Virtual A+: Tips for helping your student succeed with online learning
In two weeks, my daughter will return to the classroom after a full year of virtual learning.
She will be 7 in July and has spent the beginning of her school career - the foundation years - either sitting in front of a computer engaged in Google Meets and WebEx sessions led by her beloved teacher, or completing assignments for her teacher to be posted on a Canvas message board.
It has, without a doubt, been the longest year of our lives.
There have been shining moments where I’ve watched her navigate all these computer programs like a pro (“Don’t worry, mama, I know what the password is!” “I can submit this video myself!” “I put the computer to sleep for the night.”) but there have also been many afternoons punctuated by groans, whines, and complaints that she “just doesn’t want to DO virtual learning!”
You are most definitely not alone - and I’ll be the first to admit that, during her first grade year, this mama has done her share of yelling and complaining, as well.
As a former kindergarten classroom teacher, I loved interacting with my students and creating all sorts of engaging activities to deepen their knowledge during our lessons, knowing that, at the end of the day, I could walk in the door and just be Mama.
But times have changed and I find myself wearing both hats - and it’s been TOUGH.
I was not made to be her mama AND her second teacher and I know I’ve made my share of mistakes during this year-long bumpy virtual learning ride. If you’re shaking your head right now thinking this sounds a lot like you, save for the official teaching certification, read on for how to avoid common virtual learning missteps and get through synchronous and asynchronous days with ease.
#1 - Give your child their own learning space
My daughter sets up at the kitchen table most mornings, but has also worked just as comfortably from her bedroom; the common factor in both of those scenarios is that she’s working in a place that’s arranged just for HER.
I’ve posted important information on the wall behind her for reference, such as math facts and Spanish vocabulary, just like would be posted in her classroom. Her materials are all within reach and arranged to prevent on-camera distractions.
Whatever space your child is using for their at-home learning, assure that it is ONLY for them and is not being used for multiple purposes during their learning day (Read: Don’t fold laundry or have a Google Meet of your own as they’re trying to solve word problems with their teacher).
#2 - Don’t be a helicopter parent in your own home
If they were at school, you wouldn’t be standing behind them, looking over their shoulder, and commenting on their work, so don’t do it at home! As a teacher mom, this has undoubtedly been the hardest one for me AND my daughter. When she’s working on her online math sessions, I now have to leave the room or not be within view, as she will look at my face after she chooses an answer to see if it’s right or not; yes, my first grader knows I have a horrible poker face!
While writing responses in her journal, I often hear her ask, “Mama, did I spell this right?” It’s been VERY hard for her to hear me say to try her best and not worry about whether it’s spelled perfectly - because I know that’s EXACTLY what her teacher would say if they were in a small group session. Give your kiddos the space, and opportunity, to try, to fail, and to grow during this unconventional time in education. As hard as it can be, do not coach or prod during their independent learning time - they need to stretch their brains and continue to think as mathematicians, scientists, and writers more than ever.
#3 - Establish a clear learning schedule
Just because your son or daughter is required to be online from 8-11 a.m. does NOT mean that you need to fill in the rest of the day with structured learning activities and mimic a regular school day.
It might seem like the most logical way to keep routine and structure during this crazy time, but I quickly learned that the LAST thing my daughter wanted to do following a three hour Google Meet with her classmates was MORE WORK.
If it works for your family to complete the offline work immediately, go for it, but, if your kid(s) is like mine, they may need downtime to simply be a kid. Let them play and decompress after the extra screen time, but have a clear expectation of when, and by what time, the day’s offline work will be completed; after much trial and error, my daughter and I have a system in place at long last.
Be nearby should questions arise, remind them of their responsibilities that must be met before additional free time can be had, and stand your ground - school is their job, even if it IS being done from the comfort of their home (and possibly in their PJs)!
Virtual learning resources for parents
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Written by Melissa Shaver: Melissa is a passionate educator and lifelong learner. In her time as a journalist, she reported on issues in education. Her desire to help students through their struggles led her to leave journalism and pursue a teaching certification in 2007. Melissa has taught grades K-3 and has worked as a reading interventionist. Melissa is full of love and encouragement when working with students and loves celebrating their successes.