Thursday, March 26, 2020

Tips for Engaging Families in Remote Learning

Throughout my #remotelearning series, I have tried to provide practical ideas and strategies that can be used now.  One aspect that needs more attention, at least in my opinion, is how we can assist parents throughout this ordeal. It goes without saying that many of them are dealing with some intense challenges such as equitable access to technology, WIFI availability, finding time to assist their kids with school work, and a general sense of not knowing what to do in a remote learning world. Combine this with the added responsibility of working from home themselves, dealing with impending or current unemployment, the stress of not being able to see older relatives, and being a parent; you can assume that tensions are running high. They need our support and understanding just as much as our learners do. Together we are better, especially in times of crisis. 


Educators across the way are stepping up in incredible ways. As I mentioned in a previous post, when it comes to remote learning, there is no one right way. The same can be said in terms of how you engage with parents. Below are some general ideas to consider. By no means is this a comprehensive list. However, as I developed it, I put my parent hat on and took into consideration what I need, expect, and how my home district (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD) is engaging with us. Here are some ideas that you can either embrace if you are a parent/guardian, incorporate into your remote learning plan, or share with those in your community.

Communicate regularly

In times of crisis, there is no such thing as over-communication.  Consider using all assets available such as email, social media, phone calls, and Remind. Phone calls can be a great way to find out or share whether or not technology is available. If it isn’t, then you can consider mailing out messages.

Establish a delivery and pickup location for work  

Students need feedback, especially if technology is not being used.  Parents also want to get an idea of how their child is doing. In my previous post, I shared how one district was using its bus routes. Work with parents to elicit the most practical ideas to make this work in your community. 

Encourage the development of an at-home learning schedule

Some structure is needed to help kids manage their time, complete assigned tasks, and meet deadlines.  Herein lies a great opportunity to work in the competencies of self-management, independent inquiry, pacing, and reflection. For more ideas, check out this post by Adam Drummond.

Ask parents to be honest about what they need

The list here could get relatively long, and I am not even sure if making suggestions is appropriate. However, below are a few considerations:

  • Technology for kids to complete work
  • WIFI in the form of mobile hotspot for kids to complete work
  • Creating an at-home schedule
  • SPED accommodations
  • Counseling for their kids
  • Counseling for themselves
  • Work to be picked up and dropped off in a no-contact way
  • Ideas on how to help their kids adjust to remote learning

Follow district/school updates  

Obviously, the best way is to use social media. As I emphasized in Digital Leadership, a multi-faced approach that encourages two-way engagement should be employed.  Don’t assume that parents use the same tools as you.  

Incorporate movement and outdoor time (if possible) into the day 

I cannot emphasize enough that one of the potential pitfalls of any type of remote learning is an extended lack of movement.  To counteract this, make parents aware of tools like GoNoodle or encourage them to include movement. There is no better way to incorporate movement while adhering to social distancing than family walks or bike rides.

The ideas above are not the best by any stretch. However, they are practical and can assist with engaging parents and guardians as long as schools are closed. On a side note, my wife and I have used the time we now all have together to enjoy family dinner. It might sound cheesy, but I always start by asking my kids how their day of learning was and if they need help from their teachers, or what else they need to be successful. My wife and I then share what we did for work. Since I have traveled so much over the past couple of years, I can’t begin to explain what this time with my family has meant to me. In many cases, we let life get in the way of what is truly important. Herein lies a great opportunity to re-establish or fortify family bonds.

Please consider sharing some ideas that you have found successful when it comes to engaging families in your community in the comments section below.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

8 Non-Digital Remote Learning Ideas

Before our eyes, we are watching districts and schools valiantly roll out remote learning plans to support all students during extended closures. Equally as important have been the many innovative ways to make food available to our most disadvantaged children.  I cannot commend their efforts enough.  Throughout this ordeal, we must be patient, understanding, and flexible as teachers and administrators, with little to no training in this area, do their best to provide an education to students.

