Esther Wojcicki's Tips for Effective Remote Learning

We asked Esther Wojcicki—educator, founder of the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Program, and author of How to Raise Successful People—to share her recommendations for students as they adjust to online learning.

The COVID-19 virus is here and impacting all of us. Colleges and universities are closing, sporting events and conventions are being canceled, and schools are closing. So, what should we as teachers do when our students are at home and expecting online lessons from us? It can seem daunting.

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For students at home, it’s best to send lessons home to their parents or current guardians. You can try to spend an hour or so each day speaking directly to the students through videoconferencing, but as you know, keeping their attention can be tricky. You can suggest programs that you like and use at school, but if you don’t have any, you can find a lot of suggestions on CommonSenseMedia.org. Specifically, here are recommended websites for elementary school students. These should keep them busy for quite a while!

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I would also recommend using YouTube videos to teach students to draw, conduct science experiments, and cook easy recipes (with your help!). I would also recommend that they collaborate virtually with each other either using FaceTime or Hangouts. And I would give them an assignment to make social media videos about specific subjects that you suggest. Don’t tell them what to do; give them options or even ask them for suggestions.

Make sure your children are working collaboratively by asking them what they did with their “online buddy.” For writing assignments in Grades K–3, I would have them write about 1) what they do every day; 2) what movies they recently watched; 3) how they are taking care of their pet, if they have one.

Planning Lessons for Online Learning

In planning lessons, I would remember the acronym from my recent book How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results. The acronym was developed through 38 years of teaching, and it helps engage kids. It is T.R.I.C.K., which stands for: Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration, and Kindness, and it embodies the elements that make education successful. In this case, you are trusting your students to follow your instructions without being monitored, respecting their ideas (which are sure to be a bit crazy at times), giving them significant amounts of independence, requiring all assignments to be collaborative, and treating them with kindness (which goes a long way with everyone, but especially kids!).

School closures could mean even more inequality for students in low-income communities. To combat that, I would suggest that parents and caregivers have a schedule for their kids every weekday—for all grades. A schedule gives kids some stability and enables them to be more productive. An easy thing for all children to do is keep a journal about their days in the COVID-19 epidemic. It can be an online journal or a hard-copy journal if they have notebooks available. Parents can also use Google Expeditions if they have Google cardboard (cheap and easy to find on Amazon), so kids can take virtual trips around the world using their cellphones.

If we are not afraid of the internet and give kids some independence and respect, they will live up to our trust in them. They want to please us; they want to do what is “right,” and you can tell them they are part of the team fighting the coronavirus by doing their classwork at home and taking responsibility for their own learning. They will love it, and so will you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

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Journalist and teacher Esther Wojcicki will discuss news literacy and the skills students need to succeed in 21st-century media in an episode of our Literacy@Work web series, coming soon.

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