The Debrief

What teachers are asking us about distance learning

The Newsela Team
Mar 27, 2020

This week, 1900 educators joined us for our webinar,  “Connect with an Expert: A Panel on Distance Learning.” Many asked questions that are on a lot of our minds, so we thought we’d share our recommendations for the most frequently asked questions. 

On structuring schedules and meeting remotely with students

What is a typical day like when a teacher is distance teaching? Well honestly, there is no typical day. Teachers are exploring new routines and schedules that fit-into the lives of their student populations and families. Educators have shared they are planning lessons to take approximately 20-30 minutes remotely instead of a typical 50-60 minutes. Others are setting up full day virtual classrooms. Determining the number of ‘lessons’ per day will depend on your grade level and planning. Start small and build up to more lessons.  

Here is a sample schedule shared from a few teachers across grade levels: 

  • 7-9am - Teacher prep and student personal activity time 

  • 9-9:30 am - Virtual meeting to set daily tasks and expectations 

  • 10-12pm - Students complete tasks remotely / teachers set up 1:1 or small group instruction

  • 12-1pm - Break for students and teachers 

  • 1-2pm - Virtual afternoon check-in with full class; review expectations for the day and tasks for the week 

  • 2-3pm - Students complete tasks / teachers set up 1:1 or small group instruction 

  • 3-4pm - Teacher checks student work and checks in with families virtually or via email 

Here’s how Newsela can support your daily lessons: 

  • ELA teachers will find great daily reading and activities in Newsela ELA

  • Science teachers can find ready-to-go assignments for distance learning in Newsela Science.

  • In Newsela Social Studies our team has collected content that pairs with virtual museum tours like the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. 

What does a weekly schedule look like? There are still a lot of unknowns here for many teachers. Many schools have not yet determined when/if they will return to their schools this year.  Planning might be just week to week. Again, start small and build on your goals and expectations for yourself (and students) week to week. Many teachers have told us they are building extended activities and/or independent projects that students can complete over the course of a week, instead of nightly homework tasks. This allows for more flexibility given the factors at home. Check out the daily schedule above and think about how you might modify that across the week. 

Here is an example of how you might structure a week with your learners and families: 

  • Monday:  Full class virtual instruction to set goals and expectations for the week

  • Tuesday:  Smaller group virtual instruction, share video mini-lessons 

  • Wednesday: Morning virtual instruction; afternoon planning and student work review

  • Thursday: Smaller group virtual instruction, share video mini-lessons 

  • Friday: Full class virtual instruction to review goals and expectations from the week

Proving extended research or investigation projects each week is a great way to keep a flexible routine. Here’s how Newsela can help with a weekly routine: 

  •  In Newsela ELA you will find collections of guided “Research Projects” for elementary, middle and high school students. You can share with students and give them a choice for their weekly research investigation. 

  • In Newsela Science, we’ve collected “Science and Engineering Projects” that students can complete with materials in their homes. 

  • With Newsela Social Studies, we have a “Distance Learning” collection with activities that students can explore and create from any location. 

How would you recommend meeting with that many students? Do I do whole class instruction or office hours? What technology is best to facilitate? We recommend what works best for you, your students and their families. Consider the routines you want to set and what technology is available to you and your students. If you and your students have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, setting up virtual meetings can help bring you together and allow for a face-to-face connection. We’ve heard from some educators that set up a virtual meeting for the full day and allow their students to come in and out to ask questions. They also set times for full class instruction. Other teachers recommend setting up virtual meetings for 20-30 minute blocks and then allowing time for small groups , 1:1 virtual meeting or office hours. 

In terms of the technology, use the resources that are already available to you. If your school uses Google, Google Hangouts is built in. You can share calendar invitations with links to the virtual “Hangout” meetings. Check out this “Teach from Home” guide that the Google for Education team put together with a lot of great expert advice. 

Zoom is offering free licensing for schools. If you are working with large class sizes, this might be a better option. Plus, Zoom allows you to record your sessions so you can share out if students can not join at the designated hour. Check out their resource guide to learn more about setting up remote meetings. 

If your school or district uses Microsoft products, Microsoft Teams is a great solution for your virtual meetings. You can learn more and set up Team for free from this link. 

