Coronavirus: Supporting Students Online When Schools are Forced to Close

An article by Richard James Rogers (Bestselling author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management and The Power of Praise: Empowering Students Through Positive Feedback).

Accompanying video: 

The recent outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus has caused concern for many school leaders, parents and educational authorities. Just this week, for example, we’ve seen parents pulling their kids out of school at Howard Springs, Australia (where a makeshift coronavirus quarantine center was setup nearby), and schools in the French Alps close due to a localized outbreak.

Other concerning developments regarding the novel coronavirus and its recent impact on schools include:

  • British schools have issued warnings to parents to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus after fears that it could be picked up on half-term holidays to the far east. 
  • St Mary’s Independent School in Southampton, Hampshire (United Kingdom) is currently closed (as of February 10th 2020) after the family of some of their pupils were put in isolation over fears they may have contracted the coronavirus.
  • More than 14,000 people have signed a petition calling for one California school district to temporarily close all schools due to the outbreak. 

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Much is still unknown about nCoV2019, but one thing is becoming clear: person-to-person spread is occurring. The latest situation summary updates are available on the CDC’s web page: (2019 Novel Coronavirus, Wuhan, China).

The forecast for this new virus is unclear, and in my personal opinion school leaders would be well-advised to prepare for possible closure. 

I believe I have come up with a simple method by which teachers and schools can support students with their learning when they are working from home. And I believe that simplicity is key – simple systems make life easier for everybody.

Advice for parents is given at the end of this article.

The Online Learning Journal [A suggestion for schools]

Step 1: Every student in the school creates a website that will act as an ‘ePortfolio’ or learning journal. Each website should contain a separate page for each subject the student learns. Google Sites is amazing for this (it’s very user friendly), but Wix, WordPress and Blogger are also good (and free) alternatives. Just make sure the students are using their school e-mail addresses to sign-up to these platforms.

Step 2: The URL for every ePortfolio for every kid in the school is kept on a centralized spreadsheet (e.g. a Google Sheet or an MS Excel sheet) that every teacher has access to.

Step 3: Work is set by the teacher through the school’s online Virtual Learning Environment or MOOC (such as Google Classroom, Firefly or Moodle) or even via e-mail. Students are required to complete their work on their website (e.g. by writing notes on each page, uploading photos of work that’s handwritten, embedding Google Slides, etc.)

Step 4: Teachers simply need to click on the URL for each website of the kids they teach and check their work. Feedback can be written on the website itself (Google Sites makes this very easy, but the student needs to click ‘share’ and share it with the class teacher), or feedback can be directly e-mailed to each student. 

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In my opinion, this method is much better than just using your school’s online learning platform and e-mail to set work because:

  1. All of the work is kept in one place. Every teacher has access, but students cannot see or edit each other’s sites.
  2. Work is less fragmented, as it’s all in one place. With Google Classroom and GMail alone, for example, it can be hard to organize the work one has to mark.
  3. ePortfolios provide amazing evidence of learning, output, creativity and feedback for school inspectors.
  4. Every teacher has access, potentially providing a healthy sense of competition between subjects.
  5. Students can embed Google Docs, Slides, Sheets and Forms to their Google Sites. Other platforms also have amazing features that can enhance learning (e.g. news tickers, forum building and link sharing). 

I think it’s important for schools to ‘make hay whilst the sun in shining’ – get your kids set up with all of this now, so that it becomes easy to assign and mark work if your school is forced to close (for any reason, not necessarily because of the novel coronavirus). 

Advice for parents

It can be difficult to support children when school is closed, especially if both parents are working. However, where possible, try to follow these tips:

  1. Make sure your child wakes up at an appropriate time each day and starts the day properly. This is particularly important for older teenagers who have upcoming exams, as productivity can be greatly affected by a slow and late start to the day.
  2. Access your child’s work that has been set by school. Make sure you have your child’s password and username for their online learning platform (if they have one), so that you can determine what work is being set.
  3. E-mail teachers and school leaders and keep in touch with key people in your child’s education. E-mail questions, queries or concerns you have – school’s are usually very happy to assist parents in supporting their children.
  4. Read ahead in your child’s textbooks, so that you can explain concepts and knowledge when you have the time.
  5. Check your child’s work, and make sure quality is high. It may take some time for teachers to provide detailed feedback if school is closed, so provide feedback in the interim (see my blog post about The Four Rules of Praise here). 
  6. Limit social interactions where possible, and make sure that gatherings have a purpose. For older teenagers, again, hanging out with friends can result in low productivity and loss of revision-time. On the other hand, a productive revision session with friends can be very useful. As a parent you will need to gauge the responsibility level and maturity of your own child.
  7. Follow the recommendations of local authorities.

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Author:

High School Science and Mathematics Teacher, Author and Blogger. Graduated from Bangor University with a BSc (Hons) degree in Molecular Biology and a PGCE in Secondary Science Education. Richard also holds the coveted Certificate in Mathematics from the Open University (UK).

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