George Lucas Educational Foundation
Online Learning

Establishing Routines for Remote Learning

Teaching students how to interact online helps ensure a good experience for both students and teachers.

September 11, 2020
Young girl participating in class video chat during distance learning
da-kuk / iStock

Teachers know the value of establishing class routines. Good routines set the foundation for a productive year, make life easier for students and teachers, save time, and improve learning.

This remains true whether students are learning in the classroom or remotely. Many classes are beginning online this year, and others need to be prepared to transition to distance learning, since that may become necessary. In either case, it’s important to teach routines for remote learning—we can’t assume that students know how to interact or learn online. To teach classroom routines, teachers could record videos and share them with families via email, and post them in the learning management system.

Students can play an active role in establishing class routines. Use an early class meeting to brainstorm ideas. Students without internet access can share ideas during a phone call or teacher visit. When kids help establish routines, they’re more likely to follow them.

Preparing for Class

Teachers should provide students with classroom or meeting codes, usernames, and passwords as early as possible, and should use the same usernames for as many applications as possible. I keep a spreadsheet of each student’s login credentials. I share this with students via email and an index card that I send home. I encourage students to keep this information in a safe, accessible place.

Students should find a quiet place to learn, if that’s possible. Teachers should communicate the importance of trying to minimize distractions, but it’s important to remember that not all kids will have this luxury. They should also collect course materials before class begins, making sure that devices are charged and connected to the internet, if applicable. Students who do not have access to online classes can check in with their teacher via phone.

All students should come to class meetings, however they occur, with completed assignments and questions for the teacher.

Communicating With Parents or Guardians

Parent communication is also important. Email, phone, text, and apps like Remind or Seesaw are all appropriate. It’s a good idea to provide parents with access information digitally and in hard copy. Don’t forget to establish office hours so that you’re not inundated with phone calls at all hours of the day.

Teachers should be strategic in recommending supplementary learning materials for students. Don’t provide a laundry list of 50 math websites and learning games. Rather, select two or three that best support your curriculum. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming families.

Coming to Class

Encourage students to arrive about five minutes before class begins so that they have time to connect to the internet and verify that video and audio are working.

Students learning online should know how to turn microphones and cameras on or off as directed. Teach students how they should make their presence known. If you want them to enter quietly, show them how. There are many options for signing in, including chat boxes, Google Sheets, or saying “Hi.” Once signed in, students can talk quietly with their friends until class begins.

Students without online access can communicate with the teacher via phone, email, or text. They should check in daily to verify that they are completing assignments.

Participating in Class

Teachers need to set expectations for both synchronous and asynchronous participation. It’s important to set rules about being kind and respectful, especially in an online setting.

During synchronous learning, direct students to minimize distractions. They should close other windows and resist using other devices. Students can post emojis or keywords in the chat box to help them stay engaged.

Teachers may have students break into chat rooms for small group work. They should remind students that class rules apply in those settings and have clear policies about what happens if students break the rules. Chats are recorded, providing a history of everything students share.

Teachers should model how to post on discussion forums and provide examples for offering feedback or writing comments. I like to brainstorm “helpful” and “unhelpful” comments during a whole-class meeting. This list can be uploaded to the digital classroom and shared with students to reference later.

Students without technology will need to receive handouts of class discussion forums. They can respond directly on the handouts.

Students can use the questions or comments box during group lessons. Teachers should model how to post appropriate questions and comments. A role-play between teacher and students should clearly demonstrate how the chat box will work.

Inappropriate comments will likely occur. Try to use them as teachable moments. For example, if someone submits an incorrect answer, you might have a student write, “What? Are you stupid?” You can explain that we don’t call each other names and that everyone makes mistakes. This also provides an opportunity to discuss that something said in passing in the classroom often has a much longer impact online and that even if a student intends to be funny, the humor is often lost on the internet.

Be sure to provide opportunities for active learning. It’s easy to lecture or assign a video or reading passage online. But true learning occurs when kids do something with the information. Providing opportunities for active learning helps set the expectation that students must participate in their learning.

Give students time to complete asynchronous tasks, which could include creating screen casts or recording voice memos for classmates. Explain how these items will be shared and assessed.

Leaving Class

Teachers should discourage students from leaving early. You don’t want students to miss important information. Before dismissal, everyone should know where to find assignments, raise questions, and connect with other learners.

Encourage students to exit class calmly, so they don’t disturb others who are still discussing the lesson with the teacher or classmates. Remind them to sign out of programs to protect privacy.

The best practices from in-person learning apply to distance learning: Model expectations, provide reminders, and give students ample opportunity to practice. And remember to give students grace as we all adapt to a new learning environment.

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