How do you reach kids who have tech, but do not choose to participate in the lessons or do not put forth their full effort like they would in the classroom? Accountability with classwork and assignments will be an initial challenge. What are the expectations from your state, district and school leaders? What expectations do you want to maintain for your students? Your students are probably tech savvy but learning with tech is probably new for them too. Think of ways that might engage them where they are at. What tech tools might they use in their daily lives? Your students probably spend a lot of time on their phones. Can you try engaging them with the Newsela Student mobile app? Try giving them an assignment to create something on Instagram or TikTok. 

Keep up the same routines or programs that you were already using in your classroom. That will help your students feel more comfortable and confident with the transition. During the webinar, Jim Bentley recommended keeping up with his routine of using the Notice & Note signposts. This is something that his students are used to and can modify now with tech. For example, he uses the Newsela annotation tool to highlight signposts within the articles for students to comment and reflect. 

On supporting students with limited access to technology 

At a national level, there are ongoing conversations around access and equity.  Many teachers have approached this by sending packets home and leveraging mobile tools to connect.  For sure, continue all of these approaches. In the packets, think about ways to help your students create a routine, connect to their interests, and circle back to what you’ve been teaching. Newsela articles can be printed along with the quiz.  You can add these to your instructional packets. 

You could also leverage the Newsela Student mobile app.  Our app can be used offline so students can access from an Apple or Android phone and stay reading during this time. This mobile toolkit can help you get started. 

If students have devices but not wifi, many internet providers are giving free access during this time.  Investigate and send the information to caregivers. 

Finally, connect with your school to access student addresses.  Since Zoom or Google hangouts isn’t an option, send them a postcard or a letter.  Let them know you are thinking of them and what you hope for them during this time. 

On enabling caregivers to support their child’s learning

How do I provide my students with hands on support without overwhelming caregivers, who have said they are all overwhelmed? Our colleagues at Newsela are feeling the same. caregivers are overwhelmed by what it means to support students during this time. One thing they’ve mentioned as helpful are teachers who ask families to share what is reasonable for them. This might mean giving students longer to complete assignments than you would in a physical classroom. On a recent WNYC Podcast, a Pre-K educator talked about how he records himself and posts to Google classroom.  The example he gave was recording his morning meeting. This could be a way to reiterate life skills.  It also gives caregivers an opportunity to turn on the video and have time rather than joining a live broadcast.  

Another approach might be to plan for your first few hands on tasks as review or something you practiced over and over again in your classroom.  For example, students can teach caregivers how they use manipulatives to solve subtraction problems. Your learner's step into the role of teacher and this eases the families’ burden. 

We also created a Caregiver toolkit that shares many resources to keep learners engaged during this time.  Share this with families. 

On supporting students who need additional supports or interventions

Newsela published Distance Learning: Resources for Equity and Access this week. This includes resources for Special Education and English as a New Language.  In addition to tips, the articles are organized into groups by grade band: elementary, middle, and high. 

  • Keep instructions simple and direct

  • Provide checklists so students can keep track of work

  • Balance text with other mediums like podcasts, videos, images

  • Engage multiple modalities by leveraging tools like Read&Write 

  • Assign articles within a theme so students are building background knowledge along the way

On supporting younger learners 

How do we support younger readers who cannot read? Newsela publishes articles available at reading levels 2-12.  However, K-1 teachers can leverage Newsela in a few ways. Elementary teachers can: 

  • Use Presenter Mode to read aloud a Newsela text.  You could do this by recording your screen and sending to your students.  Our Newsela FlipKit can help do this.  You might choose to read aloud our Elementary Fiction.

  • Highlight Sight Words using the annotation tool and ask students to go on a word hunt.  This could be done with a printed or digital Newsela article. 

  • Assign a Text Set and ask students to look at the pictures.  Students could engage in a “I see, I wonder” activity and write about what they see or talk about it with a caregiver. Our distance learning resources can help with this. 

Watch a recording of the webinar, “Connect with an Expert: A Panel on Distance Learning” here. 

Have other ideas? Please share out to help other educators learn. Tag @Newsela on Twitter or Instagram or join our Newsela Educators group on Facebook to continue the conversation. 

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