#homeschooling: Problems with Synchronous Learning in COVID-19

Today’s blogger is Wendy Levin, MA, CCC-SLP, a Speech-Language Pathologist in Cherry Creek School District in Aurora, Colorado. She currently co-teaches a special needs preschool classroom and has recent past experience in PK-8 public schools.

If you are an educator, you are keenly aware of the inequities of the educational system.

Not all families have the privilege to be able to take time from work to help their child learn. Not all families have access to speedy internet for those teleconference calls. Not all families have the mental space to worry about both their changed financial status and how to help their child learn school material.

Not all families.

How many school districts have forced both teachers and parents to organize and schedule themselves so they can have “class” at a certain time every day? How many of you teachers and specialists have had students lose attention and wander away from the teleconference calls or simply not call in to begin with?

Everyone loses. That’s the reason #imexhausted and #homeschooling have skyrocketed in their usage during the pandemic.

So why don’t we just choose a more equitable method? Because it’s not what we’re used to?

News flash! This whole pandemic is a situation that no one is used to. Let’s give ourselves and our families space while also providing the same instruction.

What is “synchronous learning”?

“Synchronous learning” simply means that all students and teachers are present at the same time on the same platform. They must schedule a time and a platform to meet and they all must be there at the same time.

This is impossible for too many families. Expecting a student or family to be online at a certain time every day is often too much to ask. I argue that we must rely heavily on parents for synchronous learning for PK-8 in order to gain student attention, keep them in front of a computer, help with login and technical aspects, and help with general attendance. This pulls parents and guardians away from the time that they need to work or handle family matters. They have no control in their schedule or their child’s learning in this model.

If there is “synchronous learning,” then is there such thing as “asynchronous learning”?

Absolutely. There are many ways to do asynchronous learning. You simply have to make sure a student has options. You have to make your activities and lessons available so the students and families can access them at any time. This allows parents to work with their children when it is efficacious for them. How much more equitable could that be?

Here are some ways to provide asynchronous, equitable education:

  • Create private or unlisted YouTube videos of yourself teaching the lesson. Provide students with the links.
  • Use your Class Dojo, SeeSaw, Google Classroom, or Blackboard to post videos or assignments
  • Provide a wide variety of office hours that work with your schedule, so students and parents can drop in at any time to ask questions if they need to.
  • Work with your specialists to provide any special education techniques needed for the lesson prior to releasing a lesson. Change your lessons accordingly.
  • Create discussion boards so students can continue to collaborate and discuss
  • Don’t punish a student for not completing work on time. Let them turn it in when they can.

Remember, every single family, including your own, is struggling during this pandemic, but we will all get out of this together.

You can still provide quality and equitable education.

5 Ways to Connect With Families During the Pandemic

Dr. Laura Anderson is a former elementary school teacher and now a Professor of Education at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. She teaches courses in pedagogy and children’s literature and is a counselor for Upsilon Kappa Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi.

Parents are a child’s first teacher. Few parents, however, envisioned being the homeschool teacher during a pandemic such as we have experienced in 2020. Connecting with families is crucial during these times, not only for supporting parents, but keeping in touch with students as well. Here are some ways that this connection can remain strong during challenging times.

Challenges Families Face With at Home Learning

  • Having questions about lesson content
  • Encouraging their children to focus on schoolwork while at home
  • Sharing one computer with two or more siblings to complete assignments
  • Internet and computer problems
  • Finding time to work with their children after working all day

How Can Teachers Help?

1. Be an encourager: Let the parents and students know that they can succeed during the pandemic challenge. Tell them that it is a learning curve for you as well. Respond quickly to emails or calls from students and parents who express fears and frustrations. Give written, encouraging comments with feedback on assignments.

2. Be flexible: Not all families are equipped with the technology or materials needed to complete all of the assignments. Many of their schedules are different, meaning the parents may not be at home during the day as they are considered “essential” workers, and leave their children in the care of grandparents or sitters. You can help by extending due dates for assignments, which will alleviate family stress. Also, adjust assignments for children who struggle academically.

3. Be available: Using apps such as Remind allows parents and students to text questions to you without having actual access to your personal telephone number. (See remind.com/teachers). You might also set up specific times to talk with parents and students on the phone about assignments and concerns they have. Ask families to give you a contact number where you can reach them, and let them know the general time in which you are available to call. Don’t forget parents whose first language is not English. Written directions in their first language or a connection to a speaker to translate would be helpful.

