There is no question that this has been a very challenging year for teachers and administrators (OK, understatement doesn’t even begin to describe that statement).
But, our students are facing these challenges without the benefit of maturity, life experience, or a college degree!
Let’s not forget that while virtual/remote/hybrid learning in the time of a pandemic, economic hardships, and civil unrest is a lot to process for adults who have developed coping strategies and have some element of control over their lives, for children and adolescents, it may be completely overwhelming.
Schools are dealing with students who have completely disappeared, students who log in to the LMS but do not complete any assignments, and students who are trying very hard but simply can’t seem to crack the code on virtual learning and are falling behind academically.
Regardless of the reason, failures rates are up at schools all across the country.
One teacher recently had some very frank conversations with his high school students in an effort to find out why they were struggling and what he could do to help them. While we acknowledge that this is a poll of just a handful of students, they do bring up some good points that we could all learn from.
Late Work Not Accepted
Students voiced frustration over teachers not allowing students to make up past assignments. Some teachers feel like they are setting a precedent that they will have to battle later while some feel like it is reinforcing bad life skills. There is some validity to both of these reasonings as well as arguments about the time it takes to grade the backlog of late assignments and the hassle of having to constantly re-open modules.
It is imperative that we consider what the academic purpose is in our classes - to learn the content. Life skills are important, but with the state of the world as it is, if a student can submit work that reflects an understanding of the concept, then haven’t they achieved the goal?
We’ve all been guilty of struggling to get to work on time or not turning in required paperwork when it’s due or failing to submit lesson plans on time or forgetting to leave sub plans. We ask for forgiveness and count on being given grace. The children in our care deserve grace exponentially more.
Confusion Caused by the LMS
There are many different LMSs out there, but regardless of the system your school has adopted, if teachers and administrators are confused, students and parents are even more confused.
One complaint by students was simply that some of their teachers are not setting clear due dates for assignments. Perhaps they are going over the due dates in class, but students who are learning remotely may not be getting that information.
Students also expressed frustration with the inconsistency and lack of equity between assignments being given to students who are face-to-face and those who are virtual. On top of that, some students don’t know which assignments are just for virtual students and which assignments are for all students.
While you don’t want to over explain everything at the risk of making your instructions too complicated to be practical, make sure that students can easily navigate your on-line class and differentiate between types of assignments, especially if you are providing different materials and assignments for face-to-face students and virtual students in the same portal.
Hybrid Learning Is Just Virtual in Person
Several students said that their teachers are not teaching. The complaint here was of teachers putting everything online and having students who are reporting to the physical classroom do the online work in class with the teacher serving more as a proctor who can answer questions.
This one is tricky! Many teachers are being asked to do double duty by providing lessons for both face-to-face students and virtual students. Rather than asking teachers to do twice the work, many schools have encouraged teachers to create lesson plans for virtual students and then to use those same plans for their traditional students. Some districts have even made this the standard policy.
In theory, this makes perfect sense, and in practice it can work if it is done well. But, teachers are more than proctors. They are the experts in the content who are trained in pedagogy. Rather than just using class time to allow students to complete online work without personal instruction, this is a time that teachers could be working one-on-one or in small, needs-based groups.
At the very least, please do not simply answer all requests for help with instructions with, “I put the directions in there. Go back and read it!” If the directions were clear, they probably wouldn’t be asking for an explanation (well, there are always some that will ask no matter what). But, take the time that you would have spent teaching new content, and help them better understand what is being asked of them.
So Much Schoolwork
Many students have complained that they are being assigned substantially more work than they have in previous years. Some teachers who are using their virtual lessons with in-class students have even started increasing the length of assignments when the previous day’s assignments were completed “too quickly”. This potentially leads to classwork that has to be finished at home on top of online homework assignments and/or projects assigned by the same teacher.
With teachers complaining about having so much to grade, why would we assign more work? More work doesn’t mean more learning. Make learning practical, and find ways for students to reflect what they have learned in creative ways.
This is not the time to add to the amount of stress students are experiencing. They are struggling to keep afloat as it is (just like all of us).
Students are dealing with technology that doesn’t work adequately, slow/limited/no internet, apps and plug-ins that are parts of their lessons but are not compatible with their systems, or teachers trying to bypass or work around the LMS that the school has adopted.
Some teachers are just checking a box by posting “something” online, but what they are posting is not helpful or practical. Some are completely intimidated by the technology. And there are some teachers who seem to expect school to continue exactly as it always has without the recognition of how profoundly different the situation we are now in is from anything the students have ever experienced before.
There’s a big problem with motivation, and a lot of it is coming from a massive amount of stress and anxiety surrounding current events. Obviously, the biggest stress is COVID. And that’s not something we can do anything about, clearly. But many students feel unsafe by having to come to school even though their family says they have to.
In the words of the teacher who compiled this information, “I know there’s a good bit of this that we can’t do anything about, but my takeaway is that where we are failing them is that we are, perhaps, not doing enough to recognize, accommodate, and (at times) enforce the fact that daily life has changed substantially since March, and that we cannot expect them to plug along as though that were not the case.”