Distance Learning: Keep Your Students Learning Even When School is Closed

I live in Washington State, just a few short miles from the US location with the most Coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths. Events are being canceled left and right and Northshore, the school district my own kids attended, has closed for up to 2 weeks with only a day’s notice. Other districts are sure to follow. If yours is one of them, then this post from Cassi Noack is must-read.

Worried About the Coronavirus and What That Might Mean For You?

A couple of months ago, if you happened to hear the word “Corona,” you probably conjured up relaxing feelings of warm sand and crashing waves.  Now when you hear the word, it’s just fear, confusion, and worry.  A ten-minute scroll through Facebook or Instagram can make you feel even more confused.  Perhaps you think it’s all just media hype, or maybe you think not enough is being done to protect Americans. Either way, as a teacher, you have a great responsibility to protect your students while simultaneously teaching them.  (Yes, you can add this to your never-ending list of responsibilities!)

The more I scroll through my teacher groups on Facebook, the more often I’m seeing posts like this:

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

It’s already begun.  American schools are closing in attempts to keep students safe. Other schools are preparing for closure.

If this is you,  you may be feeling overwhelmed and unsure as to how you can possibly teach your students when you won’t even see them.  I’ve been reading countless posts written by stressed-out teachers venting their frustrations about the whole situation.  Maybe you’re like them.  You have to teach your students from afar, but you don’t really know how to do this.  They don’t teach this stuff in teacher school!  And maybe you’re like the other teachers that are saying they don’t have any resources or training as to how to accomplish such a feat.

Today I’m going to share one way you can help your students learn without stepping foot into a school.

You can do this whole “distance learning” thing!

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

What is Distance Learning All About?

For this post, I’m defining “Distance Learning” as learning that takes place outside of the classroom for an extended period of time.  You may not have one ounce of worry about the Coronavirus, but there are lots of times when distance learning is necessary. I live in Houston, TX, and it seems as though every other year we have massive floods that shut the school systems down for weeks.  Teachers who live farther north deal with cold-weather related issues, and just this week, tornadoes ripped through Tennessee causing schools to close.  Several will be closing for the remainder of the school year.

Yes, those are dramatic examples, but how many times have you had students miss a week of school to go to Disney?  How many students will get the flu, strep, or even mono? You never know when a student will leave your classroom, but not your class.  I’ve had students go home-bound for physical and emotional health reasons.  Mastering the facilitation of distance learning practices will help you overcome any unforeseen long-term student absences.  But that’s not all.  This practice works well for students while they’re in the classroom too.  Whether your school will be closing due to the Coronavirus or not, I challenge you to give these ideas a go! I bet you’ll like your results.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

Tip #1 for Facilitating Distance Learning: Avoid Student Overwhelm

Distance learning requires a heavy does of facilitation.  The best way to frame distance learning is to provide a learning path that makes sense for the students.  I got both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in distance learning programs.  Sometimes I had professors that threw all the learning materials in a big master file. The file names were indecipherable, there were no sub folders, and it was a scavenger hunt every time I needed materials for an upcoming assignment.  Other professors used linear frameworks that walked me step by step through the course. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which courses I liked more and did better in.

With distance learning, you must make it impossibly simple for students to know what to do, where to find needed materials, and how to communicate with you.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

Google Slides is the simplest platform for making this happen.  It’s intuitive, linear, includes tools perfect for student use, has built-in communication, and is easy to distribute.  Plus, it’s free.  Parents can access the materials with their own Google email accounts, or students can access through Google Classroom.

As we continue looking at what to include while planning for distance learning, you’ll see how I use Google Slides to facilitate it.  Start the day with a summary of what students will be doing for that day.  This summary becomes a digital check list that guides students.  They will move through the slides as they complete one task and begin the next.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools
The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

Tip #2 for Facilitating Distance Learning: Give Students Their Work in Chunks

Plan to provide your students with no more than one week of distance learning material at a time. A week is a good amount. Any more than this, your students will feel overwhelmed.  Any less than this, you’ll have the added work of distributing materials more often.

Planning can be simple, and it doesn’t have to take lots of time. It’s helpful to plan specific activities for each day. This ensures the learning is linear and that students know the exact path to take.

As you’re planning, you need to address three specific components. These components include acquiring new knowledge, gaining facility with the skill, and assessing student understanding.

Let’s look at each component a little more closely.


The object is for students to learn the same material that would be learned during a regular school day.  Without you to teach, you have to find the next best thing.  This is done though video.  Either create a quick video yourself with a simple recording program, like Screencastify, or find already created videos on YouTube, Vimeo, or other video platforms.  Google Slides makes it very easy.  You can embed a video right on the slide with just a link and a couple of clicks. You can also save your self-created videos to your Google Drive and embed them just as easily. Include a section for students to take notes or ask a couple simple questions about the video.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools


Once students have learned the material from the videos you provided them, they will need to practice the skill.  Be thoughtful when choosing the practice activities.  Because you’ll be providing a digital copy, choose resources for which the hard copy isn’t mandatory.  Although there are thousands of activities that are created specifically for online learning, you can also just use your textbook pages or worksheets.  Download the free app on your phone called “CamScanner.” It allows you to take a picture of the worksheet with your phone, save it as a PDF or picture file, and upload it directly to Google Drive.  You can provide the students with a digital copy. If students want a printed copy to work on it, they can print it.  However, there’s no need for printing.  Students can digitally record their answers.    *Pay attention to copyright.  Most digital resources can only be saved in locations that aren’t accessible by the general public.