Even with all the progress being made and practical innovations taking place, COVID-19 has unearthed on a global scale the inequity that persists when it comes to access to high-speed WIFI and technology.  Even though many of us have been beating the drum for years regarding this issue, there is such a long way to go when it comes to closing the digital divide. Even in more affluent areas, one cannot assume equitable access. As such, educators are in need of ideas that can be implemented without the use of technology.  



Here are a few that I have been sharing with districts and schools where I have served as a coach throughout the year:
  • Modeling through written explanations: Even though efforts should be made to avoid piling on new content, learning can only progress if new material is presented. Think of this as direct instruction on paper. For example, in math, a teacher would typically write out the steps to solve a problem on the board.  In this case, he/or she would just do it on a piece of paper that the student could refer to before moving on. It’s not the best option, but it is a realistic one.
  • Scaffolded questions and tasks: Piling on low-level questions that are recall and knowledge-based don’t constitute learning. It’s what a student does with this information to construct new knowledge or apply it that matters. Consider using the Rigor Relevance Framework as a tool to accomplish both of these preferred outcomes through scaffolding
  • Guided and independent practice: Considering the two items previously addressed, practice can be chunked (guided) in ways that steps are followed until students are asked to do it on their own (independent).
  • Authentic challenge problems: Knowing that digital resources are limited, reference materials can be provided for kids to engage in inquiry-based learning.  As you structure lessons and or extended projects, contemplate about how you will get students to think at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy while solving unpredictable real-world problems, also referred to as Quad D learning.
  • Independent reading and reflective questions: To assist students who are at a lower reading level, consider providing suggestions.
  • Playlists and choice boards: These powerful blended learning strategies can easily be converted to non-digital options to keep students engaged for days to even a week. Choice leads to more empowerment. With a playlist students choose the order they want to complete all the activities. With choice boards, students choose to complete a set number of activities but don’t do all of them. No matter what you decide, you can incorporate all of the strategies addressed above. Below you can see an SEL choice board shared by Keri Powers Pye.

  • Movement: Any type of remote learning tends to be sedentary.  Think about activities that get the blood pumping, which will help students maintain focus while providing needed brain breaks. Movement matters more than ever if learning is the goal. Below is a great fitness activity shared by M. Robinson PE using the game Uno.
  • Reflective writing journals: No matter the strategies employed, getting kids to reflect on their learning each day can empower them to make connections between concepts and content areas as well as identify what they need to work on going forward. It can also function as a form of closure.
With everything listed above, there has to be a way to disseminate lessons and materials as well as review them to provide feedback.  As part of your remote learning plan, think about the best way to accomplish this that minimizes contact.  Maybe it is at the district or school office or perhaps a collection bin of some sort. Chad Miller's school district in Ohio are running bus routes to deliver food and learning materials to their kids. Regardless of what you decide, parents will need to be fully aware of where to pick up and drop off learning materials.   

Also, don't forget that accommodations have to be made for special education students as per IDEA.

By no means are these the only ideas that can be used to support students with limited or no digital resources available. My hope is that the greater educational community will continue to share what they have found to be successful with #remotelearning.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Creating Interactive Lessons Through App Smashing

Remote learning has been thrust upon school districts. The result has been disruptive change like we have never seen before.  In a previous post, I shared some broader ideas to help navigate these uncharted waters.  However, the fact remains that there are now expectations to get work out to kids in many forms. So, what does this all mean? Educators now shoulder the burden to create lessons and activities that will enable students to learn at home.  Virtually none have received extensive professional learning in this area. We know that teachers, like they always do, will rise to the occasion.  My goal is to try to make it a little easier with some simple to use tips on how to leverage free tools.

First and foremost, we must always keep sound pedagogy in mind, something that I discuss at length in Digital Leadership.   If the plan is to just “deliver” content though video, this constitutes no real difference from direct instruction in the classroom. Now I am not saying that teachers shouldn’t do this. The key is to ensure there is some interactivity during the synchronous component of the lesson or later on during the asynchronous part. Technology, if available for your learners, can play a vital role in accomplishing this goal. Most schools are relying on their Learning Management System (LMS) such as Google Classroom, Canvas, Microsoft Teams, or Schoology to push out work.  That is a good start, but not a solution if learning is the goal. Content consumption does not equate to the construction of new knowledge, discourse, answering questions, solving a problem, or creating a learning artifact. Here is where app smashing comes into play.




