With many students now learning online during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are now looking at how to ensure their children are successfully learning. Listen as Steve talks with associate professor at SUNY Empire State College, Dr. Rhianna Rogers about methods and strategies for parents to best support their online learners.
Find Jane McGonigal’s TED talks here.
Visit the Games for Change website here.
Get in touch with Rhianna: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Steve: 00:34 Parents supporting online learners. I’m excited today to have Dr. Rhianna Rogers join us on this podcast for parents. She’s a professor at SUNY Empire State College in New York with a decade of experience teaching online and training other educators to maximize student learning. And I was so excited that she could join us and provide some pointers for parents. So welcome, Rihanna.Rhianna: 01:02 Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here, Steve.Steve: 01:04 Dr. Rogers, I’m wondering if you might start with just a couple of key guidelines for parents to consider in creating the best possible learning environment and strategies for learning online. And I’m wondering if you kind of want to break that down into looking at elementary students and then looking at secondary students?
Rhianna: 01:28 So the first thing that I would say to all parents, no matter what level you are, and you’ve probably learned this during the COVID crisis that were having, you’re the first line of defense for learning right now. And it’s a big responsibility and it’s something that I think many people weren’t prepared to take on. But one strategy that I would give to you to begin this kind of knowledge learning is that you have to be a student yourself. And what I mean by that is you not only have to remember back what it was like for you to go through the learning process, your fears, your strengths, but you also have to take a look at some of the strategies that have come out. So if you haven’t done this, go to your school board website, look at the resources that they’re providing to students. Go to online tutorials, look up just little short videos to see what those resources are about, because I’ll tell you, if students feel uncomfortable with the technologies and you feel uncomfortable with the technologies, it’s going to make the learning process, the content acquisition difficult to achieve. So that’s just overarching, I would say for any parent, is making sure that you really truly understand, you know, what tools are being used, how to use them and how best to support your students.
Steve: 02:39 Could they almost look at at learning and exploring that with their student at the same time? Together, we can look at figuring this out and tackle that?
Rhianna: 02:50 Yeah, I actually take that same approach at the college level. You know, mutual reciprocity in the learning process, especially online, is the best way to engage people. If you show your own vulnerabilities yourself, like maybe I’m not this strong at this, but we can learn it together, it actually allows you to kind of benefit from each other where you feel more confident saying, I don’t know this. And that also can happen with your child. Well, mom doesn’t know this, Dad doesn’t know this, so it’s okay for me not to know this and it’s okay for me to learn and it’s okay for me to be slower at it. And so if you open that space, what you basically are doing is creating two things. You’re creating a safe space for students to learn, but also a brave space for them to be able to speak out when they don’t know. Which that is that kind of second order cognitive level, that you really want to be reaching as a parent so that they’re not afraid to say they don’t know something so you can help them quickly.
Rhianna: 03:40 But the big thing too, I would say between kind of elementary and secondary ed, you know, I’ve divided my points between, you know, kind of basic framework that you can use and I could say you could use this at every level that really focuses on elementary. And then I’ll talk about some of the more advanced kind of secondary supports parents should think about. But let me get started with a couple points for kind of basic elementary understanding. First, I’d recommend setting a schedule and making sure that schedule aligns with a traditional school schedule. Students have already been going to school for some time, whether it be one year, if they’re a kindergartener, or if it’s six years, if they’re in sixth grade. Keep them to that schedule. It’s a level and sense of security and familiarity that they shouldn’t be breaking. If they have recesses, take them on recess. Do those types of things to break up learning, you know, in the classroom so that they’re not just sitting at the computer. Put in art classes, you know, paper mache. Do all the fun things that you can remember when you were a kid that broke up those days that were just sitting and reading books, do the exact same thing with your kid.
Rhianna: 04:46 I would say for you, it’s also cathartic as an adult, you can take breaks at work to do these types of things from your own work life and supporting your children in that way will make it fun and less monotonous. So, you know, that strategy of keeping a schedule and tying those things in would be my first tip. My second tip would be, make sure, as I mentioned before, that you really understand the materials necessary to complete all the assignments. So read through your students’ assignments first. Make sure that they have those resources with them. If they don’t, and you’re not familiar with it, check those things out so that when your child comes into the room, you can be like, guess what? I know all these assignments, activities. Guess what? I’ve looked through your assignment too. And they’re like, wow, my Mom or Dad looked through that? That’s super cool.
