Back-to-school month in a typical school year can be a stressful time for caregivers. This year, with the addition of a pandemic, various changes to districts’ schedules and a potential work-at-home situation, it may be downright overwhelming. In my experience with educational technology and online learning as an educator and as a director of innovation and technology, I’ve found that there are some tools and apps you can use just like the pros do—in spite of the pandemic challenges.
To help, I’ve broken down the guidance below to illustrate how to apply this guidance in your home classroom.
It’s not all academics: The social-emotional experience is the foundation of all learning.
In the classroom: A focus on social-emotional learning (SEL) is common in schools, particularly at the elementary level. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”
Bringing it to life in your home classroom: While it may feel counterintuitive to think about addressing emotions while getting ready for online learning, SEL includes issues such as self-regulation (staying calm or understanding frustration) and responsible decision-making (writing down homework assignments or setting an alarm for class) as examples. Proactively supporting social-emotional skills, such as a meditation to improve focus and concentration, can have a dramatic impact on a student’s ability to work and manage themselves online, whether they are in kindergarten or ready to graduate.
Helpful resources: Many parents aren’t aware of what SEL entails. The links below may be helpful in learning how to best use SEL in supporting students:
When the school bell (OK, your timer) rings: Schedules and procedures
In the classroom: A trick of the education trade is to set up schedules and procedures for everything and attempt to keep them as consistent as possible. Procedures are created for students for everything from a morning routine, like checking the job board or setting up their desks for the day, to how they show they’re ready to learn. Procedures and schedules help students understand what’s coming next, which in turn can help them feel psychologically safe. Pro tip: Sometimes schedules need to change. For example, teachers often continually monitor their students for indications of distress or frustration and may employ a brain break to alleviate that frustration if necessary.
Bringing it to life in your home classroom: Try to create a schedule that can become a routine but that still allows for changes during the school day. For example, set aside time for online work to be completed, understanding that teachers may schedule an online check-in during the day as well. It’s also helpful to set timers as reminders to start and stop a specific activity. If there is time for reading scheduled into the day, teach kids to set a timer so they know when to stop. Keep in mind that the amount of time a child can attend to one task will vary depending on their age and maturity. While middle schoolers may be able to stay on task for an hour, kindergarteners will not have that same attention span.
Google Calendar, for example, is one way to create calendars that can be shared among multiple people for various family circumstances, such as two households or two caregivers, so everyone knows what their schedule is.
Artful Agenda is an all-in-one option which syncs with Google Calendar and offers a place for to-do lists and goal-setting.
Padlet is a digital sticky note board for younger students that gives them the option to create five columns, one for each weekday. They can create a schedule using the notes in each day’s column. Padlet allows for images as well so young students who cannot read still have the ability to follow along with a schedule. Add Padlet as a bookmark, and each morning the child will be able to access the schedule and see what they will be doing that day.
Be the student: How to learn new educational technologies.
Bringing it to life your home classroom: If there is a great deal of learning happening online, there is a good chance that teachers are using different educational technologies to help make connections and distribute content. Sometimes, learning a new technology can be frustrating, especially for parents who may not be particularly tech-savvy. There are a few options if a new app or website is assigned for viewing content or giving students a chance to show what they have learned.
Look on YouTube
Typically, the creators of tech tools will provide instructional videos showing how to best use their product. If those resources aren’t available, YouTube can also be a potential gold mine for instructional videos that people have created to help others learn to use a tool.
Ask the teacher
Ask the student’s teacher for an instructional video on using the tool. Many times teachers are able to quickly create instructions, or the district may have created a repository of instructions that they can quickly grab and send out.
Allow your kids to teach you
When I was a teacher, I often told students that I didn’t know how to use a technology tool even if I actually did. Allow students to take the lead on learning about the tool, whether that means figuring it out on their own or looking for an instructional video to teach themselves. Often students will gladly take ownership of this kind of learning and be proud of what they have accomplished.
While the beginning of this school year may feel like a challenge, there are still many opportunities to set students up for success. By employing social-emotional support strategies, creating schedules and procedures, and learning to use educational technology, students can feel more supported in their pursuit of success as we start this year so differently than ever before.
Ready to learn how to be a better digital parent, too? Download the Seven Steps to Good Digital Parenting from the Family Online Safety Institute.