How to Help Your Students Stay Connected

Regardless of where we are located, it’s looking like we should be prepared for some form of distance learning at some point next year. Last spring, one of the most frustrating aspects of my remote teaching experience was the constant barrage of emails and texts from students and parents asking how to log in to this resource or that one.  And, it wasn’t just once, it was over and over again–sometimes the same students, sometimes the same resources. 

I understand–it was new to all of us and many families were dealing with multiple kids using multiple resources, and frankly, we weren’t prepared.  In all honesty, I’ve always spent a good bit of time during regular school solving password/log-in issues.  The good news?  I think I’ve got a fix that will make this less of a burden on all of us–regardless of where we’re teaching or learning from next year!

Every teacher I’ve talked with has been thinking about which platforms/resources they plan to use next year. The possibilities are endless: Google Classroom, the district’s Learning Management System, a personal website/blog, online textbooks, tools like Remind, sites like Khan Academy, Quizlet, and No Red Ink, and/or other programs provided by schools and districts. The first step to solving our students’ access issues is to avoid overwhelming them with too many choices. Our sanity and our students’ success depends on us choosing judiciously.  

Limit your tools and resources to those that provide the most bang for your buck and those that will allow for the most flexibility.  Posting information in multiple places is a time-suck, it’s redundant, and it’s confusing to kids. Last spring, many of the teachers I work with tried to give kids as many ways to find the work as possible–posting the same assignments in Focus and Google Classroom as well as accepting work through email. I think we all realized that our good intentions quickly created confusion for kids and more work (and confusion) for teachers.  Sometimes more isn’t better.  

This year, narrow your focus and broadcast your plans loud and clear, in every possible way.  From the start, create a How-To Document that clearly catalogs each site you use and how students can access the site/resource.  Give as much information as you can (e.g., check the weekly agenda in Google Classroom, complete three Reading Plus SeeReader exercises before Sunday at midnight, or find helpful videos on my YouTube playlist). Here’s a sample I created.  Be sure to include all of your contact information and if there’s a school/district help desk for students, include that too!

I’ve made no secret of my love for Google in this blog and in my teaching, but I truly believe a Google Doc is the best way to create this How-To document. With a Google Doc, you can update it in real time, publish it to the web (without posting it on a website), and it’s easy to format.

The key to success with this document, though, is that it has to be easily accessible by our students and their parents. I would not print the document for them–papers get lost and information changes. Instead, publish it online by selecting “Publish to the web” from the File menu in Google Docs. Make sure that “Automatically republish when changes are made” is checked in the pop-up window and then copy the link. (Here’s my sample document as it appears published to the web.)

Google links are really long and easy for people to mistype. Fix this by shortening the link using a free site like TinyURL. Simply enter your long URL into the box at the top of the page and click on the “Make TinyURL” button. Then, copy your new link and use it whenever you think people might need to type the URL.

I’d also make a QR Code for the published doc. Paste the link into a free QR Code Generator and then download or copy/paste the QR Code. You can put this image on any printed syllabus or assignments and your students can scan with their phones any time for a reminder of how to access your class materials.

Here are some other ways to share:

  • Print mailing labels with both the QR Code and the shortened URL–students can affix them to their notebook.
  • Include the URL in your email signature.
  • Post the QR Code and link on signs inside your classroom and in the hallway outside of your classroom.
  • Post the link in every online portal to your class (school website, Google Classroom, classroom blog). Sometimes kids can get to one resource, but may need help accessing another one.
  • Teach students how to bookmark the published doc on their phones or to save it to their home screens.

Once you’ve created the initial Doc and published it to the web, all changes and updates you make will automatically be visible to anyone with the link, so there’s no reason not to get started with this right away. If you realize that a link isn’t working or that the directions need another step, just fix it on your original and know that all your students and parents will have access to the fix. If you discover a new resource mid-year, you can add it to the list without any fanfare or extra work. By encouraging our students and parents to use this simple-to-create resource, we should be able to save everyone a lot of time and headaches.

This is the third post in my Making Lemonade series. If you’re looking for more strategies and resources to help make the 2020-21 school year the best it can be under current circumstances, please follow this blog! You’ll be notified each time I post a new idea!

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