The COVID-19 social-distancing measures have forced educators to rapidly adjust their means of building and delivering lessons. With many schools providing one-to-one technology, teachers have been able to send lessons to students on a regular basis. Unfortunately, most classroom teachers have not had much training in distance learning, and they are quickly realizing that it is nothing like what they know in the classroom. 

Know Your Classroom

In today’s classrooms, students come with a variety of skills and deficits. Teachers have to design their lessons to fill the deficits and help students achieve preset state and national standards. As a classroom teacher with 25 years of experience in the classroom, the best method of doing this has changed. Even with all of the technology at our fingertips, students need to have time to build relationships with their teachers. Because of this, classroom teachers often use time during each class to build and fortify those relationships. 

Now that classrooms are closed, relationships have stalled. Zoom and Google Meet sessions help with some of it, but those platforms do not replace face-to-face interactions. And, students who have limited access to robust internet struggle to attend online sessions and miss out on much needed interaction with their teachers. 

Recognizing the Stress of the Time

During the COVID-19 shutdown, high school teachers – especially those who work with at-risk students – should consider giving instruction and assignments in small doses. While expectations for teachers vary around the country, the emotions their students do not. We are all struggling to find a sense of normalcy and giving long, complicated, and overwhelming classwork only adds to students’ stress levels. 

Don’t Overwhelm Students

To help students keep their skills sharp, teachers should consider giving their students small assignments only a few days per week. In a typical high school, students usually have six classes that are about 50 minutes long. But, in those classes, that 50 minutes is often broken up into small tasks, because research shows that students do not spend all of that time working on lengthy assignments. During a classroom session, they often have small tasks, like bell work, listening to the lesson, reflection, interaction with peers, short assignments, and formative assessments. 

Consider the high school student who has been involved in classrooms like this for years. Even though they are familiar with attending six classes each day, they have their physical classroom teachers to help them manage their workloads. When in school, they can focus on school. But, at home, the focus changes. Yes, the teacher is there, but is only accessible through email or learning management systems like Google Classroom. It is far from the same. And, many students who are home have to help take care of young siblings, and some are our essential workers stocking grocery shelves or manning takeout windows. They are not focused on school. 

Easy to Explain and Easy to Understand

To help students succeed in this new educational world, teachers should only give assignments in small doses. Rather than all six classes slamming students with work each day, departments can choose one or two days per week to give assignments that require no more than 30 minutes of time per day. The assignments should have limited steps, so students can do the work on their own. In reality, if your explanation for the task exceeds the student requirements for the task, then you should rethink what you are assigning. Your tasks should be easy to explain, and easy to understand. 

When overwhelmed, today’s students often shut down and do nothing. It is easier to avoid tasks then to fail at them. So, if we want students to continue doing work, we need to consider their emotional state and their time. Small assignments that focus on necessary tasks are the only things that should be given. 

Compassion Helps

Many students do not have home lives that lend themselves to doing work at home. What were your homework turn-in rates prior to the shutdown? Those aren’t going to magically change now that we are home all day. Of course, students who are already internally motivated will do assignments that you give them. They want to please you, and they will do the work even if they are stressed while doing it. 

But, in this uncertain time, teachers need to be compassionate and realistic. Yes, the skills we teach are vital – students need to practice reading, writing, doing math, etc., but they do not need to do it all, every single day for several hours at a time.