Distance Education – Part 2: Teaching Very Young Learners Online

As a parent and a teacher of very young learners, I know that a lot of teachers are struggling with educating our young learners. Especially preschool teachers are looking for different ways to educate and guide our precious little ones. I’ve seen very good examples and I’ve seen room for improvement. I have struggled myself and made mistakes, but I’ve learned from them. Those lessons I want to pass on to others.

Know your age group

With preschoolers/KG and even 1st grade students , you have an age group that doesn’t tend to be known for their long attention span. They might also have some difficulties with impulse control. They also need guidance from a parent to control a tablet/computer or phone. In this age group the children develop their skills often in different learning lines. Keeping these things in mind when planning your distance learning plan.

Small groups

Since the attention span is short, you should make small groups so that each child can get to talk and get the attention it deserves. Yes this means you will have to teach some lessons several times, but it is worth it. Smaller groups also mean that you can teach lessons a bit more according to the individual needs of the children.

Parents

Since the assistance of parents is crucial in the kids participation to your lessons, I would strongly advice to include them in the planning. Ask them which moments are most suitable and form your groups according their planning. Try to keep their participation to a minimum. For example control the microphone of the children so the parents don’t need to sit next to them and tell them to be quiet. Inform them on time if they need material for a project or try to use material that most people have around the house since it isn’t always easy to go shopping during lockdown. Try to keep the communication simple and through 1 channel.

Easy access

Make it easy to access the distance learning program. Make sure you have fixed login credentials. Make a short manual which shows how to access. Use a program that is accessible through different platforms (cellphone, laptop, tablet). The young child will need help from a parent or even an older brother or sister to access so lets make it as easy as possible for them without putting their safety at risk of course. Do not use open meeting rooms without a password that everybody with a bit of IT knowledge can find and access. I’ve heard so many stories where a stranger all of the sudden turned up in an online class.

Be prepared

I can’t stress it enough know your technology. Do a trail run to see if the game you invented is suitable for the program you are using and the age group that you are teaching. Make sure you know how to mute microphones. Next to that have your material ready. Don’t let kids wait while you scroll through your files to find the one you want to show them. Inform the parents in advance so they have any needed material ready.

Activities

Keep your activities short and be prepared. Make sure you have your material ready. Young children don’t like to wait while you scroll through your PowerPoint to get to the point where you left of last time or until you open the document you need. When doing talking activities, let each child take turns and close the microphones of the others. Doing active exercises is a great idea but make sure the parents are prepared. If you ask the kids to go look for a red toy make sure that they have access to their toys. A simple message to the parents will prepare them. I prefer to do “circle time” so the standard starting of the day questions followed by a 1 minute story and questions or a small game. After that I explain what the assignment(s) of that day/ week is/are. I will make a list of games that can easily be played in

Assignments

The assignments should be done without the assistance of parents as much as possible. Keep in mind that parents often work from home in these difficult times and that they don’t have a lot of time left to guide their kids. Again make sure that the material is easily accessible or available in the most houses. I can’t repeat it enough prepare the parents. Warn them when you need material. Ask if they have access to a printer. If not offer to print it and have it ready for pick up at the school or give them a packet with material when you do a door to door visit of your students.

Silly/active assignments

Honestly I’ve heard a lot of complaints and a lot of compliments about silly or active assignments. These assignments are often activities that require filming or other participation from the parents. Some parents love them, others hate them. I would look at your students and parents, ask for their feedback and don’t make these assignments obligated if you don’t need them to evaluate the students. It is always a good idea to let the parents know why you give a certain assignment. If they are just for fun, then you let the parents know and tell them that you would love it if they would do the assignment with the child, but that it isn’t obligated.

House visits

Some of my colleagues have done very creative and fun alternative house visits. The options depend on the lock-down measures that are in place of course. You could meet in the park for some sport and games. In this case you could maybe even invite 2 or 3 students at the same time. You could also just meet at the door, deliver some material and play a little game with them. A window visit is the same principle only then the kids stay inside and you stay outside. Pick a game that guarantees social distancing, but that also helps you to evaluate the students gross motor skills. Take the time for these visits. Yes it requires a lot of planning but they will help you bound with your student.

