The proverb: “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” has gone from cliché to the story of our lives in 2020. Overnight, online learning has gone from being reserved for a few homeschooled students to the majority of school children in the world. Our school, the Rabbi Arthur Schneier Park East Day School in New York, was one of the first in the nation to progress to full online learning. As a teacher, I have had to switch overnight from all frontal teaching to full online learning. I have also come to learn more about what makes for successful online learning and what parents can do to enhance their child’s success of online learning.
Here is what I found you can do to secure and maximize your child’s online learning experience:
Device and WIFI– by definition, online learning takes place online. While we may theoretically have internet access, in 2020, we have all come to learn it is not always the case. Make sure your child has a fully functioning device and high-speed Wi-Fi. It is probably a good idea to have at home a backup laptop and either backup Wi-Fi or a contingency plan for the likely event that your Wi-Fi might go down at some time. My wife works as a doctor now doing telemedicine, and I teach online. It is our work, so we value it a lot. That is why we have backup devices; in case ours collapses. Your child’s education is much more valuable than any job. If education is happing digitally, make sure they have everything they need.
Camera and microphone- The first indicator of a child falling out of their online learning is their camera being off. While the nature of separating the privacy of our home and our online life can require muting or turning the camera or microphone off from time to time, make sure the default mode is on for both camera and microphone. If I, as a teacher, cannot see a student, I am less likely to call on them, I do not have their attention, and they are likely falling back in their studies. It is critical to make sure your child knows that having their camera and microphone on are prerequisites for online learning.
Do not take computer skills for granted– parents often assume their children are better with technology than them. While this may be true for Instagram, photo editing, and other aspects of technology children use often, it may not be true for others. Make sure your child knows the necessary technical sides of working on a computer. This can include making sure they know how to use email, find schools email addresses, attach files, upload homework, share google documents, make a local copy of google documents, organizing files by folder, changing keyboard languages, manage computer sound, Wi-Fi networks, creating their own Google docs sheets or presentations, backing up work, screencast or other reading practice recording options, calendar management, and other skills needed for online working.
Typing– as students migrate to all online work, a simple truth becomes more obvious: the better you type, the faster you work. Make sure your child knows the keyboard by heart and can type with both hands. If your child is learning a second language, make sure your child has keyboard stickers with that language, and make sure they know that keyboard by heart.
Environment – There are some things we can say with great certainty will distract your child from learning. If their phone, Instagram, TikTok, fun books, distracting toys are within sight of where they are trying to learn, that will decrease their ability to learn. On the other hand, some remote learning benefits are that kids who need to stand, pace, fiddle, or snack to learn better can do so. Make sure their learning environment is conducive to learning yet with no distractions.
Check output– during in-class learning; teachers can walk around from student to student to make sure they are writing and doing their work; online learning does not afford the same access to students’ work. While it is not your job as a parent to do the teachers’ work, optimal online learning does require your partnership. Ask your children to show you work they have done, share with you their assignments, and see what they have done today. Make sure they are productive.
Get the data- while parents check with teachers how their children are doing academically, finding out what kind of digital learning your child is, is new to the teacher-parent discourse. Let’s make that change. Ask your child’s teacher, specifically about their online learning experience. Get extremely specific. In today’s fast-changing world, this information is critical for you as a caring parent. “Is my child a good listener in an online classroom? Are they learning better than before or worse? Are their digital assignments better than their in-person assignments? Do they do good collaborative work with other students online? What can you do to improve what aspect of their digital learning? These questions and more hold the key to enhancing your child’s success in school and in the far more digitized world ahead of us.
Emotional Wellbeing- More valuable than anything, is your child’s emotional wellbeing. As a teacher, I do my best to be sensitive to my students’ emotional wellbeing, especially during these challenging times. I would love to do more. I am sure your child’s teacher would like to do so too. Let your child’s teacher know what they need—if needed—and what they can do to help your child do better with these times. Does your child need more time for assignments? Do they need a pass on some of the homework? Do they need more gratitude exercises? Should the class be talking about current events, or are they in information overload? Let us know if we can help. It is also possible your child would benefit from classes schools do not usually offer. Maybe personal music, art, yoga, or exercise instruction. Perhaps a more religious or spiritual instruction. Either way, make sure you pay close attention to your child’s emotional wellbeing during these unusual times. If we can help, we are here. That is our calling.