The COVID-19 pandemic took us all by surprise. As we collectively braced ourselves for a different reality and adjusted to our new normal, our students’ school experience changed dramatically and shifted to online learning. Educators around the country took to the internet and quickly engineered a classroom experience without the classroom.
As we all swiftly settle into the world of online learning, it becomes increasingly essential that we equip elementary students with the tools and know-how to be capable, independent remote learners. Furthermore, it is pivotal that families have the tools and skill set to help support elementary students in that transition. For those only familiar with the traditional classroom experience, remote learning can be a daunting new world.
What is online learning?
Online learning takes on many forms and is largely responsive to the needs of the learning community–what works for teaching a group of fifth graders may be entirely useless during a private tutoring session with a first grader. The utility of each platform and set-up for remote learning is as unique as the students and teachers themselves.
Although new to many outside the educational field, the world of online learning was thriving well before we sat quarantined in our homes. Educators, school based and at-home, have utilized online platforms as a practical medium for teaching for years, often as a supplement to classroom instruction or a bridge between in-person tutoring sessions. So, while for many families, this may feel like uncharted terrain, most teachers and tutors have an expansive understanding of remote learning and have used it regularly to build their students’ skills and complement their curriculum.
We can classify nearly all digital learning as being either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous learning allows educators and students to come together in real time to deliver instruction, discuss understanding, and provide feedback. Asynchronous learning enables educators and students to work on tasks at different times. Most traditional schools use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning to replicate the classroom experience and move through curriculum. You might find your student’s online learning experience to reflect this combination, with a menu of self-guided tasks alongside a daily or weekly expectation to log on for live instructional streams from their teacher or tutor.
Asynchronous virtual learning is an expansive domain, covering everything from self-guided video lessons to skill-based learning games. Your student’s teacher or tutor is likely pulling from a number of resources to create a full and rich online curriculum to meet their learning goals. Just like in a classroom, some skills, such as building multiplication fact fluency, might be best practiced independently in game play with digital feedback, while others, such as multiplying fractions, are best left to a guided, video-based tutorial.
What does online private tutoring, or e-tutoring, look like?
Similar to the classroom experience, online tutoring is responsive to students and their individual learning needs. Tutors still work to provide individualized, dynamic support to students, often using synchronous, video-based instruction as the platform for learning. Video conferencing platforms allow screenshares and digital whiteboarding, so tutors are able to provide a full range of interactive and visual support during their session. By integrating digital slides and whiteboards into instruction, tutors are able to recreate the physical session experience, providing immediate feedback on students’ work and interacting instantaneously in response to their questions, comments, and concerns. Online tutoring can also add value to tutoring in ways that are hard to replicate when working on paper and pen. For example, tutors can support students’ writing process in real time as they work through an essay, providing organizational support and feedback nearly immediately on a digital document. A session spent working on the organization of online documents and folders through screen sharing can help students maintain order and build independence as they transition to becoming full-time remote learner.
How can I support my elementary student’s transition to online learning?
The unexpected move to fully remote learning is a big transition for everyone. Students, educators, and families all play a role in making sure that virtual learning is successful and impactful. Families can support their young students by building technological independence and keeping structured routines in the days ahead.
Most elementary school students are still growing comfortable on laptops and tablets. Giving your student practice in the basics of navigating the internet will prove exponentially useful in the coming days. Parents can host their own child in an online conference call using Zoom, Hangout, or Facetime. During this time, help familiarize them with the basic features of the platform–how to join, hang up, make the screen bigger or smaller, and react to items. Your child’s tutor or teacher might provide a similar tutorial, but it doesn’t hurt to get a head start. Especially with younger students, you may need to work alongside them in the beginning stages of online learning. But, fade that support quickly. Just because you can be there to help does not mean you should be there to help. Just like any other skill, gaining competence as a remote learner comes through exploration and making mistakes.
Routinizing the online learning experience will prove invaluable in the long run. While online classrooms and tutoring sessions might feel novel now, it is likely that students will be learning remotely for at least the next several weeks. Set a routine that works for your household schedule and stick to it. Allowing students to build their own schedule from a menu of necessities and options will not only provide them with agency during a stressful time but also build their capacity to manage their own time and tasks.
What do I need to make online learning successful in my home?
First and foremost, set up a permanent, designated learning station in your home. This should be outfitted with a Desktop, laptop and/or tablet, paper and writing tools, and any school books your student might need while working. If they already have a desk in their bedroom, make sure to clean off unnecessary materials or distractions before launching online learning. You may also want to consider having the workspace face a wall or set up a small privacy divider (easily made out of file folders) around the area–distractions are plentiful in a home environment and you want to minimize them.
It is also an ideal time to place an online supply order. Elementary school classrooms are well stocked with supplementary supplies and tools, ones that are often not present in the home. You will also want to invest in a headset with built-in microphone, if you don’t already have one. In addition to helping your student focus on the content, it will also optimize their participation in live sessions. A small white board and dry erase markers are also vital tools. They allow your student to show their thinking to teachers and tutors in an efficient way during live stream sessions. Writing paper, either with raised lines or traditional, is also essential. As students adjust to online math instruction, having manipulatives at home will also be crucial. Start with Base 10 Blocks, a Ruler, Fraction Circles, Fraction Towers, Wooden Geometric Solids, and Attribute Blocks.
And finally, the most important tool in this transition is your approach. Encouraging students to be flexible and adaptive learners on this new, unscheduled adventure is important. They will take their approach and outlook on remote learning from you. So, gear up, and lean in!