Starting the Year with Distance Learning | 5 tips

August 7, 2020

Are you starting the year with distance learning?!

I know many schools all around the country are preparing to begin remotely and many have already started. To help you out, I wanted to share 5 tips for beginning the year remotely.

If you want to go ahead and watch (or listen to) these tips instead of reading on, I made a YouTube video sharing all this information. While you are there, be sure to subscribe to my channel because I share weekly videos filled with tips and strategies for K-2 classrooms.

See the video below:

To read each tip instead, just keep scrolling!

Tip 1: Set your expectations

At the beginning of any school year, we usually set the expectations for our kids during those first few weeks. We explain where they sit, what they should look like and sound like when we are doing circle time, morning meeting, independent reading, etc. While our expectations have changed drastically, we still want to make it clear what our Zoom (or live) meetings and/or socially distanced classrooms will look like.

For distance learning, you may want to talk to your students about:

  • showing up to meetings on time (as possible – again you can’t control this, but it’s worth mentioning so students know when and where to go when meetings begin)
  • what to wear to a meeting (think basic, like everyone should wear a shirt)
  • should the screen show your face or not (per district guidelines)
  • will they be muted? how do they raise their hand?
  • can they look around their living space and find an area conducive to learning (going to be different for each child)

Another way to help students and parents alike in terms of setting expectations is to send home a tech-sheet or even better, see if you can provide a video showing parents exactly how to use whatever technology you are using to communicate during distance learning.

A tech sheet can help them remember website names and passwords they may need. And the video can show parents where their child’s assignments will be and how to submit them. This way we can help curb some of the tech-related questions and get both students and parents started on the right foot!


Tip 2: Perform an expectations check

This is more of a mindset tip. My suggestion is to really make sure you take a minute and think about your expectations for your students. It doesn’t necessarily lower them, but you will likely have to meet students where they are and change those expectations from what they normally are during a regular school year.

In the classroom, us teachers are usually pros at classroom management right!? We can take those first 4 weeks of school and show students how to turn in assignments, how to walk in the hallways, where to sit, etc. We have to learn to let go of that control and understand that each one of our students has an entirely different learning environment at home.

Some ways to help our students would be to provide them a little bit of ownership over their space. See if they can find their own spot that is best for them to quietly do their work. Feel free to give some *loose* guidelines – find a quiet spot, one where you can sit comfortably and read, or a flat surface to write on, etc. I would then have them look around their home, choose a spot, and if they can send in a picture of their distance learning spot at home! You can also have them explain why they think it’s a good spot for them and they can feel proud a sense of ownership over their learning!

You also don’t have control over what happens after students are off your live call or after they’ve watched your lesson. So another suggestion I have for changing our expectations is to make your teaching points and lessons as bite-sized as possible. Make them short, concise, and to the point. That way once they’re done watching they can sit and do their work before the distractions of being home really takeover!


Tip 3: Make take-home kits with hands-on manipulatives

Now, this is not a tip that everyone will be able to do, but it was recommended enough times in my K-2 Teacher Facebook group, Susan’s Scholars. That I wanted to mention it here. If your school is allowed to and you can come together to send home individual bags with things like dice, base-10 blocks, linking cubes, books, etc. It is going to help the hands-on aspect of learning go much smoother for your students. We know that teaching in grades K-2 requires a lot of hands-on learning so students can feel and see the concepts we are teaching right in front of them.

Not only does this tip help get manipulatives in students’ hands, but it would also help teachers know exactly what students have at home for their lessons. If you know every student has 50 linking cubes, then you can more accurately provide lessons for these materials.

I wouldn’t recommend buying all this yourself because that’s far too expensive, but you could also start a DonorsChoose project to help fund this if it is something you and your admin decides to do!

Also, my friend, Kate, over at The Brown Bag Teacher wrote a post going into more detail about take-home kits that you can read about here: Reading and Math Take Home Kits.


Tip 4: Establish a routine

Kids at any age thrive on a routine. With a world that is so “up in the air” right now and parents and students alike feeling anxious and lost, any little bit of structure we can provide for our students will be beneficial.

If you do hold live meetings, try to hold them at the same time each day (or the same times each day of the week – every Monday at 10am, Tuesday 1pm, etc.) and as consistently as possible. Same if you have office hours, try to keep them as consistent as possible so students (and parents) know when and where they can find you.

If you are able to hold a morning meeting at the same time each day, that would be a wonderful way to connect with students and keep them feeling a bit of structure throughout the day. I have some free virtual morning meeting slides and ideas you can find here: Virtual Morning Meeting

Another way to keep up with a routine would be within the structure of your lessons. Think about how you are delivering your lessons and see if you can keep them in a similar format for extended periods of time. If you can find similar activities that are set up in the same way, that will help students and parents alike if you could keep that format for a few weeks and just switch up the skill instead of constantly changing what students are expected to do.


Tip 5: technology is your friend

One interesting benefit of distance learning is teachers have had to dive into technology a little faster than they would’ve expected (or even wanted to). While extended periods of time on technology isn’t ideal for students, we have been able to find so many innovative websites and apps that are truly wonderful for our young learners! There are so many sites that teachers all over the country and world are using right now, but some of the most mentioned ones include:

  1. Seesaw – I already did an entire (Seesaw tutorial video) on how I create lessons in this app and I just love it for young learners! I like that students and teachers can easily communicate, upload pictures, videos, etc. show their work and more. It makes parent communication a bit easier.
  2. Boom! cards – I like these digital task cards for the young grades (think preschool and Pre-K) and I like Seesaw a little better for K-2, but these tasks are a lot of fun regardless! Teachers like using Boom cards because they are self-correcting so when students choose their answer on the task card, they are immediately told if it is correct or incorrect. They don’t need to wait for their teacher to respond.
  3. FlipGrid – I haven’t used this personally, but many teachers in my FB group mentioned this as an easy-to-use site where students can connect with one another, share pictures and videos of their work, and more.

There are so many more websites teachers are using all over (hello, I didn’t even mention Google Classroom!) so feel free to comment below and share what you are using and why you like it!


Pin to remember:

Are you beginning the year with distance learning? I shared 5 top tips and some strategies to help you and your students start the school year on the best foot possible! Head on over to the post to get some ideas!

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