Greg Kulowiec provides an excellent working definition:
App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to create projects or complete tasks. App Smashing can provide your students with creative and inspired ways to showcase their learning and allow you to assess their understanding and skills.
The power of an LMS can be unleashed when lessons or assignments are posted, and then students can respond in a variety of ways. For example, a teacher could create a video lesson, upload it to YouTube, and then utilize tools such as Edpuzzle or Playposit to make it interactive.  It can then be “smashed” with the LMS to push it out to learners to complete. Since many tools now allow the importing of rosters to the LMS’s listed above, it just makes sense to take advantage.

Here is another example.  Suppose you want to develop a literacy lesson for your learners.  ThingLink could be used to curate content (text, video, images). I often recommend the use of this tool in History as a way to explore primary source documents. After kids review the content, Google Forms could be used for them to answer higher-order questions.  The link to the form could even be included in the Thinkglink.  For multimedia discourse, tools like Padlet and Linoit could be smashed with your LMS.  If you or your school doesn’t use one of these at scale, consider using a general Google Doc where the permission is set that anyone can access without signing in. HERE you will find some great tools to get started. However, don’t limit yourself to this list as the possibilities are endless. Just like with remote learning in general, there isn’t one right way. The right or best way is your way.

A word of caution when it comes to app smashing.  It’s not how many tools you use that matters, but the degree to which your students use them to learn.  Many tools are being shared, which can be overwhelming.  Stick to one or three that you and your learners are most comfortable with using.  In this case, less is more.  If you are interested in learning more or seeing what other teachers have done, click HERE

For more ideas follow #remotelearning on social media.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Special Education (SPED) and Remote Learning

In a previous post, I shared some ideas as well as strategies that districts could embrace to establish a realistic remote learning plan taking into consideration both digital and non-digital pathways.  One aspect I did not address that keeps coming up here in the United States is how to address special education students as per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  Like everything else, thanks to COVID-19, this is uncharted territory as well. However, the US Department of Education (USDOE) has released some guidance that everyone should be aware of. You can access it HERE.



In this post, I am going to highlights considerations for special education educations students where a local education agency (LEA), such as a school or district, has initiated a remote learning plan.  Below are some specific pieces from the report I have pulled where I also add my thoughts.
If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§ 104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR § 35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). SEAs, LEAs, and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504. (34 CFR §§ 300.101 and 300.201 (IDEA), and 34 CFR § 104.33 (Section 504).
The translation is pretty straightforward in my eyes.  If your district or school has any sort of remote learning going on during a closure, then accommodations have to be met for kids that need them.
IEP teams may, but are not required to, include distance learning plans in a child’s IEP that could be triggered and implemented during a selective closure due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Such contingent provisions may include the provision of special education and related services at an alternate location or the provision of online or virtual instruction, instructional telephone calls, and other curriculum-based instructional activities, and may identify which special education and related services, if any, could be provided at the child’s home.
If your school has not closed yet, consider getting a contingency plan in place.  In the case that you have already closed, IEP teams can meet physically (many schools are having just staff in to plan for remote learning) or virtually to modify plans. Protocols must be established to safeguard sensitive information.

The USDOE also released this fact sheet that outlines how to protect the civil rights of students during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Guidelines are one thing, but seeing what it looks like in the field is another. Thus, I decided to reach out to some educators in my home state of New Jersey.  The NJDOE, under the leadership to Dr. Lamont Repollet, had every district develop a plan on March 5 well before any school closed.  These then had to be submitted back to the NJDOE as soon as possible.  Knowing that this was the case, I sent an inquiry to two administrators to see how their districts were serving special education students.  Below you can see the comprehensive plans that have been implemented.


I would love to hear how your district or school is meeting IDEA requirements for your SPED students who are engaged in remote learning. Please consider sharing in the comments section below. 

For more ideas follow #remotelearning on social media.