Delivering Distance Learning While Respecting Students’ Home Lives – An Educator’s Perspective

School closures have thrusted distance learning to the forefront of education, creating unique challenges for educators. Teachers and their districts have been forced to rapidly adopt new tools and platforms to continue classes remotely. We have asked members of the Numerade teaching community to share the insights they’ve developed to adapt during these tumultuous times. 

Monique Rousselle Maynard teaches math at West Warwick High School in Rhode Island where she utilizes Numerade’s ‘Office Hours’. She also engages with Improvement Science and rapid cycles of PDSA with the Better Math Teaching Network since 2017.  Here she shares her perspective on delivering distance learning while respecting students’ home lives:

As a high school math teacher, my mantra has always been that my students need to respect and value the time they spent in my classroom, and in return, I would do the same for the time they spent at home. For many of my students who work outside jobs to help support their families or live in crowded homes, school has represented a welcome escape and a place where they could focus. Accordingly, I have maximized our use of class time and minimized the amount of work they needed to do at home.

Now that we’ve all been forced into distance learning due to the Covid-19 school closures, the line between home and school has been totally redefined. In the near term, and possibly into next school year, school work must take place at home, so it’s our job as educators to figure out the best way to both reach and teach our students while continuing to respect our students’ home lives. Here are some strategies I’m using now to adapt to this new learning environment as well as ones I plan to incorporate in the future.

Be flexible

Many of my students have parents who are first responders so they’re busy supervising younger siblings during the day. Some can’t start their school work until the evenings when it’s their turn to use the laptop. Through conversations with students over the past few weeks, I have gotten a much greater understanding of their challenges outside of school and have focused on making my instruction readily available to them asynchronously, so they can access it when it works for them. 

Conduct distance learning drills

Previously, my colleagues and I had felt Chromebooks were a distraction for students and that it was difficult to monitor whether they were using them responsibly. Fast forward a few weeks and Chromebooks have become an indispensable learning tool. Likewise, self-advocacy, which was a “nice-to-have” skill before has become an essential one now. Accordingly, I plan to conduct “distance learning drills” in the fall. Even if we’re all gathered in the classroom once again, these drills will be designed to maximize our digital learning environment by having students practice using the technology tools that support instruction while learning various ways to self-advocate.

Pick versatile tools

Soon after we pivoted to distance learning, I had tried unsuccessfully to teach my students using GoToMeeting. I then remembered Numerade, a free tool I had come across a few months earlier that features thousands of step-by-step video solutions to problem sets in commonly used STEM textbooks. When I dug into it further, I discovered it also offers a free “Office Hours” feature that lets me create, share, and store instructional videos and link to additional videos and materials. I have since incorporated my use of this tool with Google Classroom. Each day, I post a slide clarifying the focus of the day’s lesson, a link to confirm attendance, a link to my lesson videos on Numerade, plus a partial answer key to help students self-assess their work. Over the next few weeks, I also plan to expand my use of Office Hours to ask students to submit comments or questions and ‘upvote’ the ones they want addressed first. 

Assess and Reflect

As distance learning can lead to communication breakdowns of various kinds, conducting a systematic review of what’s working and what isn’t has become even more important. Therefore, I have applied the “Plan, Do, Study, Act” improvement cycle to my practice. Using this approach, I look at what’s currently in place, where there is a breakdown, and formulate a new routine that will fix the breakdown. 

Focus on engagement 

Even though we’re recording high rates of attendance, my colleagues and I recently discussed the fact that attendance is not necessarily the same as participation. One teacher introduced us to a video game option we could use on Desmos, a math tool we use to extend student learning and as a way to invite students to engage in the lesson more readily. Inspired by this example, I plan to start offering students various “hooks” to pique their interest and give them a reason to not just attend but also participate more fully. Likewise, I will continue offering options to students in terms of how they can practice and solidify new skills. By giving them choice just as I would in class, I hope to continue to narrow the engagement gap.

As a reflective practitioner, this experience of distance learning has me refining my practice in my sleep. The struggle to support my students’ acquisition of new math knowledge while respecting their home lives is real when their homes are also their schools.  It is my hope that, in collaboration with my local and extended educational communities, I will be able to apply lessons learned from this new experience and develop structures and routines that will provide inviting and meaningful learning opportunities for all my students.

Click here to see some of the incredible lessons Monique is creating on the Numerade platform here.

Connect with Monique on Twitter @MoniqueRM86.

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