work from home. The drastic change in circumstances has been difficult to adapt to.
However, the fabric of our society has adapted towards harnessing the power of technology to our advantage. Digital tools have emerged as the next big thing for learners and teachers have no option but to employ these means to ensure that learning goes on.
The rapid shift from a traditional classroom set-up to Zoom calls and presentations has been challenging for several teachers who are certainly not used to using digital tools to teach. Learners and teachers alike continue to grapple with the virus. Teachers and parents have reported new needs brought on by the pandemic, such as home printing materials and physical education equipment. Stakeholders in the education sector have been vocal about the need to keep learners occupied for the remainder of the social distancing measures. So, we’ve compiled the best practices to help make the transition easier.
How do you Create a Home/Work Environment?
Much of the world is under lockdown, or at least under some stringent restrictive measures, and working from home has become the norm for most people. Employers and government authorities are actively asking people to stay home and keep the spread of the virus low. That said, for most people, this is a new and unwelcome idea, and many are having difficulty adjusting to the new norms.
Working from home is not as easy as it seems, and a lot of workers are finding it difficult to maintain high morale, despite productivity remaining constant over the course of the year. A shift in your mindset and daily routine is required to make working from home a success. Here are a number of tips to make working from home a worthwhile venture.
Is a Dedicated Workspace Tied Directly to an Increase in Productivity?
Where possible, your home workspace should consist of a separate room, complete with a desk and computer. Ideally, the perfect space should be free of distractions of any nature, be it noise or attention-seeking children. Household noises like the sound of music playing or children will no doubt get in the way of a work-related phone call, making you seem unprofessional. Therefore, the value of a quiet space cannot be gainsaid.
Experts note that the demands for a home workspace vary with the kind of work you do. For example, a car repair mechanic’s home workspace could just be his garage while a composer or musician could have a dedicated home studio. Put simply, the nature and demands of your career will ultimately affect how your home workspace will appear. For teachers, you’ll want to establish a large working area to cycle supplies in and out for your lesson recordings. Some common spaces that are typically converted to a home office include the attic, basement, and dining room.
A home office or dedicated workspace will go a long way in maintaining productivity, even as the world tries to adapt to the prevailing situation. That said, productivity will depend on how well you can adjust to working from home.
How Important is Attendance and Turning in Work During Remote Learning?
Attendance during the process of learning remotely has been notoriously difficult to track. Indeed, it is one of the many challenges of remote teaching. Obviously, confirming that your learners are regularly attending school is challenging if they are at home. Various parameters are used to measure student participation during the learning process. A teacher may favor a one-on-one interaction with the student as a way of confirming his presence in class.
For others, the simple act of logging in to a remote portal is enough to confirm attendance. So prominent has the problem of chronic absenteeism been in remote teaching that states have now come up with regulations and guidelines. Chronic absenteeism is, after all, a sign of lowered educational standards, a situation most states want to avoid at all costs.
For example, the State of California passed a bill into law in the middle of this year. Senate Bill 98 was signed into law by Governor Newsom. It requires and lays a strong emphasis on a daily live interaction for teachers and their students. In fact, each teacher is required to maintain a daily record of his interaction with students. If the learner is absent from school for more than three days of the week, the teacher is then obliged to do some follow up.
How Do Teachers Prioritize a 100% Turn-in Rate on Students’ Work as it Relates to Grades?
School attendance has long been a metric to measure how well the students have come along. This standard, however, was greatly upended by the ravages of the Coronavirus. Since classroom attendance has been rendered all but impossible, teachers are having trouble ensuring maintaining attendance and the handing in of assignments.
While attendance is one hurdle for educators to overcome, engagement for online classes has been equally as difficult. Experts have been quick to note that there is a need for a different approach to ensure that learners continue to take their assignments as seriously as they did before. The best way to encourage this is by providing that the work is meaningful and relevant to their studies. Overwhelming the learners with too much will likely discourage them from learning. Teachers are encouraged to question if the assignment is likely to add any value or gain from it.
Are Teachers Doing any Prep Work for Standardized Testing? What is the Teaching Priority?