Rhianna: 05:27 You know, I feel more excited about doing this because they’ve invested in that attack activity with me. And that kind of leads into point 3 which is creating an environment conducive for learning, right? So that really means that you’re creating an atmosphere that’s fun and engaging and exciting. That’s what teachers do when they’re in the classroom. That’s what I actually used to do – elementary education, that’s literally part of the teaching process when I was in school learning was make it fun. You know, we remember being kids, we could get bored really easy, right? And you’ve got to make it fun. You’ve got to make learning engaging. And so that’s the same thing for parents at home. You know, remember what made you laugh. Remember what made you excited to learn something and use it with your kids. The other thing too is you can really create like a daily plan.
Rhianna: 06:13 And what I mean by that is break things up. Don’t always do the exact same thing every single day. So you can have recess one day, you could do art the next day. Do something that, you know, your kids can look forward to. And maybe even in the process, you could ask them to cocreate with you. What it is that you’re going to do, prioritize a certain number of assignments one day. Maybe your child doesn’t like math and maybe they really like reading. Well, you could reward them and say, guess what? We’re going to start with reading right now and we’re going to move to math afterwards so that they feel that they’re being heard and their interests are being heard and they can take breaks if they need it.
Steve: 06:48 I’m hearing that a schedule helps for sequence or continuity, but within the schedule, the flexibility and the empowerment of a learner that they may not be able to get at the school day. So do I want to tackle that subject that I struggle with first? Or do I want to save it for later and do a different piece first?
Rhianna: 07:12 Exactly. And I think that’s kind of the excitement of what’s happening right now is you do have this flexibility. And it’s really a great learning process. It reminds me of Montessori school, right? At Montessori school, the environment is really constructed on the idea of what the students want to learn when they want to learn it. And you have that opportunity right now in the homeschooling process. You as a parent, have the opportunity to reinforce things. And I can tell you, it can be really invigorating, not only for you kind of helping you to remember things and even kind of hone your own skills as a parent, but also, you know, it makes it engaging for your students to learn in a different way that’s not structured and standardized.
Steve: 07:51 I’m thinking that, that we, that we think of our teenagers as a tech savvy, but there’s a chunk of online learning that’s different from being tech savvy. Am I correct with that?
Rhianna: 08:06 Yeah. You know, I actually gave a presentation recently at SUNY Geneseo where I brought up that we have six generation of learners right now in our society. We don’t think about that. We have baby boomers, we have gen X and gen Y, we have zennials, we have millennials and we have gen Z. Each of these populations actually learn in different ways. And so it’s really important to not stereotype populations, just as, I’ll give you this example, but probably one of the best colleagues that I work with in online is 72 years old. She has taught me things about online education and learning that I didn’t know. I mean, anyone can learn, but also I’m going to tell you some of the biggest technophobic individuals I’ve run into are teenagers. And here’s an example of why.
Rhianna: 08:54 Millennials and gen Z. And we know this from research like analog. So if you know any gen Zers, if you know that they like tapes and they like records and it’s super cool to have those things well, that’s because they’ve been so inundated with technology. They’re actually becoming what we call in technological terms, digitally resistant. They don’t want to have everything online. If that happens, that means you’re not going to be keeping up with all technologies. And so if you are a parent and you’re making the assumption that your children love technology, then you’re ignoring actually the patterns that are happening in gen Z and millennials and zennials. They don’t feel that way, right? Overall. And so you have to ask your children, you have to ask them, no matter what age they’re at, how comfortable are you? You know, what do you like, what do you not like about online learning? If you have that genuine starting point rather than assumptions, again, it’s one of those things about moving from a safe space to a brave space.
Rhianna: 09:47 You’re giving your child the opportunity to say, like, you know what, Mom, I really don’t understand this technology. Or, you know what, Dad, I didn’t do this assignment not because I wasn’t interested in it, it’s just, I didn’t understand how to upload it and I didn’t know who to ask. And so I say that with transition to the secondary learners, this is even more critical than elementary learners, all the same things I mentioned to you apply, but really parents need to look at school resources. Like what are the tools and resources that the students are expected to be using and really know where those cheats are. Those tutorials. Know when your child is – pay attention to if they don’t do an assignment and ask them why. Ask them on a daily basis, don’t wait until the end of the week, because then they could be a week behind and then they could be embarrassed and that’s really happens.
