Texas Tech University

Expert Available to Discuss Tips for Successful Distance Learning During Pandemic

Amanda Castro-Crist

March 31, 2020

Delia Carrizales is an assistant professor in the Teacher Education Department in the College of Education.

In early March, as the number of COVID-19 cases began to grow in communities across the U.S., school districts started planning for closures to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Spring break was a chance to prepare teachers for online and distance teaching, create virtual classrooms, adjust curriculum and deliver tangible tools like worksheet packets, iPads and Chromebooks to students.

March 30 was the first day of distance learning for many students, and Education Week magazine said by then, at least 124,000 public and private schools in the U.S. had been impacted by closures. Some districts have planned for a few weeks, while others have closed indefinitely, affecting at least 55.1 million students and their families.

Teachers are still leading classes, providing guidance and grading coursework. But parents and guardians are now in charge of making sure work is completed and that everyone who is working and studying in the same household is getting the time, space and support needed to complete necessary tasks.

Delia Carrizales, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Teacher Education Department in the Texas Tech University College of Education. During her eight years at Texas Tech, she has worked as a curriculum coach and instructor in the department and has helped design eight courses for online or face-to-face instruction. Her research focuses on preservice teachers, who are in a period of guided, supervised teaching, and their placement in classrooms.

While some of her research projects have come to a complete halt with teachers no longer being placed in classrooms because of the pandemic, Carrizales said she and her husband have adapted to working at home by creating a schedule that helps them both complete as much work as possible. Here, she shares distance learning advice for parents during the coronavirus crisis.

mom and son learning

What are some of the biggest obstacles/hurdles students and their families may face when transitioning to virtual learning at home? How can they resolve these?
While there are several districts in our area that have technology devices available for students to take home, there also are some that don't. In some cases, students will not have internet at home, either. Fortunately, there are companies offering free internet for the next 60 days. I encourage parents who do not have internet at home to contact their local internet company and ask about special offers they may have. For students who may not have desktops, laptops or tablets, parents can allow them to use their smart phone to view district videos and or assignments assigned to them. Parents also can download a scanning application so students can scan their assignments and upload them to the learning management system.

Online learning will be a new experience for most students. Therefore, it is important for parents and teachers to review expectations. For example, teachers can review online classroom expectations by explaining how and when students will take turns asking questions during online meetings. Parents can assist teachers by explaining to their child that they may need to be more patient and wait until their teacher answers their questions.

Many people have talked about the importance of creating a dedicated workspace for remote learning. What should a space like this include?
A dedicated workspace does not have to be something elaborate. During this time, we need to work with the resources we have available at home. For example, the kitchen table is a great space to complete homework, and it gives parents an opportunity to oversee the assignments their child is working on. The space created will vary depending on family needs, but it would be important to have all the materials (pens, pencils, markers, electronic devices, etc.) the child will need within arm's reach.

Students typically spend about eight hours at school, with most of that time in a classroom/at a desk. Should children and teens be expected to do the same when learning from home?
First, I would follow the districts' recommendation about how long children should be expected to learn from home. Next, keep in mind that even while following the districts' recommendation, your child may finish the assignments faster or it may take them longer. Additionally, it is important to note that although children and teens spend eight hours at school, not all of that time is spent on content instruction. For instance, some elementary schools have 45 minutes of physical education daily and art or music class at least once per week. Parents also should remember to allocate time for lunch and recess.

Many students also will be at home with other family members who will be studying or working from home. How important is it to establish a daily schedule that incorporates not just schoolwork, but activities like exercise, reading or free time? What types of expectations should family members have for each other, and how important is it for parents to include children in the planning of all of this?
Children thrive in a structured predictable environment. Therefore, parents should try to create a schedule so their children know what to expect next. Parents can look at the following suggestions for creating a schedule without adding unnecessary stress to the family:

mom and daughter learning
  • Create your schedule based on what the school district has recommended for your child and make any modifications needed to meet your family needs. For example, you can ask your child if they would prefer to work on math or reading first thing in the morning.
  • Incorporate time for independent work several times during the day. Some independent activities can include listening to music or books (with headphones on), reading silently, completing classroom assignments or an art project.
  • Creating independent activities will help parents complete some of their work, too. Depending on the child's age, parents will need to explain they will be working independently and what working independently entails. They also should take some time to explain that working independently will be for a short amount time (typically 15-30 minutes, but this will vary depending on the child's age). In order to help children understand how much time has gone by, parents can set a timer at the beginning of each independent activity.
  • Your schedule also should include:
    • Time spent outside walking or playing in the backyard.
    • Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
    • Bath time and bedtime
  • Revisit the schedule at the end of each week, because some parents may have online meetings or different work schedules, and they will need to change certain parts of the schedule for the following week.

Some parents worry they are not familiar enough with subjects their children will be learning. Do you have advice on resources they can access, how they can support their children in other ways or other things can they teach them during this time?
There definitely is some content covered in schools with which parents can support their children. For instance, first-grade students learn how to identify U.S. coins and describe the relationship among them. In second grade, they learn how to tell time using digital and analog clocks. In third grade, they learn to write thank-you notes and letters. In fourth grade, they learn about the moon phases.

All of these are content-specific concepts parents can help their children with at home without any additional resources. For example, parents can ask their child to draw and describe the moon every night. During this time, it is also important for parents to set aside time to read to their children or have their children read to them.

In the next few weeks, I will be working with several colleagues to develop a list of activities parents can do from home with their child. The activities list will be based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are the state standards for what students should know and be able to accomplish by grade level. Once the document is completed, we can share the link in addition to the resources below.

child reading

Resources in English:

  • TumbleBook and TeenBookCloud (e-books) and TumbleMath (math lessons in story format supplemented by lesson plans, games and quizzes) available for free through the Lubbock Public Library. No library card is required.
  • Scholastic For Parents, where parents can find activities, book lists, and printable work pages, among other resources.

Resources in Spanish:

Lastly, some parents have expressed fears about their child not accomplishing as much as they would in a classroom setting or that their children will be behind (academically or developmentally) once everyone is able to return to school. What would you say to them?
I would tell parents to focus on what their child is able to accomplish. Celebrate small and big academic and developmental milestones.