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LiveSchool 101: Happy Teachers, Engaged Students, and Better Data
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While no one knows how long schools will be closed due to COVID-19, we do know that for the foreseeable future, at-home learning is necessary. We have compiled a list of resources for learning at home for teachers, parents, and students.

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We want to start off by recognizing that these are uncertain times. Schools are closing, vulnerable students and families are at risk, and the idea that students will learn virtually when they have never before can be overwhelming. If LiveSchool can help you, your school, or your students in any way, please let us know. 

We know you had many plans for students – lessons, field trips, celebrations, and more. The coming weeks will be tough because of all the moments you won’t get to have with students. Maintaining relationships with your students can be challenging over the internet, but we know one thing – strong teacher-student relationships positively affect student engagement and outcomes so lean into those relationships when you begin your virtual classroom. We will all get through this, and come back with our strongest relationships yet.

In this blog post, we share the best resources, advice, and plans we have found to help you begin and maintain virtual learning. The blog is written to teachers, but if you are an administrator, a parent, or a student looking for advice on how to learn at-home this resource will be helpful for you as well.

Four steps to start at-home virtual learning

Repeat after me – keep it simple. We reached out to some of our teacher friends ranging from novice to highly-experienced in the virtual learning community. One thing rang true - as you begin this journey - keep it simple and take it one day at a time. 

We recommend taking these four steps to begin your virtual learning journey: 

  1. Understand the capabilities of your students.
  2. Keep what you already use. Add only what you really need.
  3. Plan your (virtual) lessons.
  4. Invite your students and parents to your virtual class.

Read on to learn how to implement these four steps.

Understand the capabilities of your students.

Students and families rely on the services that schools provide. This can be a daunting time for families, caregivers, and school staff alike. There is no one size fits all approach but one thing is for certain, if you are going to teach virtually, you need to know the environment in which your students will be joining you virtually.  

We recommend using Google Forms to send out a survey to your students and their families to learn about their home environment and how it pertains to learning. Questions could include: 

  • What type of device (laptop, tablet, phone, desktop) if any do you have access to at home? 
  • Do you have access to the internet at home? 
  • If yes, please take this speed test and enter your results. 
  • Do you have access to food for every meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner)? 
  • Do you have a place in your home where you can join virtual lessons without distractions? 
  • Do you or someone in your family need help setting up your technology? 
  • Up to date contact information for students and parents, including email and phone.

Consider how you will ensure that families without a computer or internet access at home can use the plans and resources you’re offering. You might offer printed resources in addition to online learning suggestions, and ensure that as many online resources as possible are accessible with just a smartphone. 

Decide as soon as possible who will be responsible for what types of IT support, and how they will be reachable by students, families, and staff. Make sure all of your stakeholders know how to reach out for support.

Important update: Comcast and Spectrum are each offering two-months of free internet access for families in need.

Keep what you already use. Add only what you really need.

Now is not the time to implement a million new online resources. Your students need consistency now more than ever and consistency is especially important in virtual learning. Start by using the Learning Management System (LMS) you already have in place. If you do not have an LMS yet, we recommend Google Classroom. Here are a few more essential digital resources to build your virtual learning foundation:

  • Pick a Learning Management System (LMS)

Google Classroom is the most popular LMS in the US. Google Classroom has slides, assignments, handouts, tests, grading tools, connection to parents, and streaming. We recommend Google Classroom as your LMS. Not convinced? Watch a tutorial here by Jennie Magiera, Global Head of Education Impact at Google. 

If Google is just not your thing, Moodle is another Classroom Platform option.

  • Pick a virtual group meeting place

Google Classroom has Hangout MeetsZoom Meeting just announced free subscriptions for teachers. Skype in the Classroom is a more international platform that works well. Choose one of these options and you will be in great shape for all class meetings and leading a lesson in real time.

