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  • Digital Literacies

Connected Communities of Literacy Learning: Keeping Students From Feeling Isolated During This Time of Remote Instruction

By Cynthia Pope
 | Mar 20, 2020

Smiling asian girl at computerIn just a matter of days, educators from kindergartens to colleges around the world provided their students with printed learning packets or online learning plans before packing up their desks and leaving their campuses. Scan school websites today, and you will see instructions indicating that learning will be delivered “remotely.”

By its definition, remote means at a distance, far removed, and isolated. At a time when students may still be settling into learning routines and developing self-directed learning skills, these children are faced with schooling at home amid a global health crisis. Students are confronted with learning independently, away from school-age friends and their loving extended families.

Today’s COVID-19 crisis has come at a time when a digital divide still exists. With few days to prepare for delivering learning at a distance, many schools struggled to make learning continue through closures and extended breaks. In the end, whether students are asked to read print or digital texts or to write with pens or keyboards, the one important common denominator is that students need to feel a connection with their teachers and their classmates to succeed.

When planning for the best possible learning outcomes, educators must be mindful that learning requires social interaction for students to remain motivated. Yes, students need assignments tied to the curriculum, but they also need the continued support of a learning community, whether they are in grade school or graduate school. When students feel connected to their classes, they retain a commitment to their classwork, and teachers’ beliefs about the importance of fostering a class community are paramount.

What can teachers do to create connected communities for literacy learning?

  • Provide timely and frequently written communication for students, whether sending home an online newsletter that you can make with Smore or posters made with Poster My Wall.
  • Be available for two-way communication via telephone, email, or tools like Google Classroom and Google Hangouts.
  • Build classroom relationships among students through their writing about their learning or about how they are learning differently at home. Students can establish classroom pen pals by exchanging tradition, handwritten letters and postcards or by posting to sites like Edmodo.
  • Keep learning active and fun while respecting the diverse interests and abilities of students. Let students show what they know by composing comics with ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator, creating characters with Voki, or uploading poems set to music with Flipgrid.
  • Reduce the distance in distance learning by providing opportunities for synchronous learning wherever possible. Establish a class meeting time during regular school hours to check in with students using tools such as Zoom or Skype.
  • Provide opportunities for students to share their knowledge with others by recording research projects and presenting them with digital tools such as Screencast-o-matic.
  • Maintain high expectations for learning by getting a pulse of what your students have learned and still need to know. Kahoot! and Socrative are great game tools to garner student understanding and inform teachers of the need for future instruction.
  • Keep students committed to reading and writing with high-quality lessons that can be found on sites such as ReadWriteThink, Newsela, CommonLit, and DOGOnews linked to engaging TE Ed videos.

Distance learning communities nurture feelings of continued connection and collaboration. For primary-age students especially, educators need to include families and caregivers as part of that community and join with them as partners for educating students. Online distance learning ends up becoming a family literacy experience because young children cannot easily negotiate technologies without help, and they should not be expected to do so.

Given the prevalence of online learning, educators  must not forget issues of privacy and online safety. Teachers should direct families and caregivers to appropriate resources for reading books (Epic! for example) and writing (Storyjumper). Common Sense Media is a great resource to use to determine appropriate digital tools. Furthermore, teachers need to check if new technology choices planned for lessons require added permissions. Also keep in mind that, although families may have laptops or smartphones, students may still need to share one device among several siblings.

For necessity’s sake, remote learning has now taken on a front seat as an instructional delivery method to teach and learn. We must recognize that remote learning can feel like removed learning if students aren’t connected with their families, teachers, and peers. It will take continued creativity and collaboration to make this new learning paradigm work as we all look toward “doing school differently.”

Likewise, educators must seek support from their schools and work with colleagues to find the best literacy learning solutions for students. Whether participating in peer-led conferences for professional development or seeking out professional organization resources, teachers also need to feel like a connected community of practicing professionals, even when teaching from home.

Cynthia Pope has researched K–12 online learning extensively, including her 2013 dissertation, Digital Distance Learning Communities. She an experienced K–12 educator, school administrator, and higher education professional, currently serving as a visiting assistant professor of education for Stockton University’s Teacher Education Program in New Jersey.

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