Distance Learning Hacks for Families

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Is Distance Learning making you feel like you’re back in school? So many parents are reaching out for help–realizing just how much the Executive Functions like organizing and prioritizing are used as a student!! One of the areas that you can make easier for yourself and your child is hacking the assignments and workload. 

But first, I have to celebrate my momma, and my own brain’s strategies. I’ve been online teaching all day. I hit a few snags in planning this week’s podcast and my brain and body feel really tired and tense today. I’m just not feeling it. Instead of giving up, which would be pretty dang hypocritical, I needed to strategize my own struggle. I decided my best plan would be to take a quick break. I know my body needs to move, and I love being productive, so I chose to unload the dishwasher—a quick, easy job that gave my brain some focus juice because it felt satisfied! I also had a little caffeine and called my momma. I know that sometimes when I feel stuck, I can depend on the people I love to help me talk through ideas, and it definitely worked. Thanks, little momma! I’m sharing this with you because it’s demonstrative of one of the podcast’s main themes: we all need strategies, even experts in learning and published authors need a boost once in a while to be able to write. Our growing community of EF champs celebrates and lives this every day. I’m thankful for all of you! 

So, now for what I promised you: Hacks for understanding assignments!

Distance Learning is running a whole spectrum of seriousness. My co-teacher and I are assigning one main document a week, including a short writing piece, while others in our same department have several small assignments here and there, novel reading, and discussions. It’s not right or wrong. It’s all very different.

So, when you only have a little amount of time to help your child with a big amount of work, how can you approach it best? Strategize that struggle, my friend! Here’s how:
  • Map it out. Create a visual to understand the general categories of assignments. You can make column lists, circles with topics inside, or any other visual for you to understand. For middle and high schoolers, it will likely be by class. Knowing the general categories of what is assigned will help you when you go to chunk work. It will also help to see the big picture. For elementary students, for example, teachers may only be assigning English-Language Arts and math. Some may throw in art. Others may also include social science and science. Like I said, it’s varying widely. So start with a “big picture” type of map.
  • Look for Patterns: Once you have an idea of the main areas of assignments, like math or English, dive deeper into each class or topic, one at a time. Your job is not to make the to-do list. Instead, look for patterns. Is the same type of activity assigned every week? Due on the same day of the week? Repeat assignments might be things like reading articles, math warm ups, vocabulary. Do the test dates follow patterns (every other Friday, for example)? Knowing the pattern can help both lower anxiety and also help you anticipate when work times should be scheduled. For example, if the reading articles are due every Thursday, maybe you can schedule “article parties” on Tuesdays, to ensure enough time to get ready. Go through each class like this. Write down the patterns on your visual. Note due dates. You can add point values if it doesn’t clutter your page too much.
  • Find the Free Money: identify quick, easy assignments that your child can do independently or quickly. These are ones that you can schedule for when you’re busy or your child is tired but still “on the clock.” These may seem unimportant, but they can be quick ways to raise a grade when added all together! (As a side note, if you’re really having a tough week, you can certainly also use these assignments as the ones you cut out or put off for later. The power is in knowing which ones have this level of grade impact so you can make the choice!)
  • Read Backwards: Often, teachers write assignments like novels: lots of information and the best part is at the end. Spoil the ending! Go to the end of the assignment, where the actual parts of the assignment are spelled out. That will give you a sense of what is expected and how much each part is worth. If it’s just an assignment like reading then answering questions, start by reading the questions! Your child will have a “job” to “read to find out…” which is proven to help increase reading comprehension!
  • Prioritize by Value: Tests, projects, and long writing assignments tend to be worth the most points, so prioritize them both in effort and schedule. What I mean is, if you know you’re going to have some time to help your kid, spend the time on those high-value assignments. If you know your kid works best first thing in the morning, schedule working on those big-point monsters right after breakfast. If the big, valuable assignments soak up your kid’s brain, it’s okay to let the little assignments go for the day. Again, the importance is you are in control. You get to decide what stays in the plan for the day and what goes. And since you know the point value, you can also have a good idea of the impact on grades. Which brings me to my last point…
  • Be realistic: Listen, you’re not a teacher. You are a parent. That needs to stay in the forefront of your mind. It is ok to pause an assignment and wait until a teacher can help your kid through it. It’s ok not to do school work on tough days. It’s ok to prioritize differently right now.

Teachers know what you’re going through. We know whenever we get to teach in person again, we will have kids like we always do—some who lack skills globally, some with holes in their learning, some at grade level, and some way advanced. That’s our specialty—figuring out what kids need and delivering. Don’t stress too hard that your child will “fall behind.” If we’re all in the same boat, then we’re all in this educational limbo—there is no one moving forward any faster than your child. “Falling behind” implies a comparison that doesn’t exist. Plus, I know anyone who sees a report card from spring 2020 will also see an invisible star next to the grades. A star that denotes that we tried. We tried to stay healthy and safe. We tried to take care of each other. We tried to figure out this distance learning thing at record speed.

We are doing our best. You are doing your best. Give yourself some space and grace. You are enough. If you just can’t make sense of that darn imovie biography for US history, then skip it (for a while or forever). What matters is locked in your house with you right now. If we can keep that in mind, it will all be ok.

Grab your adorable kid. I’m ready to pep them up too!

Hey kid!

 How’s distance learning going? Are you drowning? Confused? Maybe still bored? Maybe you love being home and having more time. Whatever you’re feeling is okay. We’re going through the same time, but we will each feel differently about it. That’s okay.

Today your grown up learned some hacks for making your distance learning experience a little easier for both of you. They learned how to organize by topic or class, how to look for patterns, and how to look at the expectations before even starting an assignment. But the most important thing your grown up learned today is the same thing I want to remind you: it will be okay. If your grades aren’t perfect but you stay healthy and safe, that’s a win. If instead of reading your novel one day, you call and cheer up your grandma, that’s a win. If you listen to your own stress levels and take a day off to take care of yourself, that’s a win too. Your grades right now are not a big deal. No college in their right mind would judge a kid on COVID grades. What matters is who you’re with right now, and I bet you already know that.

Have a safe and healthy week, kid! All my love to you!!