  • Pick a place to turn in work

Google Classroom has assignments, a grade book, and feedbackSeesaw is a great way to share assignments and get feedback. Flipgrid is a cool engagement and accountability tool that lets teachers set topics or questions for students to respond to via video. 

Worth noting: we noticed a lot of teachers use Google Classroom and Flipgrid in their classrooms. Consider pairing these two tools! 

Plan your (virtual) lessons.

It is just as important for you to lesson plan for your virtual classes as it is for your in-person lessons! Not a ton has to change here and you should always submit in a format that works for you (or your administrator) but we found some helpful resources to show you how virtual teachers have been planning! 

Check out this virtual lesson instruction model. We love this resource because it is specific to online lesson planning and breaks down the tools you can use for all five lesson elements! We also liked Cornell University's Center for Teaching Innovations planning remote teaching protocol.

Schools in China have been teaching virtually for over a month and it is worth taking some tips to help plan your lessons! Here are some interesting tips: 

  • Classes are asynchronous, meaning teachers post assignments and pre-recorded lessons and students complete work at different times.
  • Most teachers have at least three live classes each week in addition to the asynchronous classes. This helps build community in the class, engages students, and makes the learning more interactive. Some teachers have found it more effective to teach live classes daily.
  • As much as possible, assign students tasks that get them up and moving and away from their devices. Have students complete some assignments on paper, taking a picture of their completed work, and uploading the photo to submit the task.
  • Teachers all have daily three-hour office hour shifts. They log into the LMS and are visible as “online” for any student visiting the page. This enables students to contact a teacher for help as they’re doing their schoolwork, and it helps our teachers maintain regular schedules.
  • Set up weekly professional development sessions for teachers using LMS with consistent start and end times. Agendas are developed by instructional leadership teams and distributed to teachers in advance.

Extra credit: We really loved reading these remote learning guides. They helped us wrap our brains around how at-home learning can and will work for you and your students! 

Invite your students and parents to class.

This seems like a no-brainer but when we started working remotely at LiveSchool this was something our team overlooked and quickly changed! When you are not all in the same place, you are less likely to make and keep meetings, brainstorm, and get feedback – we quickly realized that these planned interactions are essential for learning and growth! 

We don’t want you to make the same mistake. Here are some great logistic and operational ideas for at-home learning: 

  • Set a time for virtual lessons to start and stop

It does not have to be all day, but choosing and sticking to a time of day that lesson's will be held and students can connect is crucial to maintaining consistency and making your student's feel safe. As Josh Starr said, "Kids are always learning. What they're learning right now is how adults respond." This is a teachable moment to make a plan, keep the plan, and follow through consistently for your kids.

  • Update your classroom rules and guidelines for virtual learning.

Virtual learning is different from in-person learning. What do you want to make sure your students and your parents know about your rules and guidelines for virtual learning? Do you want to make sure your students are sitting up right? Do you want them to bring your classroom rules home? Think through how your class rules and guidelines will change. This at-home learning pledge is a great example of how a school shares rules and guidelines with their virtual students! 

  • Send out your new classroom rules for students and parents to sign.

Now that you have new rules and guidelines, make sure you share them with students and parents. Teach them to your students. Ask parents to sign them, just like you would at the beginning of the year. You can use a tool like DocuSign (sign up for the free trial). Great! Now everyone is on the same page and virtual learning can begin! 

  • Send Calendar Invites to all students and parents.

Let's make this official! If you are using Google Classroom as your LMS you can send a google cal invite and Include a daily agenda and links for the lesson so everyone is on the same page! 

Essential resources for the virtual professional  

There are a lot of resources available for the virtual teacher but one thing we noticed... they were mostly about students! Students are your number one priority, but as the leader of the class, if you are not happy and healthy it is going to be hard to keep your students engaged – virtually or not! 

One of our team’s favorite professional resources is a 2019 New York Times article called How to Work from Home. Now that you, dear teacher, are working from home we hope it helps you create balance in your day. 

