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Flexibility is key to successful remote learning

By Jennifer Snelling
April 6, 2020
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Adjusting expectations has been a theme of learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ohio’s Lakota Local Schools, a suburban K-12 district with more than 16,700 students, designed its remote learning guide with that concept in mind.

“We must plan for flexibility, not perfection,” says the first sentence of the guide.

LLS started ahead of the game, thanks to the 2018 implementation of  WEareEMPOWERED, a 1:1 initiative for grades 7-12 that included embedding technology and a personalized learning approach in all its schools. The district watched as closures due to COVID-19 made their way across the world. In preparation, the district had one remote learning day before closing its doors. The advantage of one practice day let the district gather feedback and make adjustments. 

“All district leaders realize this will be an evolution and flexibility and adaptability will be key,” says Todd Wesley, LLS chief technology officer. “Starting slowly and simply is critical to building a solid foundation.” According to Lakota’s Remote Learning Resources guide, the best remote learning follows three guidelines.

1. Remote learning must be flexible.

Teachers distribute assignments by 8 a.m. on Mondays and provide a recommended schedule for completion, but learning is planned over multiple days to allow students to move at their own pace. Educators are advised to stick to two hours of academic work per content area per week.

For younger students, teachers offer checkpoints along the way to touch base with students who are not keeping up.

For families with really young children, a sample schedule helps guide learning from home with different options for families whose parents are still working outside the home.

Educators are advised to set regular times to respond to email and not feel compelled to answer right away in order to maintain a balance between their professional and personal lives.

One of the biggest needs the Lakota district has seen has been the need of students and teachers to connect with each other. Based on feedback from the trial day, the district integrated Zoom into the LMS to allow each others’ facial expressions.

2. Focus on the most important learning outcomes.

The guide suggests asking these questions: What should be prioritized and what should be abandoned? What is the baseline that students need to know to meet learning objectives? How can you tweak upcoming standards and assessments to make them work from home?

Teachers are advised to focus on the review on essential standards previously taught in the classroom and break content into smaller sessions.

Keep the learning going during COVID-19! Explore the resources.

3. Make learning accessible to all students.

Lakota asked families to have siblings share district devices and the district also sent school devices home with families who had none in order to ensure all students had a device.

While waiting for device distribution, families of K-2 students were given the option to pick up paper assignments or receive them in the mail. These younger students were mostly assigned experiences, such as reading, artwork, outside activities and, where possible, streaming events from places such as the zoo.

Educators made sure to provide more than one way for students to interact with the material and show what they had learned. Teachers sent out a list of resources to English language learners and used Google Translate when necessary to make sure they were communicating in students’ native languages. The translations were not always perfect, but helped some students.

4. Don’t try to duplicate in-person learning.

“The idea is to learn and grow in a remote setting, not replicate being in the classroom,” says the guide. This presented a perfect opportunity to provide opportunities for more voice and choice in the way students demonstrate learning.

Students could respond via video rather than writing an essay, or share their ideas via a Canvas discussion board, Flipgrid or Padlet. As teachers started from scratch with new ways of teaching, they were encouraged to collaborate and share ideas to lighten the load.

5. Include both digital and non-digital learning.

“Remote learning isn’t driven by devices; it’s driven by people,” says the guide. Lakota teachers use a blend of online and off-line, synchronous and asynchronous experiences. For younger students, they offered a mixture of pencil and paper and hands-on tasks. For older students, they included questions for inquiry and reflection. Some had students submit a picture of an action or project that demonstrated their learning.

“We are going into this with our long-standing expectation of quality, but with an understanding that flexibility and an open mind are critical as we navigate these uncharted waters,” Wesley said “We can ensure quality is maintained, it may just look or feel different … and that’s OK.”

Jennifer Snelling is a freelance writer based in Eugene, Oregon, and mom to two digital natives.