Teaching as we know it has come to a screeching halt. Schools across the country are closing to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but school isn't over—and students who don't have reliable internet access at home are facing significant remote learning challenges.
While some schools have robust e-learning programs and can offer students one-to-one devices, 14 percent of American children between ages 6 and 17 don't have internet service in their homes, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
Further Reading: How to Help Parents Who Are Homeschooling Kids
As schools and families navigate this new normal, here are some tips to help teachers plan equitable distance-learning opportunities for their students.
First, Be Realistic
The entire country is adjusting. Parents are juggling working from home and caring for—and, now, homeschooling—their children.
Now is not the time to expect students to complete intensive assignments, learn complex new concepts, or participate in six hours of daily instruction. Be kind and patient with yourself and with your students and their families. Everyone is stressed. No school or teacher has this all figured out, and many families are struggling with stresses far greater than schoolwork. Cut everyone a little slack.
Schools and teachers can begin by surveying their students' families to understand the remote learning challenges they might be facing. Google Forms is an easy way to create and distribute questionnaires and quickly tabulate results. Most households should be able to access Google Forms surveys via email or social media on their smartphones, but you might need to call some families directly to discuss their needs.
Get Back to the Basics
Teachers will likely need to create learning packets and send textbooks or novels home with students who don't have regular internet access. Luckily, there are many resources that teachers can turn to, such as Edhelper, education.com, and Scholastic, to help with this.
Distributing learning packets or books to students at home is another one of the remote learning challenges that schools face. Because school districts are also responsible for providing food to students, many are delivering learning materials in the same location. To reach families without reliable transportation, some districts are sending bus drivers with food and materials directly to students' homes.
To older students who have access to a cell phone, teachers could assign or print activities, readings or lessons from Newsela, Quizlet or Khan Academy. Teachers could also task students to keep a daily journal or write about how life has changed during this historic pandemic.
Most school districts require teachers make daily contact with students to track attendance during distance learning. Teachers might need to make phone calls or send texts to check in on students without consistent internet access. If you don't want students to have your personal phone number, set up an alternative number through Google Voice.
Differentiated instruction will be taken to extremes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Providing equitable instruction to every student and accommodating students who don't have internet access means offering options that can be completed with or without the internet.
Some teachers are creating bingo cards and activity sheets with a variety of assignments and letting students select their activities. Others are sending assignment checklists and daily schedules to parents to help students develop new routines.
Project-based learning is another way to give students choices, and many activities can be tweaked to require little to no technology. Here are some examples of activities for elementaryor secondary students.
Now is also a great time to give students credit for completing chores around the house, such as helping with cooking, laundry, or yard work. In these uncharted and stressful times, teachers are smart to provide alternative opportunities and activities for students so they can learn new and useful skills while helping their families.
Providing Devices and Internet Access to Families
No one knows how long the schools will be shut down. As time goes on, more families might seek internet access, and more schools could find ways to provide devices to their families.
Several internet providers, including Comcast and Charter/Spectrum, are currently offering free internet access to families. Providing one-to-one devices for families is an expensive undertaking for schools, but some companies—such as Computers for Schools, which refurbishes donated computers, and Computers for Kids—are providing computers to families in need.
Some schools are providing mobile hot spots to families or extending their Wi-Fi networks into their parking lots so families participate in online learning activities and complete schoolwork in or near their vehicles.
Further Reading: Remote Teaching Resource Center
The school year has drastically changed for everyone. Serving our families without student internet access can be challenging, but it's critical to ensure that every student can keep learning.