As of Monday, March 23, COVID-19 cases have risen to over 300 in North Carolina. Citing the continued spread, Governor Roy Cooper has extended statewide school closures until at least May 15. With students home for two months, and perhaps longer, public schools across the state have pivoted to virtual learning methods in an effort to keep students engaged. While acknowledging the numerous equity and access issues inherent with making such a sudden move to virtual learning, it appears to be the reality for our immediate educational future, and possibly for the remainder of the school year. No one would pretend that this is ideal, but many students can still be successful by applying the right mindset and methods. Though I am certainly not a virtual learning expert by any means, many of the same methods that improve student’s classroom learning will also help them at home, and these methods are now more crucial than ever to keeping students on track. Here are a handful of tips for students and families to keep in mind during this difficult time.

Become a Self-Directed Learner

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the extensive world of edutainment, or entertaining educational videos, that can be found on YouTube. When a teacher’s explanation isn’t sinking in, and a tutor’s efforts are similarly lacking, turning to YouTube for help is a wonderful idea. Since people learn things differently, students often just need to hear something explained in a different format. With YouTube, you have almost unlimited options for hearing things explained from alternative angles.

Encourage your student to be self-directed and resourceful in finding new content about the topics they are learning. Though this is always important to effective learning, it is currently imperative due to the lack of immediate feedback and clarity available from their teachers.

Implement Free Reading Time

Schools with a stress on literacy already implement free reading time in their regular school day. You should do the same at home with your student, and encourage them to read a book, magazine, or comic for a set amount of time each day. Free reading is an important part of keeping reading enjoyable, as many students begin to see reading as a chore rather than a leisurely activity when it only happens as homework. Don’t put any restraints on what they read, but do encourage students to read books in addition to other, less academic material.

Stick to a Daily Schedule

School is structured for a reason—students will not thrive without some sort of structured learning time. Make sure to sit down with your student and discuss what that schedule will look like.

Since school has several natural breaks throughout the day—in-between classes, lunch, etc.—ensure that your student pencils in several scheduled breaks in their virtual learning day. It is seemingly safe to leave your house and go for a walk, jog, or hike as long as you stay six feet from others, so recommend some outside time for them, if possible. Schedule time during the school day to check social media, browse favorite websites, or text friends as well—knowing they have these dedicated sessions to tune out will hopefully keep them more tuned-in when necessary. Encourage students to utilize these breaks as rewards for getting through particularly dry material or completing an assignment.

Use a physical calendar, a computer calendar, or for disciplined students, even a cell phone calendar, for tracking due dates of assignments. Sticking to a schedule as much as possible will help limit procrastination, ensure students complete assignments on time, and keep structure in your student’s life.

 Create a Dedicated Work/Study Space

As I mentioned before, this is one of those things that is always helpful, but will become even more necessary over the next couple months. If at all possible, make sure your student has an area for learning that is separate from where they play games, watch TV, and socialize. Having a space reserved for learning is proven to lessen potential distractions and improve retention of information.

Notetaking and Study Habits

Because students are used to taking notes in a classroom setting, it may not be obvious to them that taking notes on articles, videos, and other virtual learning mediums will be just as critical. Studies have shown that people are slightly less likely to retain information read online, so taking notes as you go is a great way to increase that retention. Similar to its usage in the classroom, taking notes will also be important for revisiting and studying. As a general notetaking tip, have your students try to take notes in their own words rather than just copying down what the article or person in the video is saying. This forces better comprehension of materials.

On the studying end, having your student play teacher is one of the most effective methods to ensuring their learning. At the end of each day, have your student walk you through a lesson on one or two topics learned during their virtual classes. In order for this to be useful, it’s important that they are actively teaching you, rather than just rattling off facts or summarizing what they learned.

Similarly, having students create their own quizzes and tests based on their notes is another extremely efficacious approach in studying. Creating the questions for their own quizzes helps reinforce information and actually taking the quiz will highlight areas of weakness to revisit.

This is Uncharted Territory—for Both You and Your Student

This is an undoubtedly stressful time for everyone. Try to practice empathy and understanding while keeping structure in place.

Teachers should be available during this time to answer questions, whether via email or some other medium. While students should be patient with their teachers who are also adjusting to this strange new format, do not hesitate to ask as many questions as is needed. The inability to raise your hand in class, ask a question, and have it immediately answered is certainly detrimental, but that detriment can be lessened by frequent communication with teachers. This will also be a test run for college, where students often won’t have the ability to raise their hand and ask questions in many lecture-type courses.

Similarly, though I’m sure the majority of you are doing this already, check-in with other parents and see what is working for them and their student(s). This is brand new for most, and everyone will encounter approaches that work and those that don’t.

I sincerely hope these tips are helpful. I’m wishing all of our WELL families the absolute best, and hope all students can continue learning effectively through this ordeal. That will be no small feat, and students should be celebrated for doing so. As always, though the WELL is currently closed along with WCPSS, feel free to email me with any questions, concerns, thoughts, or student essays that I can help edit (achievement@wade.org

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