Life and Learning During COVID-19

Depending upon where you live, you are anywhere between days to weeks to months of sheltering in place. While staying at home isn’t what any of us want to be doing now, it is the only choice. This situation is not easy for anyone, including students. I thought I would summarize what I’ve observed in the last month working virtually with students from 6th grade through graduate school in 5 states.

I want to begin with a particular comment floating around the Web:

“…If I can leave you with one thing it’s this: at the end of all of this, your kids’ mental health will be more important than their academic skills. And how they felt during this time will stay with them long after the memory of what they did during those 4 or more weeks is long gone. So keep that in mind, every single day.”

Wise words! Keeping your child, and yourself, healthy and happy is the most important goal of this time. Ultimately, I predict this semester, for all students at all levels, will be an “asterisk,” you know, the * put next to a sports player’s records when there was some extenuating circumstance. Every single student is impacted by the new learning methods and as we move forward, every school and employer will realize that performance during this period needs to be taken with a grain of salt. 

I was happy to see an article in the New York Post this week quoting a 2014 study from my personal favorite university, the University of Colorado. This study found “that the kids who have more free time to create and structure their own activities develop stronger executive functioning skills — that is, better planning, problem-solving and follow-through — than kids whose lives are more continuously structured by adults.  Executive functioning skills are exactly what kids need to succeed at school and in real life (that thing we used to partake in, before Zoom).” Those of you who read this blog regularly know that time is one of my favorite topics. Many students and young adults don’t know how to manage time because they have never had any free time to manage. Our current situation is an opportunity to allow kids to create their own free time activities. As I suggested last month, sticking to some form of a schedule is helpful and free time is part of that schedule. Kids will likely need some suggestions, guidance and maybe restrictions regarding their free time activity, but set the parameters, encourage them manage their own time and then step back. I’ve been inspired by what my students have come up with!

Virtual learning is new to most students, teachers and parents and there is a wide range in how it is presented. On one end, some schools conduct every class at the regular time via an interactive, synchronous platform while others post assignments and assessments for students to individually complete independently. My observations from this month:

  • Students participating in interactive learning, even once a week, are more engaged and participatory not only in schoolwork but also free time. They attribute this to the opportunity to see and talk with their teacher and classmates on a regular basis. While the location is different, the feel of the day is similar.
  • Students who are given a posted assignment to be completed on their own are more likely to be floundering. For some, it is because their learning style doesn’t match the presented format. Auditory learners are having trouble with assignments being all reading and writing while others find video assignments difficult.  For other students, the lack of contact with the teacher and classmates makes it seem like they are not really in school.
  • When their teachers set the due dates as the end of the semester, students aren’t pacing their assignments. Some completed them all the first week and others, I’m sure, aren’t getting to them until the night before.
  • My students like when teachers have designated office hours whether that be a drop in virtual meeting or an arranged time. Reaching out for help is easier when the student doesn’t need to initiate the contact.
  • Parents are in a Goldilocks’ situation as far as giving assistance; sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s too little and occasionally it’s just right. Many students are accustom to their independence in school and don’t like parents hearing/seeing what is going on. Yet, with the new format, some assistance may be appropriate. At the same time, many parents are working from home themselves, juggling multiple children in multiple schools and simply don’t have the bandwidth to do it all.
  • Many teachers are also spread thin. Classroom activities do not easily translate into a virtual classroom. Teachers are being asked to create entirely new schedules, lessons, homework and assessments in a format many are unfamiliar with. They too may have families at home making everyone juggle when and where to do their work or online teaching.

Nothing about the current situation is easy. There are definitely aspects administrations, teachers, students and parents could be doing better. But the most important aspect we can all do is to prioritize physical and mental health and be kind to each other.