I hope these tips are helpful for you. Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Distance Education – part 1 : General Guidelines

In my inbox I got a message from an ex colleague asking me for advice on starting up distance education in her school. TEFL/ESL lessons where put on hold for her school and she needs to come up with a plan to also integrate the English lessons into the distance education plan. Instead of only giving her advice I want to help all of you as well. I’m trying to give this advice not only as a teacher, but also as a parent. I also asked fellow teachers and other parents their vision. In this first article I will go over some general guidelines. These are points that I find important not only for efficient distance teaching but also for maintaining a bond with your students and their parents.

A. Personal Contact

Personal contact 1 on 1 with students and also with parents is greatly appreciated. Phone the parents and ask how the child is doing not only with the study material, but how is his mood in general, can the parents still cope with it all,… It will take a few minutes of your time but it shows your commitment.

Arranging personal contact between peers as well, instead of using online time for teaching (I will come to the teaching part later) use it for group discussions or an online game that you would normally play in the classroom even a singalong or dancing together and acting silly creates the bond that they miss when being away from school.

B. Know your technology

If you use a program to communicate with your students or for an online quiz, make sure that you know how to use the program before going online with your students. Have a practice run with your colleagues. Not only does that prevent that tech-savvy kids mess around with you or make fun of you, it also helps to make a professional impression towards the students and their parents.

Also make sure that the program used is known by parents and students and provide a simple step-by-step tutorial to guide them. Of course the selection of the program and content needs to be safe and age appropriate. You can find many reviews online, but in another article I will let you in on my favorite programs and websites.

C. Time management and planning

Of course you need to plan your lessons, but you also need to keep in consideration their other lessons and other teachers. Make sure you know the online schedule if your class has sessions with teachers on Monday morning, Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning, then plan your time on Tuesday or Thursday don’t insist on Monday afternoon.

Help your students to plan their work, make a clear list of tasks and when you expect it to be finished. A list to tick off works very well with most students. It is also a good idea to divide it into main work and extra work. Take a critical look. Don’t overload them with loads of work, don’t forget that their parents most likely will have to help them while working from home. Try to find a balance.

On the same note I would advise that you plan ahead. You can give your students instructions for a week, but plan the work ahead for a month so that you can print material for a month in case you must print material for your students. Let go of your monthly and yearly plan because you can’t expect students to work at the same pace as they do in class.

D. Clear instructions

Make sure that the instructions are easy to understand. For younger students you can use the symbols that you also use in class to show what they have to do (scissors to represent cut etc). Instead of giving your students live instructions, make a video or use a program that can capture your live instructions. That way they can look at it several times in case they don’t understand or in case they forgot.

Instructions are preferably given in English. This is after all an English lesson. Following instructions is also excellent for language development. In a video that shouldn’t be a problem but if you write them down, you might need to write a separate note for parents in their mother tongue in case they don’t know English. Don’t put them on the same page, because some students will just skip the English instructions and read in their mother tongue.

E. Selection of assignments

Select your material wisely. Keep in mind that although they have workbooks, it might not be easy to look every session in 4 different workbooks, do 2 printed worksheets and go on a website to do an online assignment. If you need to include work from different workbooks then either show in a video which pages in which books they need to cover exactly or another option is to just cover 1 book 1 week and another book another week. In any case you must be incredibly detailed and clear when explaining what they need to do. Keep also in mind that it is not possible for students to produce the same amount of work at home alone as they would do in the classroom under your supervision.

Don’t forget your students who normally receive extra material whether it is because their level is more evolved, because of special needs or because they need more attention on certain fields. Don’t forget about them and create a personal path for them with extra or even completely other exercises.

Another point there is that you need to keep in mind that with the assignment that you give is the options of the students. Not everybody has a printer at home so if printing is required than you must find a way for all your students to be able to have the material. You can print them for them and make sure they can pick it up or have it delivered to them. You can give them alternatives as well. It might not be a bad idea to do a small survey to see who can print material and who can’t.

Avoid assignments that require a lot of different or very specific materials. Most parents don’t have a whole bunch of materials at home to choose from. Try to think of materials that almost everybody has at home and give several options to complete the task.

F. Unified communication

Agree on a shared platform of communication that all teachers use to communicate the assignments to the students as well as a way to do the online lessons. On the same note try to communicate once a week that week tasks and the times of online activities. It is for students and parents hard if they need to look on several different communication channels to find all the different information. They are bound to miss crucial information. Not to mention all the different passwords that they need to remember. If there is a tradition of using several different platforms and not all parents are committed to one platform then send the same information once a week to all of the platforms.

These are already a starting points. In the next articles I will go over technology and give more concrete teaching ideas and even some lesson plans.