Design Remote Learning with Learners’ Families in Mind! Part 2: Plan Learning for Varying Levels of Family Support!

For schools and teachers wondering how to engage families during remote learning at home . . .
This is Part 2 of our Remote Learning blog series. View Part 1 and Part 3.

Remote Learners Will Need Help At Home. Plan For It.

Armed with focused instructional goals and prioritized learning outcomes, teachers are busy planning what learners will do during their remote learning experience. Learning activities may engage learners in 

  • building knowledge or skills, such as reading books and articles or researching using video or web resources
  • practicing or remediating skills, such as reviewing sight words, calculating math problems, or answering comprehension-level questions for texts in science, social studies, or English Language Arts
  • applying knowledge, skills, or higher-level thinking to problem solving, writing, or design- or research projects.

These activities also serve as assessments for learning that offer insights into how learners are progressing toward prioritized learning outcomes and provide the opportunity for teachers to share specific feedback that can move learning forward.

In school, this learning doesn’t happen without help. Of course, the teacher facilitates the learning with clarifications, questions, examples, organizers, and those all important “break it down” moments. Teachers also rely on other teachers or aides for assistance as well as learners’ peers and digital tools.  


So, it is reaso
nable to assume that learners will also need help with remote learning assignments or tasks at home. Who’s the most logical choice as a learning assistant?  Moms? Pops? Abuelita? 

It all depends on household dynamics. And it’s safe to say that during a pandemic, most parents and caregivers are being pulled in so many different directions, that help is limited and even served with a dose of frustration.

What can you do? Consider the following points in your next round of instructional planning:

Consideration #2: Plan for Varying Levels of Family Support
Help families help Learners.

“Seek Three, Then Me, Then Family!” A common classroom routine, “ask three, then me” encourages learners to ask three peers or seek out three resources for help before asking their teacher. This fosters independent learners and reminds them that their teacher is one of many resources in their classroom community. Let’s apply this routine to instructional planning for remote learning. Ask, “Are there at least three resources (in addition to yourself) that you can offer your learners before requesting help from families?

  • Peers: If digitally connected, learners can post their questions on a Padlet or in Flipgrid. Fellow learners can respond via comments. They can also share questions via chat or discussion board features in their LMS (learning management system).
  • Self-Help Center: Refer students to a carefully curated set of tools that support a specific learning activity. This can include graphic organizers, checklists for task completion, self-assessments, examples and exemplars, how-to videos, FAQs, etc. This can be both digital or analog. The key is that the self-help center is specific to the learning activity and not too general. Remember, “Thou Shalt Not Overwhelm”.
  • Digital Tools: This is especially useful for learning activities focused on practice or remediation. Games-based education apps like Prodigy or Starfall cover a variety of concepts, and personalized software like iXL and i-Ready provide more customized practice for learners. Also, programs like NewsELA and Achieve 3000 differentiate articles based on reading levels. 

As you design remote learning experiences, plan a variety of resources to help learners successfully complete learning tasks and assignments. Encourage and support learners to refer to these resources first before asking their families for help.
“You Get What You Plan For!” It is not enough to alert families that they may need to help their child with an assignment. Articulate the type and amount of help you need. For example: 

  • Monitor Completion: “Here are 2 assignments your learner must complete. This will help them with next week’s learning. If they finish these, they have the option of completing assignment #3.”
  • Presentation Practice and Feedback: “Your learner will be presenting their findings to our class. Please encourage them to practice presenting in front of you at least twice. If you are comfortable, please share 1 praise and 1 way they can improve.” Be sure to let families know what learners need to say or do.
  • Encourage Reading: “This is a great time to log in those reading hours! Please help your reader make time to read for X minutes or at least X books this week.”
  • Foster Independent Learners: We are working on developing learners’ independence. This means seeking resources to help them with their assignments. Please refer learners to our Self-Help Center first when they ask for assistance.”

Families want their learners to experience success during this time of remote learning. Most will benefit from and appreciate your guidance. Be specific about how you want families to support learning at home.

“Meet Families Where They Are!“ At this point in the year, you know the level of support families can offer their learners. Some families are “all in” when it comes to math homework and may even be a little more hands-on than you like for projects. Others will make sure their child gets to school, or in this case the computer or homework station, so they can participate in whatever remote learning is planned for them. Period. During this time, use your knowledge and relationships to meet families where they are and differentiate your requests for help. For example: 

  • Check for Understanding: In classrooms, learners respond to questions to make sure they are paying attention to key information in text or ensure they are ready to move on to the next lesson. 
    • Create a discussion guide. Provide families with key questions to discuss with their learners. Consider providing desired responses and follow-up questions or actions (e.g., If response is incorrect, read this section again). 
    • Leverage digital tools. Direct learners and their families to online quizzes –  premade like Accelerated Reader or those you created using digital tools like Socrative or Quizizz. With this strategy, you are asking families to monitor completion or foster independent learners while you use the learning data to determine learners’ progress and inform your next set of instructional moves.
  • Clarify or Explain: As learners work to complete tasks, they will inevitably need additional explanations to clarify instructions, concepts, and strategies. Anticipate this the best you can.
    • Explainer videos: Direct learners and their families to videos that offer explanations on topics or concepts you expect learners to need help with. Tap into existing collections, like Khan Academy or National Geographic, or create your own with tools like Screencastify or even the record button on your phone. Note: Some families will use these videos to inform their understanding and explanation to their learners. Others will use them as an opportunity to learn together. Finally, some will monitor completion and ensure their learner views them.
    • Help learners ask for help: Even if families can’t help learners understand subject matter or produce work products, they may be able to help learners articulate what type of help they need. Together they can generate 1-2 questions for you that might increase their understanding or request more examples or learning aids. 
  • Incentives: In school, you probably have a rewards system that helps motivate learning in your classroom. Maybe you’ve fostered an intrinsic work ethic and desire to seek new information in your learning space. Or you might reward effort and achievement with personal time to explore passions, classroom celebrations, sticker charts, or behavior bucks. With remote learning, your system will have to change. And for some learners, their families’ reward system can extend yours. When do you ever get the chance to offer screen time or multiple hours of outside play as reward finishing a learning task or individual reading time? Empower families to motivate learning at home. 

Important Note: For some families, one more request for their time or energy might send them over the top. So, don’t ask, yet. But there are many families who have time or interest and would respond well to specific and reasonable requests for them to support their learners at home. Trust your judgement here. Differentiate how families can support learning at home.

In order for remote learning to be effective, schools and teachers must partner with families. To successfully engage families as learning partners, teachers must be clear about what their learners need to learn most, why it’s important, and how it enables them to progress toward priority learning outcomes. Click here to view Consideration #1: Prioritize What Learners Need to Learn Most. Once this critical planning has occurred, build on your relationships with families, anticipate the assistance learners will need in order to achieve, and plan for and request the appropriate help from learners’ families. 

As always, please share anecdotes or examples of how you are empowering families to help their learners at home during remote learning. Good luck! 

Read additional entries in our Remote Learning blog series: Design Remote Learning with Learners’ Families in Mind:


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