Distance Learning Thoughtexchange Results

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Your Voice Matters – We are Listening, and We are Responding

The well-being of our students is at the forefront of our thinking as we recognize that families are managing complex and varying situations during this period of school closures. As Distance Learning evolves, the DDSB has been continuously seeking input on how we can improve learning for students by soliciting the feedback of students, parents and educators. The input that we are receiving is helping us understand the changing needs of our students and to plan our way forward.

Thank you for your commitment and participation as we work together to improve Distance Learning for all students. You can review the overall results, analysis and how we have responded as a District to the Thoughtexchanges that students and parents have participated in below.


We reached out to parents and guardians prior to launching Distance Learning on April 6 through an online Thoughtexchange survey to gather and listen to parent/guardian feedback. We were pleased to share that 10,889 parents/guardians participated in the survey.

The results helped the DDSB identify ways to support educators in providing students with an innovative and robust Distance Learning program. You told us about student technology needs, how educators and students need to connect through many avenues, and that it is always important to maintain communication as we understand how students are progressing during this time.

As we continue to work towards improving Distance Learning by sharing best practices and soliciting feedback from students and parents, it is important that we continue to work together during this period of extended school closures to create positive outcomes.

Here are the main themes that were identified by parents/guardians and how we have responded as a District.

 Access to Technology
5% of respondents indicated that they did not have access to a device or internet and families expressed concern for their neighbours.
  • Our school teams reached out to families through a variety of means to help identify who required additional technology supports to support their child(ren)’s learning. 
  • Our device deployment plans have ensured that approximately 5,000 Chromebooks have been provided directly to students, bringing the total number provided to over 35,000 devices to families through collaboration between schools, our IT and Innovation departments. 
  • The DDSB has also distributed 660 mobile internet hotspots to provide internet access for families who required support.
  • Paper packages with learning materials were distributed to families while they were waiting to receive internet connectivity. 
 Making Connections
Responses indicated that families wanted their children to interact with teachers.
  • DDSB has ensured that all educators can be accessed through email, which can be found on school websites.
  • DDSB is supporting educators with the resources they need to provide Distance Learning (online resources, professional development and training opportunities, internal Google communities to share promising practices among each other, etc.). 
  • The Inclusive Student Services team has worked with school leaders to ensure that all students are being engaged and developed a process to provide support as needed.
  • Before Distance Learning started, there were approximately 3,000 Google Classrooms. As of April 30, 2020, there are 9528 Google Classrooms, along with 1243 D2L Classrooms operating. 
 Fostering Independence and Flexibility

Many families have requested that Distance Learning is reflective of the lived experience of our students/families.

  • We recognize that Distance Learning will not replace the regular face-to-face classroom experience.
  • Our goal is to provide a variety of online platforms/experiences and flexible options to support ongoing learning that considers the individual student’s/family needs and circumstances.
  • Ongoing communication between educators and students is supported through multiple formats (telephone, email and virtual interaction).
  • During this time of uncertainty and worry, it is essential for everyone to take care of their well-being; not just for themselves but for those they care about and support. 
  • We have provided our school communities with weekly tips to maintain and support our individual and collective mental health and well-being. We began with a focus on self-care and connections, because we believe that this will provide the foundation for Distance Learning. Our key message is: Your Well-Being Matters – Stronger Together, Even When Apart. https://www.ddsb.ca/en/family-and-community-support/your-well-being-matters.aspx
  • As the individual needs and circumstances of students change, services and resources are available to continue to support Distance Learning and student success and well-being. 
 Academic Progress

Families expressed concern related to students’ academic progress and being prepared for next school year.

  • Elementary focus is on formative assessment and providing feedback on activities to improve learning. Student grades as of March 13th will remain the same. Additional learning activities may be assigned and will be presented as supplemental learning so that families can make an informed choice.
  • Secondary assessments will occur with a focus on giving feedback to improve learning, and where appropriate, students will have opportunities to improve the grades they had as of March 13 during distance learning. No mark will decline as a result of the school closure period. Additional learning activities may be assigned, but they will not be required as part of a final assessment and will be presented as supplemental learning so that students can make an informed choice.
  • Any remaining PA days will be replaced with instructional days for students. 
Families expressed the importance that students have different needs dependent on their grade and their individual circumstances.
  • Individual Education Plans (IEP)s: During Distance Learning, students with special education needs should receive appropriate accommodations where necessary and be provided with assigned work by teachers, as well as feedback or assessment. Modifications and alternative learning reflective of each student’s IEP are encouraged and expected. 
  • Inclusive Student Services (ISS): During this period of Distance Learning, our ISS staff are engaged in supporting learning design both proactively and responsively. Commitments include: supporting educators, pivoting programming to Distance Learning, assisting with accommodation (e.g. Interpreters and Intervenors), continuity of direct clinical service to students, and connecting families with community resources for food, mental health and safety.
  • Educators have access to professional learning through our internal staff portal, SPARK.
  • The Indigenous/Equity and ESL departments have been working to ensure that staff have access to resources and planning tools to assist them in the development of Distance Learning tasks that support a wide range of student learning needs. 
  • As a student’s individual needs and circumstances change, services and resources are available to continue to support Distance Learning and student success.
  • Teachers/educators will consider human rights related needs and circumstances, equity and mental health and well-being as key parts of Distance Learning. Educators will continue to work with students on flexible tasks that meet their learning needs, interests and strengths.