We also think joining online learning communities is a great way to stay connected! Check out community groups like Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning, Amazing Educational Resources, and Online Teaching Tips for the Plague-Averse

High-quality content for students 

We’ve found that the following sites offer high-quality content (and most are fully accessible via smartphone):

All subjects

Reading/English Language Arts

Math

Writing

Science

Current Events/Social Studies

Engaging students and parents 

This is a BIG one and we want to make sure engaging students and parents is high on your priority list. Your in-person plans to engage students – PBIS, token economies, behavior incentives – might need to be switched up but do not abandon these awesome systems! They engaged your students and created connection with your parents, and they will continue to play that same role virtually! 

If you are using this guide, you have already made sure you have up to date contact information for students and parents in your class (see Understand the capabilities of your families survey) and you have chosen an LMS with meeting capabilities for your class (re:Google Hangout, Zoom, or Skype). On top of this, it is SO IMPORTANT to continue to engage your students and their families in learning. Do this consistently and appropriately. And remember – this is the fun part!

There are a few avenues you can mix and match to engage, 

  • Forums, or online discussion tools, are a cool way to get your class to connect!

Creating a classroom community where meaningful conversations can happen isn’t easy but forums are a great way to encourage conversations to begin! Plus, the ability to engage responsibly in online discussion is a 21st-century skill all students need. Some free forums we recommend are Yo Teach and Kialo

  • Remind is a secure and safe way to connect with students and parents.

If you find yourself two way messaging your class and parents a lot consider Remind! They make communication management easy for teachers. It’s free and super user-friendly.

Digital behavior systems make learning fun by incentivizing positive behaviors. Give students points for following your new virtual learning rules and guidelines! When they earn enough points, celebrate those students virtually with these reward ideas.

Don't forget, when you are communicating with families, make sure you are sharing any resources available in your community to support childcare, meals, and other supplies while schools are closed. Let them know how they can access home learning resources and how they’ll be able to ask questions about them while schools are closed.

Finally, encourage families to think about how they’ll structure learning at home. Creating a daily schedule (see Invite students to Class) will help make sure that this transition to at-home learning is less stressful!

The coolest ideas for virtual learning we have seen so far

We will update this section with new ideas as we get them. Want to submit an idea of your own to share with the world? Tweet us @whyliveschool and we will feature you here and on socials!

  • Visit famous museums all over the world from home!  
  • Your most interesting friends are working from home now – what a great opportunity for a Special Guest Speaker via Google Hangout! 
  • Kahoot is offering free access to its platform 
  • Get kids to build their own virtual learning platform to showcase the things they care about. A student in Nashville built a google site called CampKids!!! to help out the at-home school community when schools closed. Check it out!
  • Scholastic is offering free resources from their learn from home platform 
  • Some schools are encouraging students to take frequent breaks to do mini-exercises like a minute of jumping jacks. For elementary students, try Go Noodle for some fun mixed in with exercise. For Middle and High School students, work physical fitness into the day with Fitness Blender
  • A resource for when you are teaching from home but also have kids!
  • This New Orleans Art Teacher is posting daily lessons to YouTube. Subscribe here!
  • Schoology’s video on how to use virtual learning during emergencies
  • Pear Deck’s free add-on for Google Slides is a cool way to keep presentations engaging
  • Counselor Kari's post on Helping Kids Who are Worried about Coronavirus
  • Canva launched a free education product (C4Edu) that helps students create posters, infographics, websites, presentations, reports and more with simple drag-and-drop. Check out their overview video!
  • A first-grade class recently had a homework assignment where students needed to describe a pet. One boy’s mother video recorded him while he used descriptive language to introduce the audience to his two cats. Students can also write and perform plays, or create and cook recipes and conduct interviews, and submit these assignments through video.

Resources to explore

Here are a few resources that might be helpful once you have established an at-home learning routine for yourself and your students: 

Stay safe and ask for help

We are here to help! Have a question? Need an idea? Reach out to us at LiveSchool, we are standing by.

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