21 Strategies for Effective COVID Learning

A path to student and family resilience.

Posted Nov 13, 2020

Six months ago, who knew that teachers and parents together would need to devise a “COVID classroom?" We lived a different life then. Now, the new classrooms comprise a great deal of what we are talking about as we navigate the 2020–2021 school year. The Gurian Institute has been adapting and helping schools, districts, parents, and stakeholders with the new schooling issues.  Boys and girls learn differently whether in person or online. Here are 20 strategies for your “COVID classroom,” however it is formed, plus 1 ontological strategy—I’ll keep you in suspense on that. 

10 Strategies for Setting Up Your Healthy Home (Online) Classroom

For parents setting up healthy home classrooms, here are 10 essential strategies.

Create a Sense of Place. Decide where your child’s “learning base” will be and use it as a secure base for learning. Perhaps it’s in the bedroom.  If so, make sure natural light gets in, if possible, encourage quiet there but keep the door open unless there are distractions elsewhere in the house, and help your child notice what will be in the background online so that there are no embarrassing features behind the child.

Create a Sense of “School.”  Stick to good breakfasts (fewer carbs and sugars and more protein) like you would anyway, and stick to routines of bathing, clothing, etc., so that the morning is “like going to school.” During the day, think about “recess” as a necessary transition and play period.

Protect Your Child’s Neck. Watch out for “text neck” by setting up the learning space so that the screen can be at eye level (perhaps stack up books under the screen to raise up the screen).

Protect Your Child’s Eyes. The 20-20-20 rule is a good one. Every 20 minutes, your child ought to look away from the screen and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Use Movement Strategies Generously. The 10-20 minute rule for movement is crucial, especially for boys, as we’ll explore further below. Perhaps your child can go into different rooms and outside to do projects or just take movement/brain breaks every 10-20 minutes.

Use Healthy Seating. If you have them, let your child use a standing desk. Otherwise, try for desk chairs with arms and lumbar support. Overall, teach your child to seek comfortable seating on the floor, too, for some lessons, and in alternate, body-supportive seating.

Use Ergonomic Keyboards. If you can, look at inexpensive ergonomic keyboards that will connect to your child’s laptop or PC easily and protect hands and wrists from strain. Teach your child to keep elbows on the arms of the chair when sitting in the chair and footstools so feet are supported under desks for smaller kids.

Use Headphones, When Possible. Headphones all day might be cumbersome, but for some lessons, headphones keep distracting noise out. The WHO advises we set headphones for under 85 decibels to be safe.

Advocate for Healthy Screen Time. If a 10-year-old is in online school for 6 hours, consider forming a parent group to let the school know you know this is unhealthy and you need it to stop. Try to convince the school and teachers to add homework time into school time so there is little or no “after hours” homework to add to the screen time issue.

Alter Your Expectations Toward Healthy Learning. Much of what children experience in online learning is not retained, unfortunately, as it is not dynamically taught. This is no one’s fault. It is simply the limitation of the medium. Altering our parental expectations of learning can go a long way to decreasing stress in ourselves, our kids, and the teachers.

If you are a person of means or part of a corporation with a public service budget, anything you can do to help the millions of kids who don’t have online access at all and/or don’t have strong enough broadband will be very welcome as a public service. 

10 Strategies for Integrative Schooling 

For boys and any at-risk learner, these strategies may be urgently needed now, especially where all or part of school is online, but they should work well for girls, as well, and for all children.

Teachers/Staff as Student/Family Mentors. Make sure every appropriate staff member at a hybrid or online school becomes a mentor/coach/advisor to multiple students and their families. This advisor/mentor calls, texts, and otherwise contact his/her mentees as much as needed, including to check in on homework completion.

Physical Coaches as Life Coaches. Phys-ed and athletics coaches who are underemployed in a shutdown or online schooling semester can now expand the “coach” role to take on multiple advisees both for physical health maintenance in the children, and for academic/social learning

On-Leave Teachers as Advisors. If some of your teachers are not going to return to buildings but the buildings will re-open with a hybrid model, those teachers can take on 20 + mentees from home.

Same-Sex Mentors, Especially With Children Who Are Under-Fathered. Especially for children who are under-fathered or under-parented at home, the mentor can be life-saving and the mentoring can be provided both online and with social distancing in person. 

Apprentice Every Child. Apprenticeship is a building block of healthy adolescence. Whatever your child’s island of competence or interest area is, look for an online or in-person and socially distanced “master” to apprentice him/her. If our schools helped find these apprentices, they would be doing a great service for each child.

Use an Organizational Chart for All Relevant Work. A lot of kids are having trouble organizing their work these days. Ask your child’s/student’s mentor to send the child a graphic organizer or other tool and then check in with the student on how it is going, assessing the organizational tool with the student every day or every other day.

Provide Students and Parents With Kinesthetic Assets. Squeeze balls, fidgets, hands-on tools, and manipulatives are all generally required for children, especially boys, to learn well. Let’s help every family find these tools online or if the family budget does not allow their purchase, provide them to families via Title funds.

Physical Movement, Nature Time, Exercise/Athletics, Sleep, Food. In few historical times has it been more important to help children be healthy. This means we have to direct them in 1-2 hours of exercise/nature time in a day, lots of physical movement while learning, good sleep hygiene (going to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time on weekdays), and no junk food! The latter is crucial for physical and emotional health.

Curtail Non-Educational Digital Time. The use of digital assets to provide education is increasing during the pandemic but can potentially cause developmental trauma to the young child’s brain. Saving Our Sons and The Minds of Girls include gender-specific birth-to-25 templates for healthy screen use. If your child’s school is online (e.g. 3-6 hours per day already), consider curtailing all or nearly all other screen time.

Journaling and Graphic Journaling. Journaling is healthy for kids during crisis times such as these. If you can get your child to keep a journal/diary, that would be great (good for writing, reading, and social-emotional development). Some kids like to draw more than write. That’s okay — they can create a comic book/graphic novel type journal.

An Important Ontological Strategy

“Ontology” is the study of "being," a philosophical way of understanding how we, our families, and our cultures fit with “being” itself, with life and death, with time and timelessness, with higher purpose and power. The COVID crisis is a moment in our history when pondering our “being” has become, either consciously or unconsciously, a daily occurrence because of constant bombardment in media of case rates and death rates.

I hope you will use this moment to ponder what “being” means to you, to your relationships, to your parenting and schooling. At some point, we must all explore how to live somewhere in between an ontology of fear and an ontology of resilienceWherever you fall in this spectrum, talk to your loved ones, especially your children, about both fear and resilience. Ask elders to tell your children stories from their own crisis times when they had to work through fear and move toward resilience. 

If you, your school or district, or your parents and community need help adapting to hybrid, online schooling, pods, or traditional schooling, please reach out to us at www.gurianinstitute.com and info@gurianinstitute.com.