As schools move to virtual learning, the disparity between some students and their ability to continue learning at home has grown. Not every student has internet access, let alone a computer. And, in some places, like rural Alaska, teachers may not have access to the internet. Read on for a few ways to stay connected with all of your students.
Note: Some of the suggestions are teacher-dependent, while others require changes at the district level. Teachers have consistently fought for the rights of their students and that doesn’t change now. The key is to track student data and engagement and test different tactics. Then, find ways where resources might be reallocated to ensure that all students have equal access to quality education, a right that every student deserves.
Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that if one’s basic needs aren’t met—think food, shelter, water—the rest of their needs will also not be met. For students who normally get sustenance and safety at school, they may have shifted their focus to survival.
Dr. Tracey Benson, ED L.D., a racial equity consultant, author, and professor at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, describes students as fitting into three levels of a prevention system. The bottom tier comprises most of the students, about 80%. These students will be able to thrive at home and work on the curriculum. The middle tier consists of about 15% of students, who will need just some intervention during this time. The top tier contains only 3-5% of students and they will need intensive intervention. Work with your school to make sure that students in the middle and top tier are getting the support they warrant, both when it comes to basic daily needs as well as modified expectations.
Change expectations and assignments
Not all students are able to do virtual learning. They may not have technology access. They may not have the time or needed support. For these students, work to vary expectations and assignments. Structure school work so that it aligns with their day-to-day lives. Consider a life-skills class, health class, cooking, or even sewing. As one teacher noted on the WeAreTeachers Facebook page, not all learning has to do with a state standard.
In other more rural states, students may not have the time to focus on schoolwork. Some may have to shift their focus to providing food and basic needs for the house and family.
“When I made calls home recently, I could only talk briefly with two students because they were told to go ice fishing by their parents,” says Andrew West, a secondary teacher at William Miller Memorial School in rural Alaska. “Another was gathering firewood to heat their home. Students would have to do subsistence if old enough, or watch their younger siblings and care for the house while the parents go out hunting or fishing.”
Opt for feedback, not grades
Some districts are opting to not teach anything new in this virtual fourth quarter, and instead are only working on reviews of the past curriculum. Students can complete any missing work from the previous quarter to improve their grade, but will not see any decline in their grade for this last quarter. Many districts are getting rid of grades all together for the rest of the year, and are looking at any virtual work as either pass/fail for completion or are simply offering feedback.
The idea is that students have a zero percent failure rate with this new virtual approach, says Benson.
Schedule deliveries and pick-ups
If you have the means, deliver packets to students. Included printed worksheets and books for a few weeks, plus something a little fun. Think a small snack, a self-addressed envelope so your students can write you letters, or a personal note.
Alternatively, talk to your school about having pick-up times at the schools for supplies and materials. Get a few large bins that can live outside the school entrance, label the bins for each class and student with materials that they can pick up on their own time. These bins can also contain meals and snacks, as well.
Check out hotspots and computers
If only a few students are lacking internet or data, think about creating a list of free Wi-Fi spots around town (like grocery stores and fast-food restaurants) or implore your school to provide hotspots or check-out chromebooks to various students. See if your district can expand their Wi-Fi boundaries so that students can sit in a courtyard or work at the sport’s field’s bleachers.
Teach time management and organization
Most homes are not designed to be a school. And most students have never had to work fully online before, so start teaching there, recommends Benson. Talk about what makes a good workspace and brainstorm with kids about where in their homes they could work.
As some students become busy with watching siblings or keeping house, work with them individually to figure out how much schoolwork is appropriate for them to take on, and when and where they can do that. Perhaps that means simply reading for 20 minutes before bed, finishing a quick math worksheet, and that’s enough. Or maybe instead of doing daily school work, set up individual phone calls for certain students. Instead of having them turn in worksheets, you can have a conversation about the material and discuss from there.
Think about privacy
For students that do have access to the internet but are hesitant or absent at virtual meetings, talk about how to create different backgrounds. Students still merit privacy, and that means privacy from video calls that might be able to see into their house or hear things in the background. Try collecting headphones from the community for any students who need some for privacy and a quieter workspace.
Get feedback from students and parents
To really understand what is working and what is not, send out weekly surveys to both students and their parents. If they are doing virtual learning without the internet, how can you help them. If they are able to get online, find out what’s working and if students need additional support. Use the feedback from surveys to differentiate learning as the weeks go on, says Benson. Make sure to translate any survey questions for any families and parents who need it.