We appreciate everyone who took the time to participate in this parent Thoughtexchange and we will continue to engage with parents and students through Thoughtexchange and other avenues to adjust and learn from you about how we can make Distance Learning as effective as possible.

We’d like to thank our staff, students and parents/guardians for their patience and understanding as our routines change during the period that schools are closed. It has been truly remarkable to see our school communities working together to great effect.

Secondary Students Thoughtexchange Insights

In order to better understand the thoughts and experiences of secondary students, we sought their opinions about Distance Learning through Thoughtexchange. Over 3,400 students participated, which is approximately 16% of our secondary student population.

Here is what we asked them:

  • What strategies/tools are you finding effective in making Distance Learning successful?
  • What are some things that would improve or make Distance Learning better for you?

Please click on the headings below to view some representative examples of the responses we received, and the insights gained that are already being used to inform educators across the DDSB.

Human Rights & Equity 

Student Voice

“Not all students have these big houses with quiet workspaces to study and learn. In my case, I am learning in the middle of my living room with six kids running around crazy. I don’t have a desk to learn at”.

“People are dealing with these new circumstances differently, and teachers that are flexible with their work help make it easier for those people.”

“I am a student with special needs, so I find all of this a bit overwhelming. My mom is helping me a lot. I have her instead of an EA. I like that I can work on things when I feel like it. If something is stressful, I can come back to it. I just need to get it done by the due date.” 


Assisting in establishing inclusive and equitable spaces that encourage the success of our students is a key priority. Students may not be forthcoming with their individual needs or circumstances to their teacher. Students are experiencing varied realities and will benefit from flexibility, and different timelines and deadlines as needed.

Our classrooms and school structures are designed to have multiple layers of support for students. Not all students will have parents who can now assist them during this period or cannot assist with the same level of understanding of how some students learn best.


Student Voice

“I feel very stressed when my teacher is posting multiple assignments and notes everyday, multiple times a day. This is important because I am sure many students feel how I feel and are worried about their credit.” 

“Staying connected with friends is important because it will help you stay healthy mentally and socially, and it can be a break from everything else going on.” 

“Being able to take my own breaks whenever I want. Having the ability to stop and breathe and reward myself for having worked for a certain period of time is important to me.” 


We know that students struggle at different times throughout the school year in terms of stress, with anxious feelings related to schoolwork. These feelings may be compounded during Distance Learning., Like educators, students are missing the informal social opportunities that school provides them. Students have indicated that a predictable schedule of when materials are going to be posted is appreciated. An opportunity for students to plan early in the week for all courses would help assist them in managing their time successfully.


Student Voice

“If my teachers sent everything out on Monday with instructions for the week, not send out work periodically through the week... It is important because I can go in and see what I have for each of my classes and plan out when I’m going to do it and how much time I need.”

“It is easier to watch the teacher explain how to do the work instead of trying to figure it out myself.”

“I think it’s important that teachers communicate with students and allow students to properly communicate with them as well. It’s important because students need to understand their work, so open communication that’s quick and effective on both ends will help that.”


Creating opportunities for students to be able to experience lessons through video or virtual sessions and other means will help individual students who need this type of support with their learning. Throughout the Thoughtexchange, students recommended that a weekly plan should be provided to help them with time management for their assignments.


Student Voice“I think it would be helpful for students if teachers explained the work assigned, instead of just sending it and saying the due date. This is important for students to feel like they are learning something from the work instead of just wasting time and getting stressed.”

“Being able to pause videos and copy notes easier.
Some teachers are very fast-paced in class and the video of them allows me to rewind and pause to understand the notes better.”

“Less assignments per week from each class. Teachers are giving out assignments take a lot longer than 3 hours and that affects our work time with other classes!”

Feels like you’re back in the class again, and it helps understanding concepts when you talk about them with others.”


The notion of workload was present throughout the secondary student Thoughtexchange.

Students shared comments about how videos have been supportive in their understanding of concepts. Previously recorded videos created by others, original videos made by the classroom educator, voice-over Power Point or Google slides, and office hours allow students to interact with their learning and engage in an experience that is more similar to what they are accustomed.

Where possible, providing shared learning opportunities for students during both synchronous (live) and asynchronous (not live) learning tasks will assist them in feeling more connected with their peers.

Assessment & Evaluation 

Student Voice Most of my teachers just give marks, but zero feedback, so I don’t know what I need to improve which makes everything much more difficult.”

“Late marks should not be taken off. We don’t all have perfect WiFi or free time 24/7 to work and are at home with a family.”

“Every student needs time to catch up on work. It’s already hard doing this from home, so it’s good to have days when no new work is assigned.”

“Exams should be cancelled because students will be more stressed about the material since some learn better from the in-class experience.”


