COVID-19 has uprooted classroom teaching and learning, forcing educators to step into a new role as a remote teacher.
As an educator who is supporting their students’ education through distance learning, online learning, printed packets, etc., it’s a new experience — and for some, it is overwhelming.
Educators, with their unique in-depth training in pedagogy and learning development, can help their students succeed by remembering these six research-based principles, and sharing them with caregivers, who are now their at-home educational partners:
1. Right now, children’s well-being is most important
Children’s ability to learn is tied to their physical and emotional well-being, according to the guiding principles for quality early education programs in a 1997 report from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Children need to feel safe, accepted, and empowered before they can truly learn.
Living in quarantine is a stressful situation for educators, caregivers, and especially students. Though children may seem relatively fine on the surface, they may be struggling with worries and anxieties they can’t express. According to a 2017 study by Alice Fothergill, children feel the same stress and anxiety of traumatic situations as their caregivers but may hide it more.
Additionally, with everyone at home together, kids may overhear news broadcasts or adult conversations about the pandemic. Every teacher and caregiver should regularly check in with children and gauge how they are feeling. If kids cannot verbalize their emotions, ask them to write or draw how they feel.
Teachers can also remind children that they are safe, and that life will eventually get back to normal.
2. Children learn better when they are self-motivated
Children “learn as they actively strive to make meaning out of their daily experiences, observations, and interactions,” Ada Hand and Patricia Monighan Nourot explained in a California guide for early education.
Many children — especially as they move into the upper elementary grades and beyond — want to understand the “why” behind new knowledge or skills. This helps them to identify the meaning behind their learning and encourages curiosity and an interest in learning.
Students should always be allowed to ask questions about concepts, skills, and content. Then give them space to explore the answers to those questions.
3. Identify what children need to know, and what they need to do
Studies Weekly is customized, standards-based curriculum founded on deep learning strategies designed to increase student knowledge, skills, and dispositions for well-being. Every time the Studies Weekly curriculum team storyboards new learning materials, they start with these three things:
Knowledge: What students need to know.
Skills: What students need to do to apply their knowledge.
Dispositions: What students will become.
When students are struggling with a concept or task, break it down into these three parts. Discuss and explore together what they need to know, and then what they need to do with that knowledge. This changes frustrations into challenges to overcome, and skills they can improve.
“Students persist in the face of challenging tasks and process information more deeply when they adopt mastery goals rather than performance goals,” according to the American Psychological Association.
4. Knowledge and skills must be practiced
It is important that teachers provide scaffolding techniques for their students. Simply put, this is a supportive learning structure that builds knowledge and skills step by step. Children need time to practice what they are learning.
Practicing helps students learn to read, to write, to comprehend informational text, to learn new words, even to understand and use complicated ideas. But practice does not have to be just rote memorization or writing lines.
“It is important to engage students in both hands-on and minds-on learning experiences. People learn best when they can take in information using a variety of sensory inputs,” Topeka Public Schools declared through their Teaching and Learning department.
Educators can include hands-on learning opportunities students can do at home. These can be simple science experiments using kitchen materials or backyard observations. They could also include social studies projects that students complete at home.
Students then share what they’ve learned with the teacher over video conferencing, or by taking pictures of the project and texting or emailing the pictures to the teacher.
As a teacher, you can encourage caregivers to also support student learning by providing space to learn and apply new knowledge and skills in various ways — even if it is just having the student read their assignment in a cozy corner of the house, or outside on the back porch.
Even in the best of circumstances, children often need re-teaching or additional activities that present a concept in a new or different way when they are struggling with understanding. That takes time and patience, but it is part of practicing.
5. Provide prompt and fair feedback
Educators consistently provide feedback to students all day long in a classroom setting. Because of the limitations of remote learning, many educators cannot provide this much-needed response in a timely way.
That is where the caregiver can help provide that feedback at home.
“Clear, explanatory and timely feedback to students is important for learning,” the APA explained.
But feedback isn’t necessarily criticism. Studies show repetitive negative feedback dims students’ perseverance and motivation. Feedback should focus on one or two skills that students need to demonstrate for a specific assignment.
Teachers can model the correct way to show knowledge or complete a task. They can also model the best way to give feedback for that task.
For example, if a student is writing a paragraph about their reading, teachers can explain what they will be looking for in the writing. For younger students, it may be the format of the paragraph — indentation, sentence forms and punctuation. For older students, paragraph skills may be focused on providing details and examples, and feedback should emphasize that.
6. Play is an essential learning tool
Children need opportunities to play.
Research shows that play “gives children opportunities to understand the world, interact with others in social ways, express and control emotions, develop their symbolic capabilities, practice newly acquired skills, solve complex problems, develop their imagination, and extend language.” All students, including upper elementary children, need playtime and breaks from intense learning.
Even adults need brain breaks. Various experts have recently touted the power of boredom in boosting creativity and productivity. As Barnaby Lashbrooke explained in a 2019 Forbes article, boring meetings or moments of staring off into space with nothing to do may help our minds to churn over problems and find creative solutions.
“[T]hose eureka moments normally come when doing the most mundane activities, like brushing your teeth or staring out of a train window,” Lashbrooke said.
Above all else, be patient with yourself, your situation and your children. We are all experiencing a very unique situation with the current pandemic, and we just have to navigate remote learning as best as we can.
One educator possibly summed it up best this way:
While Studies Weekly’s curriculum is targeted to teachers, Studies Weekly Online is also user-friendly for students and their caregivers. Teachers, students, and their caregivers can communicate through the platform about assignments, tests, videos, images and articles.
For more information about Studies Weekly, visit s-w.co/learn-more.