The top priority for all teachers is to first and foremost encourage and foster learning among his students. Education should focus on applied learning skills, and students should be taught the value of critical thinking and learn how to use the same in real life. In America, however, there are specific standardized tests that seem to interfere with this learning model.
Often, there are high stakes involved as these tests are sometimes the determining factor for college admissions. Of course, standardized tests can be beneficial in that they may help students and teachers quantify the ability to grasp specific concepts pertaining to their age and grade. The resulting information is then used to compare multiple schools and school districts to improve learning in such centers.
Louis Volante notes that a number of teachers elect to teach to the test rather than follow the curriculum. In doing so, they prioritize teaching such commonly tested areas like arithmetic and reading to the detriment of other critical subjects. Many states are electing to sit out on standardized testing this year all together.
Legislative reforms such as the No Child Left Behind Act have seen the steady rise in such practices. Public opinion seems to favor standardized testing. In light of all these, teachers are encouraged to take a holistic approach to teach and ensure that all topics are well and sufficiently covered.
Have any States Specifically Streamlined Remote Teaching/ Learning better than Others? What is the Difference in their Approach?
New regulations concerning digital learning as well as state guidelines vary greatly. Many states now fully expect school districts within their jurisdiction to track attendance of their learners throughout the pandemic. The state of Oregon, for example, only requires that learners check in with their teachers at least twice a week.
According to New York law, learners should have daily contact with their teachers. New Jersey law is less stringent; learners may make contact with their teachers in the evening if their parents’ busy schedules prevented them from doing so during regular hours.
California, however, seems to have made the most comprehensive plan to handle learning using digital platforms during the pandemic. The state made the critical move of passing a Bill into law that deals specifically with digital learning. Following the passing of Senate Bill 98 on June 29 of this year, each school district is obligated to come up with a viable “Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan”.
Students may only be marked as present only if there is evidence of daily interaction with their learners. SB 98 does not give a minimum period of interaction between teachers and learners. However, every local educational agency is required by law to maintain a weekly engagement record. By requiring that distance learning meet stringent requirements, California has gone a long way in keeping the educational standards in the state.
How Important is an Open Communication Channel between Teachers, Students, and Parents?
In an article dated September 4, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has reiterated the need for open communication channels between learners, teachers and their parents during this critical time. Not only is this supposed to improve digital learning techniques, but is also a measure to contain the spread of the Coronavirus.
According to UNICEF, by enhancing communication, trust and transparency, teachers, parents, and students can do their part to tackle the spread of the disease. By keeping these communication channels open, critical information may then be disseminated to the right people. Open communication channels, in turn, foster transparency in the fight against Corona.
A key point to note is that teachers, parents and learners alike should assess their communication needs and choose the communication channel that best suits them. Zoom calls are a common means of communication between learners and teachers and are quite useful as a way to communicate one-on-one with the intended audience.
How often should teachers and students be taking breaks? How does that fit with most structures of the day?
The shift and change in the school calendar could have hardly been anticipated. Consequently, most school programs rolled out distance learning programs without the benefit of hindsight. Scheduling a good plan with lessons interspersed with breaks has emerged as a critical method of ensuring that the learners are not overburdened with classwork. A good schedule should involve physical time, short breaks and time explicitly reserved for leisure.
Educationists have long considered the benefits of short, intermittent breaks to ensure that the learners remain sharp and focused throughout the day. According to the Grammarly blog, finding what works for every student is difficult. Different learners have different ways of learning.
What is not in doubt, however, is that every learner, regardless of his ability, learns best when there are short breaks to re-energize and regroup. Too much screen time can be detrimental to the learning process and will typically result in sluggish performance from the students. Therefore, a simple act like scheduling frequent breaks and relaxation is invaluable in ensuring they stay focused during their virtual lessons.
Ultimately, because of a lack of resources and support from the top-down, there is no perfect solution to remote learning or remote teaching. All you can do as an educator is continue to put your best foot forward and provide support to your students as best as possible. It’s a cliche’ at this point, but these are truly unprecedented times, and all your hard work will payoff. Your students may not appreciate the work you are putting in now, but they will in the future. So keep your head up, and find happiness in the little things every step of the way (if you can). Most importantly, good luck and thank you!