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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

Distance Learning in Coronavirus Times

Given the likelihood that some or all of a school year will be by distance, evaluating a school’s distance learning is an important part of due diligence. 

Distance when you need it

In case your child is out sick, a regular distance option can be a back up to in-person school. Some schools also offer some in-person tracks and a distance option for families who are sheltering-in-place, whether for medical reasons or general safety. Regardless of the plan today, all schools should be planning on a distance strategy in case a second wave closes all in-person schooling.

Live (Synchronous) vs Recorded (Asynchronous): It’s not all or nothing

Live sessions, where part or all of the class learns live from the teacher via a platform such as Zoom or Google Classroom, are often attractive to parents. That said, depending on the child and their age, they may love live sessions, or they may have limited attention for synchronous work.

For younger children, live lessons are often kept to 30-45 minutes and interspersed with recorded lessons, such as videos and assignments, such as worksheets and projects. Progressive schools tend to offer more projects to engage the child across subjects with real world examples. For instance, dioramas are popular among science classes for younger children, whereas older children might require more research and choosing their own subject.

Especially among elementary aged kids, some children need parental attention to stay on a live chat, while other children need the attention for the recorded lessons, worksheets and/or projects. By offering a mix to elementary aged children, schools hope to capture all the types of children.

By middle school, a school day may be majority online, with all classes taught synchronously except for occasional work days, and subjects like study hall.

Organizing the Day

Schools might offer an online matrix or grid to help guide the day; by second grade, many children can guide themselves through the links. A central repository for any printables at home, a weekly update of that list, and scheduling the week in advance, are all helpful to working parents hoping for some independence.

By middle school, kids will have their same schedule as in school. You may offer to print the weekly schedule or grid, or your tween might be comfortable checking the online schedule. Depending on the school, they may use software for teachers to assign work, and for students to mark the work handed in. This can increase a child’s independence in middle school and teach them organizationally how to track homework. To that end, those with systems can see their grades online as the faculty grades assignments and tests.

Subjects: It's More Than Academic

In addition to traditional subjects, many schools offer electives with their distance learning. Ask about the structure of the day:

  • Are academic subjects integrated, for instance STEM vs math and science or humanities vs language arts and social studies?

  • Are electives offered, such as arts and foreign languages. How are materials handled for these subjects?

  • How does the school cover social emotional learning?

  • Does the school have a program to teach executive function, such as organization and planning skills?

  • How many hours per day does the school offer each grade? Private schools might offer the full 6-7 hour day plus additional assignment, whereas public and charter schools are required to offer 3-4 hours per day including assignments, depending on the grade. Depending on your goals, you can find a fit.

Extra Supports

Depending on the school, you might access for your child extra support, such as 

  • 1:1 sessions with the teacher, 

  • Breakout groups for kids who need more time on  subject, or who need more challenging work;

  • Counselors or social workers to assist with your child’s emotional needs;

  • 1:1 device programs with tablets or computers;

  • Advisory groups for middle schoolers.

Your Acquisition List

Some potential needs for your distance learner:

  • A physical space at home. Attempt to give your child a dedicated space to work and store projects in process. If your home is small, a secretary desk or a chest or box that they can store things in can keep papers together and avoid searching for the errant assignment, or the inevitable argument among siblings.

  • A tablet or laptop to connect to school. Some schools provide this device to all kids or to those who need a subsidy. If you are financially stretched, don’t hesitate to ask.

  • School supplies, such as paper, pens, pencils, erasers, markets, and colored pencils. We love to organize with old cans and jars.

  • Internet service. The older your home, the more likely you will need a better quality router, as metal in walls interferes. At our home, we switched from DSL to cable and are now looking to upgrade to a mesh system (comments welcome on these!).

  • Printer. Extremely helpful to print assignments and worksheets, ideally with a scanner option.

Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco in an environment of non-judgment. Her own children have attended both public and private schools, and she believes that each has unique benefits. Email to learn more about her services.

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