Rhianna: 10:35 And they don’t want to tell you, and they don’t want to get in trouble. They don’t want to get grounded. They don’t want all these various things. So they keep hiding it and hiding it from you. But if you do a daily check in, it will really prevent those types of things from happening. And also, I would say, be familiar with your teacher. I just had this conversation from the teacher lens. So I’ll just give this to a professor kind of parent lens. You know, when students went online, if you were a teacher, I’m just going to use this as an example of my friend, who’s an arts instructor. She teaches across elementary and secondary ed. They use a bunch of different platforms, but she’s one person. So now she’s having to use like seven different platforms to communicate with her, you know, parents of these different grade levels.
Rhianna: 11:21 So here’s the thing I would want you to know as a parent. Recognize that. So if you have a teacher and it’s just that one teacher for art, or you have that teacher that is one teacher for math at this specific area, be cognizant that they may not be able to instantly respond to you within a day. They may need some time. And so this is the reason why I said the first line of defense is if there’s an immediate question, if you’ve read the materials, if you’ve established kind of rapport with the teacher and say like, can we have a once a week check in where I send to you the questions of my child? And would you commit to kind of following up with me once a week so that I can plan my daily plan around this so that I’m not overburdening you?
Rhianna: 12:03 Because you have a whole bunch of students and you’re not going to be able to answer my questions every single day. A couple of my friends have told me this is that, you know, the parents right now, because they feel under prepared are being really demanding. And they’re expecting your response in like five minutes. And they’re just saying like, I don’t know what to do. So I’m just going to turn this over to this teacher. And then I’m going to ignore my child at home until the teacher responds. What if they don’t respond for a week? Think about what you could potentially be doing to your own student, your own child. You could put them a week behind in school and then they can keep getting further and further behind. And so if you keep those things in your mind and you kind of look at these various perspectives as student teacher and you as like kind of this triangle that all need to meet together to be effective, it’s going to make the teaching process and learning processes easier.
Steve: 12:52 I’m guessing this fall that, at least in many of the places I’m looking right now, it looks like students are going to be spending part of their week at school and part of their week at home. It’s kind of what I guess would call a blended model of being face to face and and back online. Any thoughts about the difference that might make for parents to respond, compared to what most experienced in the spring with the the student home the whole time and all of the learning happening online?
Rhianna: 13:32 Yeah. I think parents need to have real honest, upfront conversations with their kids and say that things are going to be different. Things could be rocky as teachers are adjusting to this administrators and schools are adjusting. So it doesn’t matter what grade level you can explain it at different levels. You know, if I was speaking to an elementary school student, say, you know, miss Jane is not going to be available all the time, you know, and that’s okay, but we’ll have other resources. You could explain it simplistically like that. But you know, your high school learners, you could probably explain some of the things about people being out of school. You know, opportunities that they may have to be advocates for themselves about COVID and otherwise. Making sure they wear masks. I mean, I’ve heard some parents talking about their practicing with their kids with masks now.
Rhianna: 14:21 Right? You know, so that they get used to wearing them. Making sure they remember to wash their hands, like practicing that and positively rewarding it at home so they remember to do it when you’re not there, right? I think those are big things beause you’re trying to create a culture with your students as they come into this new blended environment, which is different than the culture that they had when they were at school before. And you as a parent are going to be the one that really reinforces that culture on the home front whereas the administrators and teachers are going to be that on the school front. So I would say the same thing, make sure you stay in contact with your teachers. Make sure you stay in contact with your administrators so that you can make sure you’re on the same page and sharing the same message.
Rhianna: 15:03 That’s the big one. The second one that I would say about that is again, do not lose sight of the tutorials and resources about blended learning that your institutions are putting together. And make sure that your children have access to it. And I would say, be an advocate for your children. If your institution does not have quality sources for grades one through three, challenge them to get them. They don’t have quality sources for high school, challenge them to get them. You know, that’s the big thing that I say about even any learner. If you are an advocate for yourself and your learning process, it’s going to be easier. If you are a passive participant in the process, it’s always going to be
Steve: 15:44 I’m really hearing that parent learner conversation here is raised. I mean, it’s certainly always important, parent to child communication, but in so many unknowns and differences I really like your, your piece of an advocate of being brave to say, I don’t get this. I mean, we as adults need to be in the same place. Because once I can say that, now we can work on it. You know, we can work on getting the support that I need. But with it being hidden, then we’re, as you say, we’re falling further behind while we wait.
