Routines and practice help kids succeed in online learning, education expert tells La Jolla schools group

Douglas Fisher, top center, presents strategies for distance learning success at the Sept. 17 La Jolla Cluster meeting.
Douglas Fisher, top center, a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University, presents strategies for distance learning success at the Sept. 17 La Jolla Cluster Association meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Education expert Douglas Fisher offered tips and best practices for local parents to help their children succeed in online learning as he spoke at the La Jolla Cluster Association’s Sept. 17 meeting.

Fisher, a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State University and co-author of “The Distance Learning Playbook” (with editions for teachers and parents), said he is worried about lowered expectations for learning “because of COVID-19. This is a very dangerous narrative to have, that because of a pandemic, we can’t learn.”

Fisher, who is working with La Jolla Cluster teachers to help develop their online teaching skills, said the emphasis of his current work is, “Instead of remediation, what if we focused instead on acceleration? How can we accelerate the learning of young people?”

He highlighted ways families can accelerate learning, starting with making sure children are dressed and ready for school and involved in daily routines. “It sends a powerful message to their brain: ‘I am now going to school,’” he said.

Also important to online learning success, Fisher said, is to create a dedicated space for learning outside students’ bedrooms, whenever possible, noting that changing the environment helps determine learning behavior.

He suggested that if having students work outside their bedrooms isn’t feasible, reorient the computer so it faces away from the bed.

Visual cues like these can help younger students know how to behave during video lessons.
Visual cues like these can help younger students know how to behave during video lessons, according to education expert Douglas Fisher.

Setting up routines for video chats is important for younger students, said Fisher, who showed a sample poster with visual cues for children to know “what it looks like to learn when you’re live with your teacher.”

The “highest influence of engagement” for all students, Fisher said, comes from students reflecting on their own level of participation and setting activity goals for future lessons.

“Here’s the secret of school,” Fisher said. “About 40 percent of instructional minutes in physical school are spent on things your children already know. So don’t worry if your kid doesn’t have 6½ hours a day” of online learning, as teachers are now focusing on new material and leaving the rituals of practice and repetition for independent work times.

Practice, however, isn’t optional to Fisher. “Practice makes permanent,” he said. “Deliberate practice is powerful. The kids who are going to make it this year will be the ones who engage in the practice activities.”

Fisher also cautioned parents against giving their children answers on schoolwork. “Allow your kids to struggle,” he said. “We don’t want learned helplessness.”

Fisher listed his three best ways for parents to invest time to support distance learning: reading, vocabulary and oral language.

“Get your kid to read every day,” he said. “The research on effective schools says on average, kids have eyes on text 90 minutes across the school day. In the pandemic, we documented that dropped to about 30 minutes. That’s a dangerous action.”

He cited studies indicating that reading volume “highly correlates to your overall achievement.”

Vocabulary knowledge is the best predictor of reading comprehension, Fisher said, and he encouraged parents to find vocabulary game apps for their children.

Students also should practice oral language skills, which supports reading comprehension, he said. “Get ‘em talking.”

Addressing widespread concerns about social well-being, Fisher said he doesn’t have a good solution. “Socialization, friendships and learning how to resolve conflicts … is a big worry for me,” he said. “This is going to be an important conversation for you all, because I really believe, academically, we’re fine.

“Academics are going to happen, with a little help from you. Together we can get through this.”

Fisher’s presentation slides are available on the cluster’s website. The cluster next meets at 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15. Learn more at