There’s no question that distance learning is a challenge for many students (and most teachers). By its very nature, it requires students to spend their days glued to a screen, something we know is not so good for them. That’s why it’s important that we build in action breaks and time offline, two must haves for successful distance learning.
Build in Movement & Action Breaks
There is a lot of research that says sitting too long is not only bad for our bodies but also our brains, so your students will be healthier and more focused if they take action breaks throughout the day. It’s a little harder to get students up and moving when they aren’t in front of us, but there are still ways to make it happen.
If you are doing synchronous learning, build in time for action breaks between tasks. Let’s say your class is sixty minutes long. Break your lesson and activities into thirds, and after twenty minutes of on-task time, tell your kids to stand up and stretch, go for a walk, or dance it out. You can actually do the activity together, or tell them to turn off cameras and mics, choose an action break, and come back in two or three minutes.
If students are working through your lessons at their own pace, include action breaks in your instructions. Tell them to set a timer and take a break every fifteen to twenty minutes. You can provide them with ideas for action breaks, or send them to sites like this one: Move 2 Learn.
If you’d like some ideas for building action breaks into your lessons, I’ve got a bunch of suggestions and some slides all ready for you to use – just click below:
Remote learning usually requires students to spend a lot of time online. However, they need time off screen too, so tasks that students can do without a device are another must have for successful distance learning.
When I reflected on the distance learning my students did last spring I realized that too many of my lessons required them to be on a screen, so next time, I’ll be more deliberate in choosing activities that give them a break.
For example, distance learning can include time to snuggle up with a good book, whether it’s one the students have chosen themselves or that you are reading together as a class. Build in stretches of time for reading into their daily tasks, like in this example:
Students can also do some of their writing by hand, just as you would in school. If they have to do some pre-writing, ask them to do it offline. If your students normally use notebooks for responses and writing prompts, instruct them to do this by hand too. But, you may wonder, how can you be sure they do the work if they aren’t submitting it online?
Think of it this way: when my students use notebooks in class, I never grade every page because that would take me forever. Instead, I choose one entry that I want to assess and have them choose another one that they’d like to get feedback on. I would collect the notebooks, take a quick look that students did all of the entries, then assess two of them.
You can’t physically collect their notebooks, but you can have them to snap a photo or take a video of the pages so you can see that they did the work.
Give them an offline project
We need to writing, but we can do that after students have done something offline. Give your students a special project where they need to learn something new. Then, you can assess their writing in the reflections they do.
Here’s an example:
For this assignment, I want you to pick one thing you can do for 20-30 minutes a day, something that does not involve a screen. After each day, you will write a short reflection that explains what you did and how you felt about it. Here are some ideas for you to try:
- Start cooking! Try a new recipe each day. This could be for a meal or a snack. (You can use your screens to look up a recipe!)
- Start an exercise routine, even if you go out and get some fresh air and sunshine and go for a walk once a day.
- Find a way to help someone else – get some groceries for an elderly relative or neighbor, Pick up the phone and call someone who might be feeling isolated. Play with your younger siblings. Just be sure that you do this safely, and at a distance!
- Find something that you can learn online (I know, you need a screen for this, but that’s ok!) Go to youtube and look for lessons on how to draw, how to play the guitar, how to do whatever. Then, spend time learning the new skill.
We never would have predicted that 2020 would end up this way. But here we are, making the best of things as we always do. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and that you have a very successful year of distance learning with your students.
Don’t forget to grab the handouts on action breaks and slides that you can use for your lessons: