5 Teacher Tips for Successful Distance Learning

With the COVID-19 pandemic, many states around the US have transitioned to a distance learning model for school-based education. This type of teaching is fairly new to most educators and students. What are some things that you as a teacher can do to help set your students up for success?


Strategy 1: Pairing

For many adults and students, the idea of sitting in front of a computer screen for an extended period of time to receive school-based instruction does not sound very appealing. How can you make this new expected experience more engaging for your students?


You can use a strategy called pairing. Pairing is when you take something that is highly motivating to the student and pair it with or use in combination with something that is not of interest to the student. Overtime, the item that is not of interest to your student will take on the reinforcing properties of the highly motivating item. This allows you to eventually fade the highly motivating item because the other item should have taken on the reinforcing properties of the other. Let’s take a look at a few examples:


Example: If the computer screen itself is not motivating for your students (which it likely isn't for receiving instruction), pair something that is highly preferred with the computer screen (i.e. a favorite cartoon show, peer interaction, interactive games, etc.).


Example: Start off the year with playing fun music, video clips from your students favorite TV shows, incorporate their favorite action figurines into the lessons you are running. Pair something of high interest (tv show) with the less preferred activity (sitting in front of a screen).


Once your students understand the expectations, sitting in front of a screen to learn may become a more preferred activity. This is also good teaching to incorporate your student's interests to increase motivation and understanding of a concept.


Strategy 2: Visual Supports

Visual supports are so important and can be broken down into 3 separate categories (schedules, structure and cues). Providing visual supports helps an individual process information faster compared to information being presented only through auditory means. How many of you find it helpful when there is a visual (picture) to help explain something to you? Let's take a closer look at each category.


Whole Class Visual Schedules - We all use visual schedules in some way or another to help us organize our time or day (i.e. to do lists, planners, calendars, phones, etc.) There are so many different types of schedules. To keep it simple, it's helpful to have a whole class visual schedule that you as a teacher reference throughout the virtual school day. This shows how much time is left in the school day and when preferred activities may be taking place (something to look forward to). By providing a schedule, you as a teacher may increase engagement in an activity because the child knows how many activities are left or expected (there is light at the end of the tunnel). It also may decrease anxiety because the student knows what to expect; there are no surprises. Plus, as a teacher it holds you accountable to plan out your day carefully to best meet the needs of your students.


Individual Schedules - It is also beneficial for a child to have their own individual schedule. This is especially important for young children or children with special needs. This breaks the schedule down further to show the student tasks that may be specific to them. Some students need more movement breaks or may participate in a 1:1 session. Providing individual schedules for your students also teaches them how to independently transition between activities. My son asks all the time, "What are we doing today?" Now think about your students who aren’t capable of asking that question. We can provide them that same information visually. These schedules can be written words, real pictures, symbols, icons or 3D objects.


Visual Structure - Work with your students’ parents to help them structure a learning environment. This should be a designated spot for your students to sit and do their school work (or attend to a virtual lesson). It should also be a place with limited distractions if possible. It can be hard learning from home if there are siblings and other activities going on, but simple things such as turning the TV off and not having toys surrounding the learning area can support learning.


Visual & Auditory Cues – There are many different types of visual cues. For little learners or learners who can’t read, the visual cue is usually a picture that clarifies an expectation.


Examples of visual cues for us as adults include: traffic lights, traffic signs, signs in grocery stores, etc.


COVID-19 has brought many visual cues reminding us to wear masks and where to stand to remain 6 feet apart.


Examples of visual cues for students during distance learning may include: first-then visuals, choice boards, wait visuals, quiet voice, visual rules, social stories, pictures of students for teachers to indicate whose turn it is, a visual and auditory timer to show how much time is left in the activity or break, a song or sound to indicate it’s time to transition to a new activity, etc.


Strategy 3: Reinforcement Systems

I'm sure you are doing your best to come up with fun and engaging activities to try to keep students engaged during distance learning. But if those activities are not reinforcing for the student, they may need an additional reinforcer to sit and attend to the distance activities. Remember to collaborate with your parents on what type of reinforcement system may work best for each student (i.e. first-then strategy, token system, behavior contract, etc). Or maybe your class is able to access a group reinforcement system. Your little learners with special needs will likely need an individualized reinforcement system to participate in distance learning for extended periods of time.


Make yourself a reinforcer! It is hard to build rapport through a screen with your students. That means you might need to spend a little more time at the start of the year getting to know your students' interests and building that rapport so that your students want to work with you.


Strategy 4: Movement breaks

Try to make the teaching sessions as interactive as possible. Your little learners have busybodies and were not designed for sitting in front of a screen for hours. Try incorporating movement activities into your lessons. Provide movement breaks when transitioning between activities. Think about how many movement breaks your students would normally receive during an in person instructional school day and try to provide just as many.


Here are a few movement break ideas: scavenger hunt, charades, encourage standing and learning, dance party, etc.


Strategy 5: Parent Communication

Lastly, remember to communicate with your parents. They are the ones that will be assisting their child for the duration of the distance class. Provide them with tools on how to use prompting and reinforcement strategies to teach new skills. Be flexible. Every family is experiencing different challenges and strains during this time. I'm sure some families are capable of participating with their child during distance learning, but others it may be too much. Let them know that's okay.


This is just a short list of how to set your students up for success during distance learning.

Keep up the great work educating your little learners! Until next time!


Educating Early

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