Back to school: 7 ways to win at online learning

(CNN)Here we go again.

This is the prevailing sentiment in millions of homes these days as many families gear up for what likely will amount to another semester of virtual learning due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For most of these families, the online learning they endured this spring was passable at best, the result of schools and school districts scrambling to adapt their respective face-to-face curricula for the online environment.
This time around, it seems everyone is determined to make the experience better all around.
    For students, this could mean fewer boring Zoom calls, more engaging lessons and opportunities to build camaraderie with new classmates. For parents, it could mean less of an expectation to play the role of proctor or facilitator, and more flexibility to be able to focus on their own jobs. For teachers, the new approach hopefully will translate into a greater ability to educate instead of taming technology.
    Of course, none of this can happen in a vacuum; even the busiest parents have to take steps to put their families in a position to succeed. Here, then, are seven tips for making the fall semester of virtual learning better than the spring.

    Organize, organize, organize

    Considering all the chaos that unfolds daily in your home, order is your friend. For Rachel Rosenthal, organizational expert and owner of Rachel and Company, a professional organizing company near Washington, D.C., this means creating a designated space for everything — particularly with the help of new organizational vessels and custom labeling devices to help do the job.
    "When a child's physical surroundings are organized it enables them to do better work," she wrote in a recent email. "I believe that physical organization leads to mental organization, and that organization is a key component to ensuring virtual school is more productive in the fall than it was in the spring."
    Rosenthal suggested that parents empower kids to create individualized and independent workspaces that are free of clutter and distraction, even if it's not a separate room. Some of the most useful organizational tools to achieve this objective, she noted, include paper bins, cord keepers, shelves for notebooks and cups for loose markers and crayons.
    She added that parents should try not to micromanage an organizing job; instead she recommended that parents provide kids with the tools and the space to arrange things the way they see fit.
    "Organization is a way of life and not a one-time event," she said.

    Post a schedule

    One way to keep kids organized throughout the day: Posting a schedule so kids know what's next.
    This is precisely what most teachers do, especially those who spend their days educating students under the age of 10.
    Marguerite Hagan, a first grade teacher at St. Mary's Episcopal Day School in Tampa, Florida, said that she and her colleagues usually post a schedule at the front of their classrooms — most commonly on a dry erase board. The teachers then go over the schedule every morning so kids know what to expect. Hagan and her colleagues also leave the schedule up so kids can refer to it throughout the day. She advised that parents do the same sort of thing at home.
    "Kids love to know what their day looks like at a glance," she said. For children who can't read yet, she said it's a good idea to use images or drawings to depict the lessons of the day. Math, for instance, might be represented by an abacus, while reading can be represented by a book.
    "The key is routine and structure," she said.

    Designate a learning area

    Another option for helping virtual learners stay organized: Building a new workspace entirely from scratch.
    For some parents, this might mean creating a nook or alcove in a spare bedroom. For Sharon and Justin Florentine, parents of a 9-year-old in Abington, Pennsylvania, the answer was converting a free-standing shed in the backyard into a classroom.
    The 15-by-30-foot structure was built in 2017 as a home for Justin's woodworking hobby. It's separate from the main house and has its own electricity, but otherwise was not finished until this summer. That's when Justin bought a do-it-yourself spray-foam insulation kit and did all the insulation, framing and drywalling himself. The family added a portable room air conditioner to keep things cool.
    When school is in session and virtual learning begins, Sharon Florentine said her son can either log on to Wi-Fi from the main house or connect via a hard-wired Ethernet port.
    "(Our son) is way more comfortable with this approach," she said, noting that he has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. "For the most part, he thrives at virtual/remote school, and when we told him there would be the option to do virtual school again this fall, he said, 'Cool! I like that better anyway.'"

    Communicate with teachers