Rhianna: 16:28 Yeah. I mean, it’s a hard thing to do. I mean, sometimes we try to draw strict lines between, you know, ourselves and our kids, but we’re in an odd time right now and drawing very strict lines about learning may make it more difficult on both sides.
Steve: 16:46 So I had one last question here for you. Before a COVID happened, I had a speaker on a podcast talking about students spending too much screen time and that’s while they were in school all day. So thoughts and what are people saying about students’ screen time now where it’s a necessity to the learning piece and how do you see parents helping kids make the right decisions?
Rhianna: 17:17 You know, I think this also takes communication, but it’s also a really complicated issue that talks about employment and where we are about people going back to work and essential workers and a lot of those types of things. So if you’re a parent that has the ability to keep one parent at home regularly, you’ll have the opportunity to be able to regulate the amount of screen time that your kids have. But if you’re a parent that works one, two, three jobs, it’s a lot more difficult. So there’s two different advice. But I would say the overarching advice is to create a culture that gets kids to recognize what negative can happen as a result of being on the screen too much. You know, one example would be damage to your eyes. And like there’s tons of research that is out there that talks about what longterm exposure to looking at, you know, a screen can do.
Rhianna: 18:05 As well as to your back, as well as to your posture, as well as all of those things. And I think those are conversations that you should have with your kids at every level. I think you should let them know that, you know, if you do something a lot, and this is for anything, like, if you do too much of one thing too much, it’s going to not be good for you. Just like sitting in front of a screen. And if you incorporate things as a family, for example, with kids like getting up and stretching, you know, setting up those times where you can say like, we need to get up, we need to rotate our necks. We need to stretch our backs. We need to do various things that break up that monotony. But that also goes to a fact of having that recess. Like that home time, recess time, where you actually say, you know what, it’s recess time.
Rhianna: 18:53 We have to do it every day. We’re going to get out of this environment and we’re going to move. And that’s what we’re going to do. I think the other thing that you could say for, you know, I’m going to say middle school to high school, you know, secondary education, you know, I think there’s been a lack of connect, especially before this about people, you know, being at a distance from their kids. You know, most of the time, having them sit in front of the screen because they were working two, three, four jobs. I think there needs to be a real dialogue now with the older generation of kids and letting them know, you know, setting parameters on the amount of time that they sit in front of a screen. You know, I know it’s hard sometimes if you have kids who love online gaming, right?
Rhianna: 19:36 But there’s also the opportunity. And this is actually an advanced trick is this concept of gamification. If you are not familiar, any of you with Jane McGonigal, please look up her TED talks. Jane McGonigal, fabulous speaker. But she actually talks about how gamification and like kids today can use games to change the world. And if you like, there’s a wonderful website called games for change that I use in my courses, that’s really set for every level where you can get kids to play games about how to resolve environmental pollution. There’s actually games on games for change. And you can actually say, guess what, you’re not going to play, you know, your various game console today. You’re going to play a game for change game. You’re going to do that. Instead. The reason why I say that as some of the games are passive, that people are playing and game consoles that don’t actually use critical thinking skills, but some of these other games do that. Which is one of the reasons that we have issues with cognition, eyesight, all that stuff. Because you’re really shutting down parts of your brain. Same thing when you watch TV, I know nobody wants to hear that. Your brain actually works far less when you watch television. And so putting in these tips and tricks and saying like, hey, let’s do this other thing can also help with cognition and making sure that you don’t actually slow down the development of cognition in youth.
Steve: 20:57 Well, I’m going to ask you a favor at Dr. Rogers, if you’ll, if you’ll drop me the links for that TED talk and the website, we’ll include it in the lead into this podcast so that folks can find it. So I have one last question for you and that is, would we find recess on your schedule?
Rhianna: 21:19 I have recess, yes. My recess is walking my dog. So I walk him around my neighborhood. And I also have an area in the back where I have two fruit trees. So I like to sit out and I like to watch the leaves blowing and the birds. We have a lot of birds and bunnies, so.
Steve: 21:37 We’re on perfect timing here then, because we recorded a podcast just two weeks back on parents getting kids out in nature. So it really it really will link into everything you’ve you’ve suggested there. Thank you so much for joining us. We’ll put your email address in the lead in too, so parents could contact you directly with a question that they have for you.
Rhianna: 21:59 Wonderful. It was a pleasure being here.
Steve: 22:01 Thank you.
Steve: 22:02 Thank you.
Steve [Outro]: 22:04 Thanks again for listening. You can subscribe to Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on Twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.