Skip to Content
Back to top
Curriculum & Leadership

A 5-Point Checklist for Instructional Content in the Era of Distance Learning

The Newsela Team
May 4, 2020

At the start of 2020, no one could have predicted a country-wide pivot to distance learning. And just as so many of us were caught unawares by the changes to daily life, no school was perfectly prepared to make the transition to remote teaching—and to do it almost overnight.

With so much uncertainty about the future, one thing is clear: we all want to be more flexible going forward. For schools, this is especially true when it comes to instructional content, and ensuring that content delivery can adapt to circumstances beyond the traditional classroom. Below, we’ve prepared a checklist school leaders can use as they assess their current instructional content, or, looking ahead, as they evaluate new providers.

1. Prioritize resources that are flexible and versatile.

The COVID-19 crisis brought one thing into focus for educators around the country: we no longer have the luxury of assuming content will be taught primarily in the classroom. Ensuring that content resources support distance learning is essential, whether for an unplanned scenario like COVID-19 or over summer break. 

A related consideration is having a resource that supports both the core curriculum and supplemental reading. During regular instruction, teachers need aligned content and resources that support keys topics, concepts, and standards. When students are learning from home, it’s most important to get them reading—and since they’re more engaged reading topics they care about, they need content that’s relevant and authentic to their lives.

A good content resource should be flexible and versatile, with a range and volume that allow teachers to meet student’s needs and address their interests. When this content is all in one place, it means teachers don’t need to waste time cobbling together resources—and it reduces the need to learn multiple workflows and constantly switch between tools.

2.  Ensure materials are accessible and equitable.

School leaders care about access and equity, and those requirements should apply to a content resource too: materials should be accessible to all students. That means content should be differentiated, providing versions at a range of different reading levels. Both the content and the delivery platform should be accessible to students with disabilities, and students should be able to access materials from a variety of devices—or without any internet access or technology. 

While it may not be the first thing on district leaders' minds, we shouldn't forget the impact of having content that is inclusive, reflecting a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. Content should provide “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” for students, enabling them to see themselves—and what they can become. 

3. Take advantage of tools that are easy to use.

Instructional materials that are easy-to-use for both teachers and students offer an advantage that is more appealing today than ever before. With no opportunity to hold in-person training for implementing new tools, school leaders should prioritize tools that teachers are familiar with, and that come with meaningful vendor support.

Though this priority has been thrown into especially stark relief this past month, the need for seamless implementation and low-effort training will remain when schools are back in session. With a host of new challenges and issues to work through, educators shouldn’t have to struggle to implement new tools.

4. Strive to be digital-first (but not digital only)

Even before COVID-19, digital-first resources already had many advantages: content can’t be lost or damaged, students can access it from anywhere, and additions to content platforms arrive in teachers' hands instantly. In a distance learning scenario where classrooms are spread across neighborhoods, cities, and even states, these advantages are only more compelling.

But as the current moment has also shown us, content resources can’t exclude students by being digital-only. Digital resources must be easily translatable to paper and available in offline settings, to ensure that students without technology or internet access can still use materials.

5. Require visibility into usage.

Having visibility into how teachers and students are using a resource has always been important for school leaders. Today, that need for information—especially when it comes to student engagement when distance learning—is even more pronounced. A good content resource includes in-depth reporting, giving teachers and administrators insight into what materials are being used and how.

On a closing note, having this kind of insight into use will also help school leaders manage what is sure to be a difficult school year in terms of budget. Especially when schools make use of more flexible subscription-based or pay-as-you-go services, evaluating impact and adjusting accordingly will help them double down on what’s working for their teachers and students.

