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The transition to distance learning will not be simple or easy. Teachers will need to think differently about how to communicate, give instruction, and provide feedback; how to design lessons and assignments that are authentic and meaningful; and how to ensure students continue to collaborate and communicate with others. The ten guidelines provided below are intended to help teachers across all divisions reflect on challenges they’ll confront in shifting to distance learning.
1 — Walk the Talk of Know, Value, Care
ASIJ’s Commitment is to Know, Value, Care. In the event of a crisis that leads to implementation of this DLP, your students may be stressed or worried. Before diving into curriculum, take the time to assess your students’ mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. How are they doing? How are their families? Continue regular KVC check-ins with your students as long as this DLP is in place.
2 — Evaluate your students’ conditions for distance learning
While most students will have reliable online access at home and the necessary devices to shift to distance learning, others will not. Teachers should remember that each family’s circumstances will vary and they should avoid assumptions about limitations or restrictions students are facing. Ask your students and/or their parents to confirm their location (possibly not Japan) and time zone; whether their online access is reliable; and what devices the student has at their disposal. Open a dialogue with families and avoid assumptions that all students’ circumstances are the same.
3 — Stick with the familiar
Especially in the first weeks after moving to this DLP, teachers should continue using existing communication channels and learning management systems. In other words, stick with what’s familiar to your students. Teachers should remember that while many students will thrive with distance learning, others will struggle. In the event that the school remains closed for a longer period of time, it may become necessary to explore new or different learning platforms that provide different experiences. In the beginning, stick with the familiar.
4 — Less is more
Should ASIJ implement this DLP, one challenge confronting teachers will be how to best streamline content and elevate the most essential learning for students. In other words, teachers need to take a less-is-more perspective, including the pacing of lessons and assignments. It can also be hard to know exactly how long school closure might last, which makes longer-term planning difficult.
5 — Seize the moment; embrace new opportunities and possibilities for your students
Years or decades from now, how will your students remember the emergency that resulted in school closure? While distance learning should attempt to bring some normalcy and routine to students’ lives, teachers shouldn’t ignore the opportunities resulting from school closure either. Teachers might require students to keep a daily journal or diary for the duration of the crisis. Personal journaling and/or other creative writing assignments can help students process their thoughts, worries, and emotions, particularly in times of crisis. Students might use other media as well, including video, drawing, painting, and music. Moreover, the crisis might also provide other real-life opportunities to study scientific phenomena associated with the crisis, how the media is reporting the incident, how governments are responding, and many other opportunities to seize the moment and design new learning transdisciplinary experiences for our students.
6 — Provide space for personalized learning
7 — Designers of experience; facilitators of learning
In shifting to distance learning, it is especially important for teachers to think of themselves as designers of experiences and facilitators of learning (as opposed to distributors of knowledge). Distance learning places a premium on a teacher’s ability to think more deeply about how to introduce content, design experiences, and coach students with thoughtful, specific feedback. Teachers need to establish conditions where students have a clear sense of purpose, opportunities to express themselves, and experiences that allow them to work toward mastery. This will help students stay motivated and engaged in learning, even when they are not physically at school.
8 — Design asynchronous learning experiences
9 — Design synchronous learning experiences
When it comes to student engagement and learning, relationships matter as much online as they do in person. If ASIJ’s campus was closed, students might be able to gather for synchronous learning times via video chat using Google Meet. Collaboration remains important and there are many ways teachers can foster it through synchronous learning.
10 — Think differently about assessment
Assessment is one of the most challenging adjustments for teachers new to distance learning. Distance learning should be seen as an opportunity for students, individually or collaboratively, to complete writing assignments, design infographics, make video presentations, or complete oral assessments via video chat. Teachers are encouraged to think differently about the end goal to performance instead of forcing a traditional assessment method that doesn’t fit distance learning. Thinking differently about assessment will positively influence the experience for students, leverage the strengths of distance learning, and prevent frustration on the teacher’s part when traditional methods do not work.
Our distance learning plan was collaboratively written and re-written by The American School in Japan leadership team and edited with input from the faculty.
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