PARENTS' GUIDE TO DISTANCE LEARNING

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WE ARE ALWAYS LEARNING!

Distance learning presents us all with formidable challenges. We are all learning how to do things differently for a while. Across our community of students, teachers and staff there is a wide range of comfort with technology. Even very digitally-savvy young people may struggle with educational technology. Many important aspects of learning at mASD may not transfer easily to online environments. These tips synthesize what schools around the world have been learning. Students, teachers and families must adapt to a rapid and unexpected pivot towards distance learning.

Through set professional development days recently mASD teachers were able to hone and improve their skills across a wide range of areas to set them up for  continued distance learning under the current environment. Among the activities included a session outlining guidance and tricks for making inspiring and instructional videos, as well as sessions focused on motivating students and helping them to better collaborate online.

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Teachers were also able to: learn new tools to increase students’ self-sufficiency and self-management in learning; develop time-saving processes and forms to monitor student learning, manage feedback and reduce workflow demands; and create more tiered strategies for setting and achieving learning goals.

This guidance can help us all make the best of new and sometimes unfamiliar distance learning environments. It can help you be ready for some of the more practical aspects of learning from home.

DISTANCE LEARNING TIPS

1. Establish routines and expectations
It is important to develop good habits from the start. Create a flexible routine and talk about how it’s working over time. Chunk your days into predictable segments. Help students get up, get dressed and ready to learn at a reasonable time. Everybody make your bed! Keep normal bedtime routines, including normal rules for digital devices. Adjust schedules to meet everyone’s needs but don’t default to staying up late and sleeping in.

2. Choose a good place to learn
Your family’s regular learning space for occasional homework might not work for extended periods. Set up a physical location that’s dedicated to school-focused activities. Make sure it is quiet, free from distractions and has a good internet connection. Make sure an adult monitors online learning. Keep doors open, and practice good digital safety. Our teachers, counsellors and safeguarding teams will do the same.

3. Stay in touch
Teachers will mainly be communicating regularly through our online platforms and virtual learning environments. Make sure everyone knows how to find the help they need to be successful. Stay in contact with classroom and support teachers, school leaders and counselors, but understand it may take a day or two for us to respond. If you have concerns, let someone know.

4. Help students ‘own’ their learning
No one expects parents to be full-time teachers or to be educational and content matter experts. Provide support and encouragement, and expect your children to do their part. Struggling is allowed and encouraged! Don’t help too much. Becoming independent takes lots of practice. At mASD, your child usually engages with others students and any number of adults hundreds of times each day. Many of these social interactions will continues from a distance, but they will be different. You cannot replace them all, and that’s OK.

5. Begin and end the day by checking-in
In the morning, you might ask:
• What classes/subject do you have today?
• Do you have any assessments?
• How will you spend your time?
• What resources do you need?
• What can I do to help?

At the end of the day you might ask:
• How far did you get in your learning tasks today?
• What did you discover? What was hard?
• What could we do to make tomorrow better?

These brief grounding conversations matter. Checking in with students to process instructions they received from their teachers, and it helps them organize themselves and set priorities – older students too. Not all students thrive in distance learning; some struggle with too much independence or lack of structure. These check-in routines can help avoid later challenges and disappointments. They help students develop self-management and executive functioning that are essential skills for life. Parents are good life coaches.

6. Establish times for quiet and reflection
For families with children of different ages, and parents who may also be unexpectedly working from home more often, it’s good to build in some time for peace and quiet. Siblings may need to work in different rooms to avoid distraction. Many families will need to negotiate access to devices, priorities for wi-fi bandwidth and schedules throughout the day. Noise-cancelling headphones are an idea. And one day a week is already planned for independent, low-stress learning. Reading is fundamental.

7. Encourage physical activity and exercise
Living and working at home, we will all need some room to let off steam. Moving (independently and together as a family) is vital to health, wellbeing, and readiness for learning. It’s a great opportunity to practice exercising ‘alone together’ with digital workouts and online instructors. Set new fitness goals and plan hands-on, life-ready activities that keep hands busy, feet moving, and minds engaged. You may want to think about how your children can pitch in more around the house with chores or other responsibilities. Now’s a good time to think about increasing personal responsibility and pitching in.

8. Manage stress and make the most of an unusual situation
We are going through a time of major upheaval to our normal routines and ways of life, and there’s a great deal of anxiety in the world right now. Emotions may be running high, and children may be worried or fearful. Parents may be stressed as well and children are often keenly aware of trouble. Children benefit when they get age-appropriate factual information and ongoing reassurance from trusted adults. We have put in place layers of support for mASD students, so please don’t hesitate to contact your child’s teacher, school leader or support team if you needs assistance or advice. In these circumstances, it’s often possible to reframe challenges as opportunities: for spending time together, discovering new ideas and interests, investing energy and attention in activities that often get pushed aside by everyday tasks and responsibilities. Experts advise that it’s a good idea to slow down, find beauty, enjoy unexpected benefits, and express gratitude by helping others. The strength of mASD’s community will help see us through.

9. Monitor time on-screen and online
Distance learning does not mean staring at computer screens seven and half hours every day. Teachers will aim to build in variety, but it will require some trial and error before everyone finds balance between online and close-space offline learning experiences. Work together to find ways to prevent ‘down time’ from becoming just more ‘screen time’.

10. Connect safely with friends, and be kind
The initial excitement of school being closed will fade quickly when students start missing their friends, classmates, and teachers. Help your children maintain contact with friends through social media and other online technologies. But monitor your child’s social media use. Remind your child to be polite, respectful and appropriate in their communications, and to follow school guidelines in their interactions with others. Report unkindness and other problems so that everyone maintains healthy relationships and positive interactions.