“How Does This All Work, Exactly?”: Remote Learning and Homeschooling FAQ’s

This is truly an unprecedented sequence of events we have recently experienced, and perhaps the most astounding aspect of our current circumstances is the way time is moving. In a paradoxical manner that we haven’t before witnessed, time seems to be simultaneously dragging along and moving at warp speed.

In less than a month, schools have switched from teaching traditional courses in physical classrooms to teaching them in an online format. From colleges to secondary schools to primary schools, everyone involved is now experiencing remote learning. Instead of receiving instruction in person from highly trained educators, students are now learning online from teachers who weren’t prepared for that instructional medium. Rather than going to a central location to learn, they are isolated, experiencing school at home in close proximity to their parents and siblings.

Even though school closings started only a few weeks ago, everyone involved has witnessed change occur at a blistering pace. The transition from in-person to online instruction is something that would normally take years, yet teachers who never studied online curriculum must now create their own in a fraction of the time. Students who never watched a video lesson are now doing so multiple times a week, while parents who never participated in remote meetings are suddenly doing so on a regular basis.

If you are a parent who is quarantined with your school-age children, you have surely felt this duality of time. On one hand, it may seem like the school year will never end; on the other hand, every day seems to move at light speed as you tend to everything going on in your house. It’s natural to be fatigued as well as confused as you wonder where this is all going and just what is happening.

What are schools supposed to offer parents and children?

Basically, schools are providing online homeschooling—not homeschooling in the usual sense, but school that each student participates in from home. Teachers are to communicate the homeschool schedule to both you and your kids so that everyone knows what is supposed to happen each day. They will also be creating homeschool lesson plans, instructional content, and assignments, and sharing them with students through online tools.

What do students need to complete their assignments and learn online?

While your kids are learning at home, they are actually participating in distance learning, so they will need a functioning electronic device with internet access. A tablet, laptop, or desktop computer is what you want, although some communication can be done through phones. They also need plenty of support from both you and their teachers. Online lessons require clearly written themes and directions, but even the best teachers lack expertise in creating such lessons. It’s only natural for students to need more clarity in order to learn effectively.

How can my kids access remote learning materials?

While today’s students are certainly technologically savvy, their knowledge isn’t as far-ranging as you might think. Sure, they can navigate the internet and social media with exceptional prowess, but there are plenty of applications that they’re not familiar with. In this online format, they will need to know how to access the home base for each class, using tools such as Canva and Google Classrooms. Video lessons can be viewed in various online applications like YouTube, Vimeo, and Flipgrid. Meetings and classroom discussions will be facilitated through software such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts. That may seem overwhelming to you and to them, but keep in mind that teachers are learning these on the fly as well. Everyone involved should be striving for mutual patience.

How do I get an internet-enabled device if I don’t have one?

You should definitely contact your school district by phone. Since schools are closed right now, the devices normally used for classes can be lent out to those students who don’t have reliable internet access. They are required to either lend your kid an electronic device or provide an alternate form of instruction and evaluation.

What kind of work will my kids get?

For the most part, it will be the same old stuff. Yes, some of the more innovative teachers may be comfortable with something like a virtual science lab experience, but the majority are simply getting by in this challenging time. While an online homeschool curriculum can include creative assignments such as making a video or doing a real-time group collaboration, the vast majority of work your kids receive will look like what they had already been doing before schools were closed. Expect to see more worksheets, essays, and reading projects—just somewhat modified so students can complete them electronically.

Are teachers still grading students’ work?

This is also an area where policies will vary greatly from school to school. While many schools are still grading as usual, others have switched to a Pass/Fail format. If you don’t know your school’s policy during this crisis, contact the school administrators for insight.

What if my kids aren’t able to complete their work?

Speak up if you find that the volume of work dumped on your kids is unreasonable! Not every home is the same, but teachers and administrators don’t always recognize that. With everyone at home all at the same time, electronic devices and internet bandwidth are in high demand, and peace and quiet may be hard to come by. Reach out to the teachers and explain why your kids can’t complete the work that’s assigned. Hopefully, they will be sympathetic to your situation under the current circumstances.

How can I contact my student’s teacher if I have questions?

If you have reliable internet access, email is the best route to go. Teachers understand that not every in-person lesson and assignment translates well to online format, so they should be willing to provide clarification on requirements and grading standards. If email isn’t an option, then don’t hesitate to make a phone call, as teachers are supposed to be available for calls during this period.

What is my responsibility as a parent?

While parents may suddenly be wondering how to homeschool their kids, your ultimate responsibility is the same it’s ever been: show love for your children by caring and providing for them. You aren’t responsible for designing any homeschool lesson plans, providing any instruction, or tutoring your kids. Your only responsibilities as far as school is concerned are to maintain regular communication with teachers and school officials—the same thing you were doing before schools were closed.

