OCS staff distributing student workbooks and other necessary school supplies to parents on a Materials Pick-Up Day.

By Sarah Beauchemin

The O’Farrell Charter School, San Diego’s leading TK-12 AVID Schoolwide Site of Distinction, wants to help alleviate the stress and overwhelm of virtual learning for everyone.

Chantal Crompton, OCS 12th grade English instructor, and Brian Pollard, OCS high school English department chair and photography instructor, share their insightful, actionable tips on how to make online learning better for all.

Best strategies to engage and support students

Chantal Crompton: Allow students to tell their stories. Ask students to share what their home classroom looks like; how they are practicing self-care; and what personal and educational goals they’re most excited about. Responding individually to these points opens a very important personal dialogue with each student that can continue throughout the remote school year.

CC: Make digital vision boards to set the tone of the year. Creative projects are critical in online learning because they mix things up. Crompton made a vision board of her hopes and dreams to share with her students. It helped them get to know her better, and made them feel comfortable enough to share their own dreams and desires.

CC: When a student is missing from class, email them asking if they are okay. “I don’t reprimand, or ask why they were absent,” said Crompton. “I only ask if they are okay. I assume they are doing the best they can, like all of us are, and I want them to know I’m here and I care.”

Brian Pollard: Use the chat function in Zoom or Schoology. The chat box is great because it’s simple to use and not as intimidating as sharing one’s face on video. Keep students engaged by asking them to respond to a warm-up prompt or an exit-pass by writing a sentence, a word, or an emoji into the chat.

BP: Use live instruction for student discussion and community building. “To help students feel comfortable speaking online, I alternate between live discussion days and live ‘writing’ days,” said Pollard. This way, students have time to process the assigned reading and be ready to talk in a virtual classroom. In his English classes, Pollard also sticks to short, digestible reading assignments like short stories instead of full-length novels.

BP: Organize their online work with calendars and weekly folders in Schoology. Pollard’s online class structure mimics that of the online ConEd classes he is taking at City College. “I encourage students to always re-read the directions, check rubrics, and visit class websites early and often,” he said. “This not only helps them become more independent students now, but also prepares and challenges them to be ready for post-high school education.”

Best strategies for parents and teachers to help students

CC: Parents and teachers, be patient with your student—and with yourself. Remember, students learn the most from watching what we do, not what we say. Can we show them grace? Can we celebrate them for living through this unprecedented crisis? Patience and kindness helps raise a generation of thoughtful, caring, and balanced people.

CC: Parents and teachers, talk openly about what’s going on in the world. Ask students what they think and feel right now, and give them space to communicate their ideas. Really listen to their answers. Keep asking “why?” The goal is not to debate, but to dream up possibilities with them. The more you can help students develop their critical thinking and reasoning, the better. Sit with uncomfortable conversations, and have difficult discussions.

BP: Parents, sit down with your students and create a to-do list and schedule with them. Our students are much like guinea pigs in this virtual learning world. It’s important for parents to help them navigate it. To start, ask your child what’s working for them and what isn’t. Then create a plan of action together based on that. A clear to-do list and schedule is crucial in this “independent” learning environment. And if you need help, always reach out to their instructor.

BP: Teachers, be flexible with your pacing and assignments, and ask students for feedback. Reach out to students every few weeks to gauge how they’re feeling about workload, their ability to effectively learn remotely, and what is and isn’t resonating for them with online instruction. Create an open, transparent dialogue about it. This is key to creating a dynamic classroom that can truly adapt to the massive changes in our lives and in our educational systems right now.

[call_to_action color=” button_text=’Learn More’ button_url=’https://www.ofarrellschool.org/’]To view all of The O’Farrell Charter School’s tools for virtual learning success, visit www.ofarrellschool.org.[/call_to_action]

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