How parents can help with schools’ distance learning

Cash Heter, 7, participating in theater practice with his class for the 'Wizard of Oz.' Courtesy of Brendie Heter

Distance learning is the new norm for the fall. 

That was decided over the course of the last few weeks here locally while schools and districts around the country grapple with decisions. 

And there are a number of things parents can do to ensure the experience students have at home is akin to one they would have within a classroom, according to a number of school districts and education experts. 

Live instruction

The William S. Hart Union High School District, along with the elementary school districts within the Santa Clarita Valley, have said their plan is to simulate a classroom experience by following a number of key characteristics that would be found within a traditional learning setting. 

The following characteristics will be included in the virtual classroom: 

There will be a districtwide platform for instructional delivery

Consistency in rigorous classwork

Required “live” interaction in every class between teachers and students

There will be increased accountability in the form of attendance and assignment-checking 

Teachers will be teaching from course materials that they may have normally used

These things will be able to provide structure and a sense of normalcy for students while they learn through the lens of an electronic screen. 

How to make your home a classroom

The Newhall School District has been one of the districts leading the charge on how to teach parents to ensure their students are making the most of their distance learning. 

The district, through the help of a parent and district staff commission, has created a three-category guide to informing parents on what the best practices are moving forward.

The first section of the Newhall School District “Parent Support Digital Learning Best Practices” guide, labeled Learning Environments and Routines, provides six points to parents that they believe parents would benefit from following. 

The points range from creating a daily routine, to creating a quiet learning environment free from distractions, making sure the student has the necessary supplies and checking-in with their students or students’ teachers on a weekly basis. 

“We realize that everybody’s living areas are different, and there could be multiple children that need to work in a common area,” said Dee Jamison, NSD’s assistant superintendent of instructional services. “Maybe tonight at dinnertime that’s where you eat dinner, but that is your space right now and, hopefully, TV is not blasting or music is not on.” 

Jamison said it’s also important for students to have their pencils, scissors, gluesticks and anything they’ll need for the day readily available to them. 

“In the classroom, (there’s) a desk, they have a chair, they have their supplies and they have their learning materials,” said Jamison. “But whatever it is (within the home), during the day, when it’s school time, that should be the learning space.” 

The second section for the Newhall School District’s guide is titled “Curriculum and Instruction” and asks parents to be supportive and yet allow for productive struggle. And throughout the distance learning experience, parents are advised to monitor the completion of student work each day. 

“We’re going to have a daily template that teachers will be creating that the parents can look at and they can see, at a glance, what’s happening in each of these content areas today,” said Jamison. 

In the final section for the NSD parent guide, “Parent Engagement” is highlighted, with parents being asked to provide technological support, keep an open dialogue with their student’s teacher. 

Using the template created by the teachers, parents can set goals with their kids that help them achieve their academic benchmarks. 

“They can set goals for their children, (because) some things students are going to have a fairly strong handle on and other things they may have a bit more of a struggle,” said Jamison, adding that parents should ask their students “what do you want to accomplish this week as you’re looking at your instruction?”

Jamison said that by following the guide and keeping in contact with their student’s teachers, the parents and district can provide the students with an appropriate student experience. 

Tuning out distractions is one thing parents can play a big role in that will help their students succeed.

High school students

Kathy Hunter, the assistant superintendent of educational services for the William S. Hart Union High School District, cited a number of ideas she had seen that were appropriate for the students approaching distance learning that were older than elementary school-age. 

While a number of the same tenants still apply for the older kids, such as finding a quiet place, letting the rest of the family know it’s time for school and being prepared for class by having all the materials downloaded and in front of you before the beginning of class, Hunter had a suggestion that parents of kids with cellphones ensure the device does not distract them. 

“Turn off your ringer and vibrate function to avoid the temptation to pick up your mobile phone,” read Hunter’s suggestion. “Remember to pause all text and app notifications to limit distractions. Better yet, turn your phone off unless you’re using it to attend class.”

And while younger students may have varying levels of interest in their online classroom experience, older kids especially should be treating their classes like normal class.

“Pay attention to the lectures, and do your assignments,” read Hunter’s list of suggestions  for parents.”Finally, deadlines are still deadlines. Complete your work on time and respect your fellow students’ and educators’ time during online classes.”

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