Since March, schools have adopted a wide range of curriculum changes, systems of online schooling, and grading plans. Although each school or school district tends to have its own unique gameplan, these systems tend to be split into two categories: synchronous learning and asynchronous learning.
[Note: Our post on asynchronous learning has tips and strategies for applying structure and organization to daily work without live instruction. This post focuses on synchronous systems, which prioritize live online classes and attendance.]
Synchronous learning revolves around live “class meetings,” in which teachers either communicate with their students via Zoom or assign “classwork” assignments to be completed and turned in online before the end of the allotted class period. Homework is usually assigned throughout the week, and can sometimes be worked on in “class time” if a student finishes their classwork for the given day. Attendance — either through daily check-ins or by submitting classwork — remains a key part of the grading system.
To address the many challenges of online schooling, our Green Ivy team has put together a list of useful weekly strategies for staying focused, rested, organized, and up-to-date on work in a synchronous learning system:
1 – Check Your Email!
It sounds easy, but you’d be surprised! It can be challenging to put into practice. In the recent months, many students have found the flood of digital communications disorienting and overwhelming.
Missed emails contain important information about due dates, grades, updated instructions, Zoom meeting times, and more. Make sure to check all online communications every morning, before online classes start, and check again at least 2-3 more times throughout the day.
2 – Dynamic Breaks
One of the most challenging aspects of remote learning is that it restricts physical movement. Significant research shows that sedentary (inactive) lifestyles can negatively impact physical and mental well-being. Between live assignments, Zoom meetings, and homework blocks, take hourly breaks for stretching, walks, or light exercise. Consistent breaks are especially important in synchronous learning systems, which often require students to stay online, looking at screens, for long stretches of the school day. Dynamic breaks provide the opportunity to keep the blood flowing.
Note: for general tips on how to stay active during quarantine, check out the World Health Organization’s suggestions here.
3 – Keep a Daily Schedule
Synchronous learning provides structure to keep students focused and engaged. At the same time, it also means that students have to regularly prove attendance to receive credit. To avoid missing class meetings and required classwork, we recommend keeping a schedule in your planner of all class meetings and conference calls for the week. After checking your emails in the morning, make sure to update your schedule as necessary.
Note: we highly recommend keeping your schedule in a physical planner, calendar, or whiteboard instead of using digital agendas such Google Calendar. All of your instructions and assignments are online, creating a huge and often messy amount of digital information. By transferring your long list of digital to-dos onto a neat, physical planner, you can more clearly practice organization and time management.
4 – Workspace
The live demands of synchronous learning mean that the at-home workspace has become the new classroom. To make sure you stay focused and alert during class, make your workspace neat and free of distractions. Ideally, sit at a desk or dining room table, using a chair that allows you to sit up straight. Keep all your materials — e.g.) laptop charger, water, textbooks — within reach, and remove any distracting items, such as smartphones, to another room.
We know that it can be difficult to find a private space to work with so many families using the same cramped spaces. Communicate with others in your household to figure out where you can work without interruptions. If the only option is to work in the same room as others, use headphones to tune out background noise.
5 – Take Advantage of Office Hours
Many teachers offer office hours throughout the week to answer questions and clarify instructions, and we recommend tuning into these optional sessions. At Green Ivy, many of our students have found it extremely beneficial to use office hours to get feedback on essay drafts, request additional resources for difficult math problems, and gain clarity on confusing concepts.
Note: Remote learning is new for all of us, and teachers can benefit from your feedback, too! If you communicate your questions and concerns during office hours, they can more easily adapt synchronous learning to meet the needs of the whole class.
We know so many students (and parents!) have felt confused, exhausted and overwhelmed by remote learning. These systems are unfamiliar, and hopefully putting some strategies in place help create new routines and rituals that make synchronous and asynchronous learning more palatable.
We’d love to hear what you and your family are doing that works best for you. Please be in touch with any and all ideas!