The priority of educators during this time is to focus on formative feedback to support learning. The learning landscape for students and teachers has shifted dramatically. Since there will be no formal exams or traditional final summatives during Distance Learning, grades will be based solely on term work, prioritizing learning up to the school closure, with opportunities for students to improve their marks. 

With the information gathered from the secondary Thoughtexchange, educators have been provided with the insights noted and considerations for next steps. For the duration of Distance Learning, we will continue to work with families to provide the appropriate supports they need to make the rest of the school year as successful as possible.

Thank you to all the students who participated in this Thoughtexchange. With your valuable input, we have gained a better understanding of your experience with Distance Learning and how we can help you be successful in different environments.  

Elementary Students Thoughtexchange Insights

During the elementary Thoughtexchange, over 1,500 students and parents/guardians shared their thoughts and ideas about Distance Learning. Although we were pleased to have so many engage in sharing their thoughts, we recognize that this only about 7% of our total elementary population.

Here’s what we asked:

  • What strategies/tools are you finding effective in making Distance Learning successful?
  • What are some things that would improve or make Distance Learning better for you?

Please click on the headings below to view some representative examples of the responses we received, and the insights gained that are already being used to inform educators across the DDSB.

Human Rights and Equity

Student Voice

“We prefer the ability to work at a convenient time for our household, not a specifically given time. With working parents and sharing of devices and time needed for explanation, a set schoolwork time would be unattainable.”

“Not all families have printers. Some can’t afford ink or a printer to do weekly tasks. It should not be expected that we can print.”

“As the parent of an autistic child, the application of his IEP was my biggest worry. I did not want a ‘one size fits all’ approach to Distance Learning.”


These responses show us that not all student experiences are the same. With this information, educators will work with students to set flexible expectations and help with individual needs. This feedback also demonstrates the importance of reviewing accommodations and modifications in Individual Education Plans (IEPs) to provide individualized programming to support student success.


Student Voice

“My child feels disconnected from her teacher and classmates. She is no longer wishing to complete assigned work as it is repetitive and disengaging.”

“I prefer classroom learning. I miss being in the classroom with friends and my teachers.”

“We appreciate the availability of working at our own pace and not being expected to meet all deadlines. Because balancing mental health and the reality of the situation can be time consuming.”


We understand that with Distance Learning, students are missing a certain level of social interaction with their teachers and peers. We also know that Distance Learning may be amplifying pre-existing anxiety and stress from schoolwork. With this in mind, educators are working to remain approachable to ensure students feel comfortable in Distance Learning.


Student Voice

“My son enjoys watching videos of his teachers, but is missing out on the verbal communication with his teachers. An online lesson or chat would help.”

“Posting many assignments everyday is confusing and causes anxiety. It would be simpler to post them all on Monday and have them all due on Friday.”

“Having the work for the week posted at the beginning of the week would be helpful. This helps parents prioritize and organize for the entire family.”


From these responses, we know that supporting engagement it is important for educators to offer opportunities for students to learn through virtual sessions as well as with videos. Implementing a predictable schedule for posting and submitting assignments is also a key consideration. This will allow parents and students to organize their work at the beginning of the week and will help with time management.  

Student Voice

“Offer a mix of activities that require some parent involvement or can be done independently. If my child is working independently, then it allows me to get some of my own work done as well.”

“Provide different teaching mediums. Videos, audio books, online learning, online research, hands-on science assignments with video instruction provides a variety of ways to learn in case a child struggles with learning through a particular medium.”

“More one on one or live instructions from my teacher. Videos posted on google classroom are okay, but it would be good to see my teacher more and get her help instead of just Mom who doesn’t speak French.”

“Keep it simple. Activities that can be done at any time of the day. We are busy working parents with multiple children and limited tech.”


Many elementary students require support to access technology and accomplish certain assignments and many parents/guardians are working while at home. As a result, educators will offer schoolwork that students can manage independently. In addition, we know that every student learns differently. What works for some may not work for others. Educators may provide options for students, including video instruction, interactive assignments, and synchronous (live) learning opportunities.  
Assessment & Evaluation 

Student Voice

“My daughter gets stressed about the due dates when all her teachers have assigned the same date. It’s important to reduce the stress, so kids can then dig into the work.”

“Individual two-way communication and feedback is critical. Without it, my child is not learning and developing. There is no accountability or reflection taking place.”

“When teachers respond quickly and make learning fun, kids don’t feel stressed to do the daily tasks. Loved the teacher’s morning message.”


We know that students are more successful when stress can be reduced by spreading out assignments and having flexible deadlines. It’s also important for educators to provide individual feedback to give students an opportunity to understand what is working for them and where they can improve in their learning.  

With the information gathered from the elementary Thoughtexchange, educators have been provided with the insights noted and considerations for next steps. For the duration of Distance Learning, we will continue to work with families to provide the appropriate supports they need to make the rest of the school year as successful as possible.

Thank you to all the students and parents/guardians who dedicated their time and effort to sharing their thoughts and ideas about Distance Learning. With your valuable input, we can work to ensure that all DDSB students have the opportunities and support to be successful in their learning, whether in the classroom or at home.