Families across the United States have become familiar with this scene: children in the house all day with parents who are unemployed or working from home. The COVID-19 pandemic is requiring the workforce in all professions to navigate uncharted territory. But for teachers, the virus brought a new set of challenges as schools suddenly closed their doors.
It is estimated that more than 55.1 million students from kindergarten to 12th grade are out of school, according to The New York Times. Educators were among the first to have to pivot to new ways of working and providing instruction. In fact, they have discovered and designed clever ways of teaching long-distance and assisting families as they approach at-home learning.
Most schools have moved their classrooms, whether wholly or partially, to online platforms, using Zoom and other videoconference apps to give students a semblance of normalcy. Access to books, computers and Wi-Fi, however, is uneven across the country, with low-income households suffering the most. Special education schools and other alternative learning institutions have also been heavily impacted by widespread sheltering in place.
Here are some resources that teachers can use right now to aid their students:
- For planning your classes:
One of the top tips for distance teaching: Do not expect it to be the same as in-person teaching. Both teachers and students need time to experience a period of adjustment to the new and different rhythm and flow of teaching and learning online. And educators must all keep in mind that the learning that occurs through a computer screen for hours in a row is very different from the dynamic process in a classroom, and pupils may have a hard time focusing.
To help with routine planning, Khan Academy has made sample schedules suitable for each grade. The app Flipgrid is described as "a simple, free, and accessible video discussion experience for Pre-K to Ph.D. educators, learners and families" to create activities and lessons. For additional ideas and strategies, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) put together a resource list for teachers and students.
- For online learning (for all ages):
Aside from well-known videoconferencing tools such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype, there are several apps and websites to support your students' learning needs.
Educators for Excellence is filled with useful and user-friendly links. Some of the highlights include interesting lessons crafted by museum educators and teachers for the Smithsonian; Scholastic offers free resources to keep students reading and engaged at home; and BrainPOP offers quizzes and animated movies for K-12 students.
- For students with disabilities:
WestEd compiled resources to address the needs of special education students. The potential of platforms such as Google Docs and Google Slides for accessibility gives educators more options. These apps have special features such as a screen reader, closed captioning, braille display, speech-to-text and text-to-speech.
Another favorite among teachers is Khan Academy's accessibility features for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with low vision or colorblindness.
- For younger children:
Children under 12 have grown up in a world infused with technology, and they may be able to adjust quite quickly to online offerings. Among the most fun resources for primary students are Epic! – a digital library of interesting books – and Caribu – a video-calling app used by parents, grandparents and teachers to read stories to and with loved ones across town or across the country.
- For students with limited access to technology:
In July, the Los Angeles Unified School District reported that many students had unequal access to education during the pandemic. WestEd addressed these findings in a document focused on meeting the learning needs of underserved students affected by California school closures. Among the top suggestions are keeping in touch with students and families through any and all means possible (phone, letter, and social media), and providing low-tech options for learning (printable assignments and paperwork packets).
UNESCO also compiled a list of offline learning solutions or those with strong offline functionality.
Educators are finding ways to continue teaching students during the pandemic. Planning, creative thinking, collaboration with peers, administrators and families, along with online resources are helping them make the best of a tough situation.
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