4. Be creative: Think outside the box on how you can be connected. For example, several teachers in my area wanted to see their students face to face and decided to have a school faculty parade through the attendance zones. They decorated their cars with signs expressing how much they missed their students, planned a parade route, gave families approximate times in which they would be on each street and sent out an “invitation” for families to come into their front yards to see their teachers. They smiled and waved to them as the parade passed their houses, while maintaining social distancing guidelines

5. Be consistent: While flexibility is key, try to keep a sense of consistency by keeping things as familiar as possible. If you have circle time procedures such as the calendar, identifying the weather and day of the week, use these to open your Zoom sessions. When making assignments, try to use the same formats and procedures that you use in the classroom.

What ideas do you have that you can share with others? Please share your strategies and tag me at http://www.instagram.com/lhsa52.

Positive Parent Partnerships for Student Success

Parental Involvement

In one of my college teaching courses, I received a piece of advice that I always implemented in my teaching practice: “Make your first contact with parents a positive one!”

So, I sent out a letter at the start of the year to develop a positive relationship with my students’ parents.

As a new teacher, I felt my introductory letter set a tone of caring and concern and demonstrated that I had their child’s best interest at heart. However, I learned that sending a letter was not enough. Fostering a positive partnership means developing a respectful relationship when working with parents, especially when addressing student concerns.

Make your First Verbal Contact Count

Often the first meaningful verbal contact with parents is when a concern arises about their child. If an initial contact addresses a concern, start the conversation by sharing one genuine positive comment about the student. For example, I had a fifth-grade student who was not doing his classwork, and I knew his parents had not received many encouraging phone calls from school over the years. His mom’s first response to my call was, “What now?” I shared how I enjoyed her son’s sense of humor and told her he could get the whole class laughing. Her demeanor changed and we talked for a few minutes. Then I told her I was worried about her son not completing his classwork and that I needed her help. That was the start of a successful partnership, and her son ended up doing very well in my class.

Another strategy is to make positive phone calls home to share good news whenever possible. This is particularly important for students who struggle. Let them know you are watching for something good to share with parents.

Tell It Like You Want to Be Told

Before talking to a parent, think about the child you care about most in the world. Then think about how you would want to receive the information you are about to share. When you put yourself in the parent’s place, it helps you to be empathetic and diplomatic about how you discuss the concern.

Remove the Emotion

When talking to parents about an incident or behavioral concern, it is easy to become emotional. Before speaking to a parent, take a deep breath and remember that the student is likely acting a certain way to obtain something (e.g., attention) or avoid something (e.g., a difficult task), and it is not personal. Once you can have the conversation without feeling emotional, then discuss the concern.

Ask for Advice

Sometimes, no matter what we try, we cannot help students improve the choices they make. Ask parents how they handle the behavior. They may share a strategy that will work in the classroom. Working with parents is a partnership in which both parties have something to share, and parents know their children better than anyone else.

Actively Listen to Parents

When discussing concerns with parents, listen to what they have to say. This validates their feelings, and the information they share can provide valuable input in helping to support their child.

Let Parents Know About Concerns ASAP

We often let parents know about behavioral concerns right away, but sometimes we are slow to discuss academic concerns. Make parents aware of academic concerns as soon as a pattern emerges (e.g., turning in homework late). Then both of you can address concerns with the child, with no surprises when report cards come out.

Share Concerns When Student Behavior Changes

If a student starts acting out of character, contact the parents to see whether they have noticed a change as well. Sometimes major life changes will affect students in school, and the parents can let you know whether something important is going on. They may not need to share the exact issue, but knowing there is a reason for the change will help you support the child.

Resistant Parents: Do Not Assume the Worst

Unfortunately, developing a positive parent partnership does not work 100% of the time. Some parents are resistant to a partnership. Do not assume they do not care about their child. One of my former students cried because his parent could not take phone calls from school. Taking a phone call meant leaving the production line and losing wages. Parents have a lot of responsibilities to consider; refusing a phone call or missing an event may be the better choice to make.

If you work with resistant parents, talk with your school social worker or psychologist for guidance in forming partnerships. Sometimes those professionals have additional insight into families that can help you form connections and ensure that the student’s needs are being met.

Creating a positive partnership with parents takes time and commitment. You develop this partnership by treating parents with respect. You strengthen it by sharing good news as well as concerns. You achieve it when you recognize everything that the parents bring to the relationship.

Resources

For some additional help with building strong relationships with parents, check out these resources:

  • Nurturing Positive Relationships with Parents (bit.ly/ParentRelationships)
  • Getting Derailed Parent–Teacher Relationships Back on Track (bit.ly/NEABackonTrack)
  • New Teachers: Working with Parents (bit.ly/edutopia_Parents)

Image result for barbara meier university of wisconsin-eau claireDr. Meier is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Clair. She teaches courses on reading for students with special needs, technology integration, and inclusion for elementary educators.