Multiple choice, text-based or numerical, and essay type answers are easy to use while facilitating distance learning.  Other types of answer choices might be a little more difficult.  Luckily, Google Slides offers you flexibility with digitized worksheets. You just have to be a little creative.  For example, the topic of measuring angles doesn’t lend itself easily to digitizing.  However, including a picture of a protractor gives students the tool they need.  Also, it’s hard to read angle measures without extending the rays of the angle.  Using Google Slide’s line tool allows students to extend the lines digitally.  With some creativity, you can assign nearly any type of worksheet to students.

If you’re interested in seeing examples of resources that are designed specifically for digital learning, you can click here to check out my catalog of digital resources.  There are several free products you can download.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

3. Assessing

Unfortunately, you can’t rely on family members to ensure students are learning. You must provide opportunities for students to self-assess and include ways of gathering feedback from the students. When I say “assessment,” don’t think “test.” A simple assessment can be a quick activity that allows for students to try answering questions based on the new learning.  Having a way for students to check whether they were right or wrong is important.  This feedback helps them determine where they are on the learning continuum.

Task cards are an amazing tool for self-assessment.  You can use the snipping tool or your screenshot key to capture a digital copy of a single task card.  The picture can be pasted onto a slide so that the students work on one task card at a time. To make the task card self-checking, type the answer in a text box and then cover it up with an image.  Once the students are ready to see if they’re correct, they can slide the image over and check. This 1-minute video will walk you through the steps.   It’s so easy! You could have 10 cards in less than 5 minutes.

1. Open your task card file.
2. Use the snipping tool to grab 1 task card.
3. Paste the picture of the task card on a new slide.
4. Insert a text box and type in the answer.
5. Insert an image and drag it so that it covers up the answer.
6. Duplicate that slide. For the next task card, you’ll just need to change the picture and the answer.

YouTube video

 *Pay attention to copyright.  Most purchased resources can only be shared in locations that aren’t accessible by the general public.

Do you love task cards as much as me? Minds in Bloom has over 250 different sets of task cards. There are even lots of free ones you can use! Click here to check them out!

Looking for an even easier self-checking assessment?

Boom Learning

Copying and pasting task cards into Google Slides is a quick and effective way of assessing students in a distance learning atmosphere.  But if you’re looking for something that’s even easier, you should check out Boom Cards™. Boom Cards are interactive digital task cards.  Not only are they self-checking, they’re also super engaging.  Students get immediate feedback as they work, and you get data showing how your students performed.  Teachers love Boom Cards because they can easily find and assign decks of digital task cards for nearly any topic.  Plus, students can access their assignments from any device.  If you haven’t tried Boom Cards, make that a priority!

► Click here for an example of a Boom Card

Click here to view Rachel’s Boom Cards

Or See the Entire Boom Card Store by Clicking Here

Comments are also a great way for encouraging communication.  Use the comment tool built into Google Slides to ask students questions that will help you gather feedback.

With distance learning, you must let go of some teacher control.  (Yes, teacher control is a real thing.) You won’t be able to control whether students cheat, whether they actually do the work, whether their parents do it for them, or any of the other things we worry about and want to control.  Your job in this situation is to provide doable learning opportunities for students and respond to their individual feedback.  Their job is to complete the activities, realistically assess their own understanding, communicate when they need help, and thus learn.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools
The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

Tip #3 for Facilitating Distance Learning: Do What You Can, and Don’t Do What You Can’t

I’ve read hundreds of comments on Facebook groups about the Coronavirus and how it’s currently affecting teachers’ lives. The most common response I’m hearing is that teachers are overwhelmed and don’t know where to even begin.  While some schools are providing rushed trainings, other schools are leaving it entirely up to the teachers.  In one Facebook group, a teacher posted that she is “already so far behind, and now this.” A very wise teacher responded positively saying, “Don’t worry about.  Do what you can, and don’t do what you can’t.”

Read that again, and let it sink in.

The Corona virus and distance learning for schools

There are lots of things you may be worried about when it comes to distance learning.  And the answer to your question might be one you don’t want to hear.

  • Yes, distance learning is different.
  • Yes, it’s not always as effective as traditional learning.
  • Yes, there will be students that won’t take the learning seriously.
  • Yes, there are students without computers.
  • Yes, there are students that procrastinate and will try to do it all the last day home.

But those aren’t the only yesses.  There are lots of positive answers to these same questions.

  • Yes, there will be students who do their assigned work every day.
  • Yes, there will be students who learn just as well as they would have at school.
  • Yes, there will be students whose parents help them learn everything there is to learn.
  • Yes, there will be students that communicate with you through messages and emails.
  • Yes, there will be students who love learning independently.
  • Yes, there will be students that learn better in the quiet, less busy atmosphere of home.
  • Yes, there will be students that answer every question correctly.
  • Yes, there will be students that create their own learning paths just for fun.

How Do I Know Distance Learning Works?

I know this can work because I have experienced it.  I’ve taught home-bound students and have used this learning structure in my own class.  When students took their trips to Disney, they completed their learning path.  When students were out with the flu or strep, they completed their learning path once they felt better. Distance learning is an amazing thing because we are teaching students how to learn independently, which is a skill that will serve them their entire lives.


If you want to read what the Department of Education has to say about the Coronavirus, click here, or check out this information sheet.

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