How can I help my kids?

Do whatever you feel comfortable doing, balanced against what your kids are asking for. For starters, make sure your students have everything they need to learn online, such as textbooks, paper, pencils, and the right electronic devices and accessories. While those are really the only homeschool materials your kids will need, you may want to do a little extra if you have the time. A homeschool schedule can help your students develop a remote learning routine so they can focus, finish their work, avoid distractions, and then get a good night’s sleep. Finally, make sure your kids get help when they have difficulties by either contacting their teachers or reaching out to a professional tutor.

What are some homeschool resources if my kids need additional help?

With teachers dealing with a new format for both instruction and communication, they simply aren’t able to devote the time for extra help that they normally would. To get that essential help, you may need to search for additional resources or seek out online tutoring. Websites like Khan Academy and Desmos are some of the free online resources that can provide reinforcing lessons, with Desmos focusing specifically on math. If your kids need more structured lessons and activities, you may consider ALEKS, which offers full courses in math and science. Don’t worry about learning how to use ALEKS—it’s something your kids will figure out fairly quickly. Beyond broad resources available online, your child may need one-on-one instruction. Perhaps your elementary school student needs an online tutor, or maybe your high-schooler needs a math tutor. You many even wish to secure the services of an experienced homeschool tutor. Unlike most of your kids’ teachers, these skilled tutors have been working with online instructional formats for some time now.

How will this affect graduation requirements?

That is something that varies from state-to-state and from school-to-school, so you’ll want to check with your local school district. In the wake of schools closing, the federal government waived the requirements for standardized tests, so many states are eliminating such tests as requisites for graduation. Just check with your kid’s school to make sure.

What’s going on with the SAT and ACT? What about AP exams?

Both the April ACT and the May SAT have been cancelled, so the next time the tests are scheduled will be June 6 for the SAT and June 13 for the ACT. However, an increasing number of colleges are waiving their requirements for such tests in light of the extreme conditions. As for AP exams, they will be administered from May 4-8 and May 11-15. The College Board has revised the tests just for this year so they can be taken electronically.

How can I help my high school junior with selecting a college now that they’re closed?

Begin by contacting your kid’s school, as the school counselor will be able to provide additional support with your student’s college and career plans. College admissions officers will be ready to receive your calls and emails, so feel free to reach out at any time. As for college visits, they’re still available as virtual tours.

What about kids who are English Language Learners?

According to state law, your kids’ schools need to make accommodations for bilingual and ELL students. Of course, they don’t have the personnel to provide the level of assistance they previously could, so the type of help they can offer will look somewhat different. Contact your local school district to get all the details, and don’t be reluctant to speak up if you believe your children aren’t getting the care they’re entitled to.

What if my kid was getting a free or reduced lunch?

Your child’s school district will continue its lunch program, so check the district website or call for details. Most districts are making all lunches at a central location and distributing the lunches during a specified time in the late morning to early afternoon.

What does this mean for students with special needs?

There’s no way around the fact that special needs students will suffer the most from this sudden change in how school is done. While some students thrive online because there are fewer social distractions, others find it difficult to have less direct access to teachers and peers. You can rest assured that everyone involved will do all they can to make the transition to remote learning as smooth as possible, including sticking to your kid’s IEP and providing you with necessary assistive technology. Again, don’t be afraid to notify school officials if you feel your student’s needs are not being accommodated.

How can I find the best tutor for my kid?

Online tutoring has been a growing field of expertise for several years now, so the pool of tutors you can choose from is pretty big. With so many out there, though, finding the right one can be a bit challenging. Thankfully, there are some great resources available providing a list of key questions you can ask potential tutors and offering guidance on which tutors will fit your budget.

How am I going to get through this unusual and stressful period?

There is no way that face-to-face teaching can be “switched” to remote instruction overnight. Even if it were possible, doing so might not make sense in light of this global crisis. Things have been moving quickly even though the days can drag along, but we may finally be at the point where everyone involved is realizing that this is no ordinary learning your kids are taking part in.

Students, parents, teachers, and administrators alike are all in this together, and each person can agree on one thing: learning will not look the same as it once did. Everybody’s goal right now is survival—learning is secondary. Some days, learning will focus on washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, and staying inside in order to keep your home and community safer. Learning could be not stressing out about assignments and just letting your kids explore the things that are of interest to them. At times, learning could be simply paying attention to the highs and lows of emotion that will inevitably come from losing the familiarity of routine and human interaction that we all cherish. During these extraordinary times, learning will come to you and your students through the patience, compassion, and support you show each other as you persevere each day.

For all the resources and information about homeschooling on The Wyzant Blog, check out our Homeschool Resource Hub.

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