School in the Time of Covid
Back in March, the pandemic forced schools into a crash course of developing and managing online schooling. As one school administrator said, “We had to fly the plane while still attaching the wings.” Into this hectic new world order came technical glitches and disparity in student access to computers, along with teacher, student and parents all struggling to make it work. There were many failures as indicated by the “Covid Slide” a USA graph that showed Spring/Summer reduction in learning, especially for 4th - 8th graders.
From a Dad about his 7th grader:
He won’t do his homework. I just want to bop him upside the head.
Must be frustrating.
Yeah, but that’s what my parents did to me and that’s no good.
So what do you do?
I just freeze and do nothing. I’m at my wits end.
From a mother of a 6th grader:
He called me crying, while I was at work, because he couldn’t access the program.
What did you do?
I contacted the teacher, but she took hours to respond. By then he was a mess.
That sounds difficult.
I have to lower my expectations and help where I can.
I want to acknowledge the hard work of teachers, schools, students and parents all scrambling to keep up with some learning in this chaotic world where we are now in a third phase of the coronavirus. My heart feels sad for these kids who are failing online school. I want to help sort through some of the issues in order to help.
One boy sets his alarm, checks in to online school at 8 a.m., then goes back to sleep, gets up, watches ESPN, plays X-Box and follows his favorite You -Tuber. What is going on in his head? You could think he is lazy or wonder, “Hey, If you can entertain yourself, you can do online schoolwork.” We assume that since they spend so much time on their devices, it is no big deal for them to learn remotely. We are wrong. Being a digital consumer and digital learner are two different things. Some digital learning programs are confusing and hard to maneuver.
What happened before the boy turned off the online school and went back to bed? He got frustrated because he could not navigate the maze to do a class assignment. So, the whole thing became overwhelming. It may help to understand how the brain works when we are struggling. The brain may see challenges (I don’t understand the assignment; I can’t get to the online lab; I don’t like this subject; I am bored;) as something bad or dangerous, like a bad smell. When we smell poop, we hold our nose. We naturally turn away from what seems negative or bad. Our brain will protect us from this “bad” by wanting to seek something more pleasant, which is easy to do when we are at home alone.
At home you walk alone on the path and fall into a hole. No one sees you and you can’t get help up. At home you get frustrated, need to escape your pain, so you space out and turn on ESPN, where the sound of a baseball cracking on a bat and watching the ball as it sails over the fence becomes your new world, a pleasant world to escape the poop smelling lonely maze of a confusing online classroom.
To make the unpleasant tolerable, we need an incentive. Progress is a natural reward to the brain, but in order to progress we sometimes need outside help. Since the Fall, many schools are risking Covid exposure to try in-classroom school at least two days a week. This allows some face to face time in order to help teachers read the body language and respond to students learning needs in the classroom in real time. There is also more opportunity for social and emotional connections with peers and teachers. How can we help on the home days of online school?
Ideas for parents:
1. Know the expectations on a daily and weekly basis for each class.
2. Know how to contact the teachers and when they are available.
3. Focus on the core subjects and be flexible on the other subjects.
4. Help your child to navigate the system, access and manage the workload.
5. Let them organize with a schedule.
6. Set up an accountability and reward system.
From an 8th grader:
I wasn’t keeping up with online classes and my grades dropped.
What did you do?
I talked to my parents and the school and came up with another plan.
How is that working?
They let me drop two classes and added a scheduled study time.
Is that helping?
Yeah, so far. Plus, they got me new headphones as a reward.
Ideas for kids in online school:
1. Check in on your class and homework at the set times
3. Try to work uninterrupted for that set time.
4. Ask for help from parents, teachers or others.
5. Take short five-minute exercise breaks at least once per hour.
6. Be compassionate toward yourself because your brain will resist working on hard stuff.
7. Know what you do to procrastinate and avoid that.
8. Don’t use social media for entertainment, when using it for school learning.
9. Ask for or give yourself a reward for completed work.
Me talking with a 5th grader last Sunday:
I will call you Tuesday and Thursday at one pm just to check with you.
If you get your work done Thursday, I will get you a reward.
Great! I want a WWE 2012 action figure. I will text you a picture.
Me talking to the same 5th grader just now (Thursday at one pm)
I did 10 assignments.
That is great.
Well, I really did 7.
You were excited, so you exaggerated?
I averaged up!
If I finish 3 more things, I get the toy?
Yes you do!