Outside the Classroom

Adventures in Distance Learning: Establishing New Learning Routines

My family did a fair amount of furniture arranging in the lead-up to our new reality of remote full-time work and two students in distance learning. We bought desks and chairs so everyone could work from their bedrooms without distracting each other, shoved dressers aside, made door hangers to signal for quiet, and there were even new pencil cups procured in the rush of best intentions. Establishing new learning routines, done.

Today, four months into the school-year-from-home, those chairs look brand new, the desks are covered in toys and laundry, and the pencil cups are full of Halloween candy wrappers. Daily battles led to revelations: my privacy-loving son works just fine from his bed in the corner, where he can’t be distracted by how much of his room his classmates can see, and my free-spirited daughter works best anywhere BUT “locked up” in her room, no matter how fuzzy her desk chair is. Lesson learned: traditional techniques don’t always sync up with new modalities, and sometimes you just give yourself points for trying.

“Flexible structure” has been the most effective ethos we’ve acquired this fall, and it’s a good thing, too: Establishing new learning routines that enable you to adapt to changes is part of how we can help students manage transitions like the many 2020 has thrown at us. Since my children are opposites in many respects, the systems and structures we planned at the beginning of the school year have been reshaped in different ways by each kid. While it often feels to me like there’s no structure, a closer look reveals that there are actually just multiple unique structures. One kid starts the day with Zoom sessions, the other begins with asynchronous learning, and where classroom learning would normally provide a mid-morning recess, we’ve learned to pause for an English muffin break for one, and a round of Roblox for the other. It took us time and grace to figure out, but involving the kids in shaping their individual schedules has helped give them a sense of ownership over their learning, which has also translated to more positive attitudes about it.

In establishing new learning routines, we’ve stumbled into other best practices for online learning along the way. After failing to muster enthusiasm for the “power through all your work in X subject” technique, we embraced the science of learning, breaking asynchronous learning into 20-minute sessions. This allows the kids to sandwich less desirable work in between their favorite subjects, order them best-to-worst, or see where the mood of the day takes them. Much like the desk chairs, the little timers I purchased so enthusiastically have been abandoned entirely as my kids have learned how to shout across the house for the Alexa device to set a timer for them…several times throughout the day…times two children. It’s not exactly peaceful, but it’s handy
for keeping an ear on their progress.

Other components to our routines include oft-revised checklists and the crucial (if not exactly academic) “leave the house” task. It’s not always easy to fit in, but a short walk, a fantasy-house-hunting drive through an upscale neighborhood, or just getting a drive-thru smoothie helps us shake off the mental and emotional cobwebs that can accumulate from the current containment. If nothing else comes from our distance learning time, I think we’ll end up with a better appreciation for differing learning and working styles, plus more capacity for celebrating the areas where we overlap.


About the Author


Kallie Markle

Hailing from the wilds of far Northern California, Kallie Markle earned BAs in Literature and Philosophy from Point Loma Nazarene University. She has worked in various marketing roles and has written for National Parks magazine, where she learned to appreciate redwoods and deserts equally. She’s grateful to have joined the world of education just in time for her oldest child to surpass her in mathematics mastery.