The Latest from @Newsela

It's easy to get caught up in the negative news lately, but many people are doing good to combat the fear and isolation of the coronavirus. Take Jodi Beder for example, who holds daily 30-minute cello concerts for her neighbors in Mount Rainier, MD 👉 https://t.co/BOVQfDN6Lg https://t.co/XQHV0Vq7TY
May 26, 2020, 5:25 PM
Schools responded in many different ways to the unexpected shift to distance learning, and will likely take new approaches for going back to school. RSVP for one of several upcoming webinars to explore how Newsela can help you plan for re-entry 👉 https://t.co/R7rR45cHZF https://t.co/J0Px5F2TSG
May 26, 2020, 4:21 PM
Read the story of how three districts worked hard to transition as smoothly as possible to #distancelearning. While their strategies and tactics may differ, they share one thing in common: a dedication to supporting their student population’s needs. https://t.co/atAUaJVxyP
May 26, 2020, 3:17 PM
Join us this Wednesday to learn how science and literacy share a symbiotic relationship in California 👉 https://t.co/O5MXcEjnlo We'll cover: - Engaging your Science students at 5 different levels - Phenomena-based NGSS activities - Real Classroom Practices - STEM Connections https://t.co/oi9qHd9fwd
May 26, 2020, 2:13 PM
Newsela Certified Educators drive school-wide innovation, especially when it comes to distance learning. Build your expertise in designing creative teaching applications with our instructional content 👉 https://t.co/odmsKMCbxP https://t.co/SsXaPzcWYY
May 26, 2020, 12:50 AM
Have questions about how to bring Social Studies to your classrooms with Equitable Learning? ⏰Tomorrow, join Newsela to review California's Social Studies Critical Standards and Equitable Distance Learning. Happening Tuesday, May 26 from 2-3PM PST 👉 https://t.co/YwDT5xUfvx https://t.co/hWOu12pf3Q
May 25, 2020, 10:20 PM
This Memorial Day, students can read and reflect on the articles in this Text Set to honor the men and women who gave their lives defending the United States of America from the Revolutionary War to the war against terror 👉 https://t.co/hLL6FjvPW4 https://t.co/YpsIKc9N9p
May 25, 2020, 6:29 PM
You might think of "Minecraft" as just a silly video game, but it can actually offer educational content for students stuck at home. Learn about free downloadable worlds with lessons on biology, fractions and even a virtual tour of Washington, D.C. 👉 https://t.co/lgDBvRIm4o https://t.co/fLx3GBJsYk
May 25, 2020, 4:21 PM
"We know that COVID-19 has been anxiety-provoking for everyone, and it's potentially scary and hard for children to understand. So we wanted to create a resource to help them." This Coronavirus coloring book is available in English, Spanish and Arabic 👉 https://t.co/8HPmOmv822 https://t.co/DUqKYsvnkA
May 25, 2020, 3:17 PM
Did you know the first candy in space was M&Ms? 🚀 Take students on a virtual field trip to the M&M Factory to learn all kinds of fun facts about the history this yummy candy and chocolate altogether! 🍫 https://t.co/h7Pbk1X67Q https://t.co/o9MEmxpUYn
May 25, 2020, 2:13 PM
What will post COVID-19 school look like? Whether virtual or in-person, the role of #edtech in classrooms will continue evolving. There will be challenges ahead — but bright spots as well. Here's how distance learning has proved four #edtech myths wrong. https://t.co/JyfL1JkN01
May 24, 2020, 10:20 PM
Ever considered teaching U.S. History with "Hamilton" the Musical? 🎶 Using this collection of Newsela articles, students can gain an understanding of who Alexander Hamilton was and why the Founding Fathers are included throughout the play "Hamilton" 👉 https://t.co/iSoueFuNne https://t.co/rEYH8nwpXB
May 24, 2020, 6:29 PM
So you've heard comics are just for kids? Think again! Read how a group of students and teachers at a Vermont college are using their artistic talents to leverage comics as an educational tool for people of all ages 👉 https://t.co/4WvSeYY14i https://t.co/asn0AMPPUG
May 24, 2020, 5:25 PM
Planning for re-entry back to school? Register for one of our subject-specific webinars with our Teaching and Learning team to explore how Newsela can help you adjust to hybrid schedules. https://t.co/R7rR45cHZF https://t.co/FFg2GNmYI8
May 24, 2020, 2:13 PM
When unexpected events force schools to close, there's no playbook for how to respond — but there are lessons learned. This case study looks at how 3 districts across the U.S. transitioned to distance learning, all while supporting student needs 👉 https://t.co/atAUaJVxyP https://t.co/1V7TWYVoXp
May 23, 2020, 6:29 PM
On this day in history—May 23, 1934—the law finally caught up with Bonnie and Clyde. Read the legendary story of these two lovers on the run and then reflect on the valuable lessons we can learn from their decisions 👉 https://t.co/f7rF38d3Fe https://t.co/1ytjDUh0Fs
May 23, 2020, 5:25 PM
Today marks the end of Ramadan—a month-long time of fasting, prayer and self-examination for Muslims. If you're looking to teach students the history, significance, and practices of Ramadan, here's a Newsela article to help 👉 https://t.co/ui0yGqJeDU https://t.co/dNk6Tr4LCs
May 23, 2020, 4:21 PM
Have you seen the latest expansions to Virtual Field Trips for Science? 🚌 🔬 Plan a 'visit' to museums like Berlin Natural History Museum and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Or explore factories like M&M 🍫 and Toyota 🚙 https://t.co/F2CUWAYQ41 https://t.co/mEYPhvfnCP
May 23, 2020, 3:17 PM
Looking for a fun way to connect fiction and non-fiction in your classroom? 📚🔬 This Newsela article does the trick 👉 Scientists in the U.S. have named a new snake species after a character in the Harry Potter series. https://t.co/wWw0Qfvq1t https://t.co/M9raBSIHcd
May 23, 2020, 2:13 PM
Join us on May 27th to Learn How Science & Literacy Share a Symbiotic Relationship in California 👉 https://t.co/O5MXcEjnlo We'll be covering: - Engaging your Science students at 5 different levels - Phenomena-based NGSS activities - Real Classroom Practices - STEM Connections https://t.co/lpep8WMjai
May 22, 2020, 8:43 PM
Have questions about how to bring Social Studies to your classrooms with Equitable Learning? Join Newsela to review California's Social Studies Critical Standards and Equitable Distance Learning. Happening Tuesday, May 26 from 2-3PM PST 👉 https://t.co/YwDT5xUfvx https://t.co/dOGiZT36SH
May 22, 2020, 6:35 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales