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Distance Learning Tips From One Teacher to Another

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Unless you have turned off all social media, the news, and decided to climb back into bed and hide under the covers, you have probably heard of the COVID-19 virus, known as the Coronavirus. Preparing for illnesses is always a difficult and serious affair, but it does give us an opportunity to think about how we can extend learning outside the walls of our classrooms and into the homes of our students. 

Access to devices and reliable internet

When considering distance learning, school districts will need to consider if their student and family population have access to devices and reliable internet access before they go entirely digital. Best practice suggests we offer students a mix of digital and analog tasks to complete in order to ensure all students have access to the activities and curriculum. On that note, there are some engaging and fun ways you can use technology to extend your classroom beyond your walls!

Early Childhood and Lower Elementary

Video Read Alouds

One of my favorite ways to use technology, to engage families and students at home, is to offer video read alouds. As the educator, you can choose a read aloud book that connects to their learning and create a video of you reading the book. If you make the video, you will also be able to pause, point things out to the students, and ask questions. 

Video read alouds could be done live, through a platform such as Facebook or YouTube. Teachers and administrators who do this will often set up a live event on their school’s social media sites and parents are notified when the school is going live. Families love this type of interaction and it also gives them a way to see educators out of the school environment.

If you don’t want to go live (it is not as scary as you think!) you could record the video ahead of time and still host it on social media or share it through Google Drive or Microsoft OneNote.

Take a look at this amazing principal, David Anderson, of the Christa S. McAuliffe Elementary School in Lowell, Massachusetts. He and his staff create live and pre-recorded read alouds for snow days and vacations!

If you don’t like to record yourself, there are a myriad of read alouds on YouTube. Kate Messner, a children’s book author, is in the process of creating a list of author’s reading from their own books to share with your parents and students! 

Reading Foundational Skills

To keep our little learners working on their fundamentals, teachers can share the Reading Foundational Skills Collection in PBS LearningMedia. This is a fabulous collection of short videos from iconic shows like Between the Lions and Electric Company and student interactives where our littlest learners to can investigate phonemic awareness through activities and songs.


Videos, photos and online journaling

Anyone who has worked in elementary schools knows that our students are tech savvy, but not tech experts. Because of this, technology lessons at home need to be user friendly for both the student and their families. Seesaw is a wonderful tool to help students capture their learning and experiences at home. Seesaw is an online journal that allows students to take and annotate pictures, make videos, and type answers to anything. Teachers create students in the class, but do not have to assign a digital activity for students to capture their learning, so it is very user friendly! At home students could:

  • Make a video of themselves reading a book
  • Take pictures of different shapes in their house and identify them
  • Take a picture of a math worksheet and record an audio overlay to explain how they solved the problem
  • Start a blog and journal their experiences at home
  • Watch a video on PBS LearningMedia (like my favorite, Molly of Denali) and make a video explaining how Molly used informational text in the episode

Seesaw has an activity library as well as the ability to talk to families and share resources.

Middle and High School

Digital Assignments and Creating Screencasts

Many middle and high school teachers are already using a learning management system such as Google Classroom or Edmodo, distance learning toolkits, so sending out digital assignments is not new to them. For many, though, teaching long distance is very new. One of the ways to share content and directions with your students is by creating screencasts of your presentations. A screencast is a video that includes the content on your computer screen as well as your voice and/or a video of you. It is a fabulous way for students to still hear from you and feel connected.

Screencastify is a great tool to help you accomplish this task. It is a Google Chrome extension that not only allows you a quick way to create these videos, it automatically syncs with your Google Drive account and is fully integrated with Google Classroom. If you are making a video of your Google Slides presentation, consider turning on the Closed Caption ability to support our students that are English Learners, deaf or hard of hearing.

There are many different activities that you can push out to your students if distance learning is a decision in your district. Many edtech companies are offering free subscriptions during this time so check out this growing list of offerings. 

PBS LearningMedia Interactives

PBS LearningMedia Interactives are a fabulous way for our middle and high school students to interact with high quality and engaging content independently. Students investigate topics in all subjects through videos, interactives, reading and writing. Interactives sync with Google Classroom so they are easy to assign to your students. In order to support all your learners, you could use Screencastify to make an instructional video to preview the content and explain to your students how to use the interactive.

As always, during this time of uncertainty, it is important for us to instill in our children that learning and exploration are important and can continue outside the walls of our classroom.

Kara Wilkins

Kara Wilkins Technology Integration Specialist

Kara Wilkins spent eighteen years teaching special education and social studies to 7th and 8th graders... and has lived to tell about it! She is currently a District Technology Integration Specialist for the Lowell Public Schools. She is a Google Certified Educator, an Apple Teacher, and a 2015 Local PBS Digital Innovator for Massachusetts. Her current passion is using technology to help students connect with experts and classrooms all over the world!

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