How to Maximize Virtual Learning: Tips and Strategies

As culminating assessments are submitted and final marks tabulated, a process of reflection on learning in a COVID-19 world is underway for many educators, students, and parents.

What lessons have been learned in the three-and-a-half-month period during which the global pandemic radically impacted the way teachers teach and the way students learn?

“There has to be some flexibility and creativity involved in this kind of learning,” says Frank Trentadue ’84, Director of Student Affairs at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS). “I think this has shown me more than ever that there is a definite need to include aspects of social-emotional learning into our curriculum.”

What does that mean?

“It is not always about the content of courses,” Trentadue continues. “Sometimes teaching the student more about himself is much more valuable than what he can learn from textbooks or from google.”

SMCS teacher using technology to aid in her virtual learning math lesson.


TIPS FOR PARENTS

Having spent more than 20 years as a classroom teacher, almost 10 years as a guidance counsellor and the last three years in his current position overseeing Student Affairs, comprised of Guidance, the Learning Enrichment Centre, and the Odette Library, Trentadue shares this accumulated knowledge and experience through a variety of strategies and tips --- beginning with parents:

We are going through a pandemic. This is serious. The need to look for the same content, the same grades, the same expectations and so on to keep kids on track pales in comparison to the seriousness of a pandemic. 

Keep kids on track by being critical and intentional about what is happening around them. They must be expected to do ‘something’ and that is what is important. Not the content of that ‘something’. When that ‘something’ includes self-reflection, it is even better.

There is more input from families and caregivers than ever because they are more actively involved in learning than ever. With families, connecting the home to the school learning environments will be important. Validating it both as critically important and emphasizing the value of working together will be key.

TIPS FOR EDUCATORS

The primacy of relationships: This is an opportunity to pause, reflect, and decide how we want to move forward. The classroom isn’t just a place to learn about math and science. The classroom is where students can learn how to express themselves, develop important social skills, and build connections in a community that can last a lifetime.

St. Michael's College School students use tablets in classroom and while virtual learning at home.


ABOUT ENGAGEMENT

A classroom community will keep students engaged because each class has its own sense of community for each.

Aside from helping students to develop critical interpersonal skills, a strong classroom community can also improve academic achievement. When kids are engaged in class, they are more willing to learn. It is as simple as that.

As we adjust to the present remote learning environment, teachers, parents, and students will need to find new ways to maintain a sense of community.

ON MOTIVATION

Finding ways to get kids to connect the content of the class to the real world will be the challenge. This raises the significance of the Community and Learning Partnerships programme at SMCS.

Knowledge of content is quickly attained in a ‘google world’ but allowing a biology student to see a live surgery is engaging.

Examples: 

  • Getting the writers in the school to go through the process of publishing material even if it is a school publication.
     
  • Creating home projects and permitting students to make mistakes will do wonders for their development. A failed or successful baking experiment might teach the value of measurement. The failed or successful building project might teach the value of planning. In and around all of these projects lies a structured day that keeps the students healthy both in mind and body.
St. Michael's College School students in the classroom.


ON SUMMER SCHOOL

The notion of summer school historically began as a remedial programme, not a reach ahead one. There is a growing trend for parents to have their children ‘reach ahead’ with their course selection. This may not always be the best scenario for your child.

Assess your child’s needs by gathering information about him:

  • Speak to his teachers about the prerequisite skills he has for moving to the next grade.
  • Speak to his counsellor about the global picture of his academic pathway. 
  • Speak to your son and give him permission to feel the way he does. Let him vent if he needs to, verify his complaints if he has some, and follow up by validating him and together decide on a path that best works for him.

KEEPING SKILLS SHARP (without summer school)

Alternatives to summer school might be home tutoring (with physical distancing). 

Get a list of skills/concepts from your son’s current teacher that could use some remediation over the summer.

Schedule structured time during each day to do independent research on topics of interest. They don’t have to be academic. 

Use the school’s library databases to access good scholarly materials.

Come up with a home building project with your son. One that he has enough skill to do on his own with a little direction from a parent. Permit him to attack it independently, plan it out, make diagrams, write out the instructions or procedures all before actually beginning. Permit him to make mistakes or use tools. Don’t hover over him but make sure he is safe.

St. Michael's College School student writing solutions in his notebook.


TIPS FOR UNIVERSITY-BOUND STUDENTS (current Grade 12s)

The most important thing for graduating students to keep in mind is that university leaders have been reciting similar messages in unison: these are unprecedented times; we face immense challenges and uncertainty; the progress of the virus is impossible to predict; we must all be patient; this will be a marathon, not a sprint.

Schools will have to be flexible and respond to the rapidly changing needs of the health and safety of all yet continue to be responsive to deliver an education that prepares students for their lifework. Students must be as flexible.

Prepare a self-introduction. 

  • If the reality of this fall is an online world, you will not have the opportunity to build a personal relationship with your peers or your instructors. It will go a long way to giving your instructor a sense of who you are before the first online class begins. He may read it, he may not. You will never know. But just by sending it to him, you have told him something about yourself. Most importantly, by going through the activity, you will have told yourself something about yourself.

Stay engaged

  • Form study groups and keep connected.
  • Stay in touch with your instructors. 
  • Self-advocate. Proactively get in touch with faculty advisors, teachers, seminar leaders.
  • Get information about what things will look like. 
  • Ask questions about the transition or the expectations. 
  • Attend the orientation sessions whether they are live or online.
  • Ensure you have the right tools for this kind of learning.
  • Develop sound time management techniques.
  • Stick to a fitness routine.
SMCS students used their devices for classroom and virtual learning at home.

ORGANIZATIONAL TIPS FOR STUDENTS

Plan each day and give each day some structure. 

  • Allow for all of your interests. 
  • Include academic time, social time (whatever that looks like), game time, family time. 
  • Stick to your plan each day but be flexible to move things around.
  • Use your calendar, electronic or agenda.
  • Post it so it is visible.

Parents – ask for approximately one hour per day for talking time. 

  • Give the child permission to feel, to speak, to vent, but you do the same and ask him to give the same permission.


RELATED LINKS

ParenTalks: Supporting Your Son in a Digital Learning World

Online Learning in a Pandemic: The SMCS Difference

Educating the Whole Person, for Wellness

The Realities of Virtual Learning: Dads' Perspective

Parent-Teachers: In Their Own Words

Common Questions about the Sudden 'New Normal'

What I'm Learning in a Virtual Environment: Student Voices