Maintaining School Momentum as Learning Moves Home

Mike Anderson is an energetic, experienced, and highly sought-after consultant who helps facilitate great learning in schools all over the United States and beyond. He has over twenty years of experience as a teacher, consultant, presenter, and developer and has authored many books and articles about great teaching and learning.

Highly versatile, Mike presents at national conferences, delivers keynote addresses, teaches school-wide workshops, works with leadership teams and small groups, and coaches individual teachers. Though he works with a wide variety of topics (differentiated learning, balanced literacy, teacher health and balance, and many more), there is a common thread that runs through all he does: his firm belief that teaching and learning are highly joyful pursuits, and great teaching is really about facilitating great learning.

Learn more about Mike and his work here.

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You’ve spent the whole year building a community of learners. You’ve established rules and routines to help learners manage themselves and work well with each other. Now, with schoolwork potentially moving offsite, you still want to support your students as best you can. How can you help them transfer some of what’s been working in the classroom as they work from home? The following are a few ideas to use as a starting point.

Applying Classroom Rules/Norms to At-Home Learning

You likely already have rules established in your classroom. If they are broad and global (be respectful, treat others the way they want to be treated, take responsibility for your learning, etc.), consider how these rules can help guide students as they work remotely. How might these support students as they communicate with each other? How might they help students feel a sense of ownership for their work? Consider including reminders for students about rules. For example, if you set students up as writing buddies, you might remind them of the class rule about respect: “Remember to keep giving each other respectful feedback–sharing strengths and offering suggestions for improvements.”

Teach Routines of Independent Work and Self-Management

One of the greatest challenges students may face is a release from the strict schedule of a school day. For students used to having every minute of their day managed and structured by someone else, they may struggle with their newfound freedom. Here are some independent work routines you might share with students. If you can, have a class meeting before school closes. Share some of these ideas with students, and have them discuss which ones might work for them. They might also suggest other ideas for each other to try. If you don’t have a chance to talk ahead of time, you could share these via an online document or through email or traditional mail.

  • Work early in the day. Though we all might have different times of day when we feel most productive, as a general rule, the earlier you work in the day the better. Most writers especially have morning writing routines.
  • Give yourself frequent breaks. It can feel overwhelming to try and sit down and work for a long stretch of time. Instead, try a schedule where you work for 40 minutes and then take a 20 minute break. These breaks re-energize the brain and help improve focus and productivity.
  • Focus on work-time instead of task-completion. Sitting down to work on a huge research project can feel overwhelming–leading to procrastination and even paralysis. Instead, schedule time to work without the pressure of finishing a big project. For example, if you’re working on a large piece of writing, make a commitment to work for 30 minutes. Freeing yourself from task-completion stress can actually lead to a more relaxed mindset and more productivity.
  • Designate a “work space” away from household hubbub. If possible, find a space to do academic work that’s as distraction-free as possible. Work will be more focused and efficient if people aren’t talking to you and a TV isn’t blaring nearby.
  • Manage devices to maximize productivity. Quiet music playing through your phone might help you screen out distractions and focus on work, but if you’re going to be tempted to frequently surf for a good next song, music might be more distracting than helpful. If texts or notifications are going to scatter your concentration, try putting your devices on airplane mode during work times. Check and respond to messages during break times.

Offer Meaningful and Manageable Choices

Tap into students’ needs for autonomy, purpose, mastery, curiosity, and fun by giving choices of academic work. Try giving a few ways they might practice a math skill (an online game, a simple practice sheet, or creating their own problems to solve). Consider offering several options for independent research projects–and support them as they look for readable and appropriate resources. Give them a few ideas for ways to share what they’ve learned. Be careful not to offer choices that are too wide open–too much choice can lead students to feel overwhelmed which can actually demotivate.

Use Student-Centered Language

If at-home work feels like an exercise in teacher-pleasing or compliance, students will struggle with self-motivation. As you communicate with students, whether it’s via email, Skype, phone calls, or mail, make sure your language emphasizes their learning (instead of your requirements). As you offer feedback, focus on specific aspects of their work instead of offering bland praise or criticism. See the chart below for a few suggestions.

Instead of… Consider…
Emphasize student learning over compliance to teacher demands. “I need you to…” “I want you to…”
“Your challenge is…” “Your learning goal is…” Offer feedback that is specific.
“Great job.” “The alliteration in the first line of your poem makes your writing come alive.” Focus on student accomplishments instead of teacher approval.
“I like the way you…” “You’re the best!” “Congratulations! This is your longest and most well-developed piece of writing so far this year!”

Continue to Build Personal Connections

Relationship-building doesn’t need to stop just because a school closes down for a while. In fact, you may even find a bit more time for personal connections with students without the daily chaos of classroom life. As you communicate with students, ask them about what else (other than academic work) they’ve been up to while home. Have they watched any good movies? Read any good books for fun? Played any good video games? Facetimed with a grandparent? Make sure to share a bit about what you’ve been doing as well. For example, in a short letter to students, you might share that you’ve finally had a chance to watch The Mandolorian or that you’ve been taking extra long walks with your dog. These small moments of connection will help you and your students continue to build rapport and relationships even while you’re not having daily face-to-face time.

None of us really knows how long or impactful the disruptions to “normal” learning may be in the coming weeks or even months. Help ease students’ worries and keep meaningful learning going by building off of all of the great routines and community building you’ve been working at all year. When you all (finally!) get to return to school, you’ll be ready to hit the ground running!

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