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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Students Provide Feedback on 4 Areas of Focus During This Pandemic

By Peter DeWitt — May 26, 2020 8 min read
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Recently, I began surveying teachers about their pandemic teaching experience (you can take the survey here), and many of the respondents stated that they do not like pandemic teaching and that it is not like teaching students in a classroom. Let’s be clear, we know that pandemic teaching is not remote teaching, and for many adults and students it is definitely not as good as being in person with our colleagues and friends. Unless, of course, we are part of a marginalized population (i.e., LGBTQ) who feel unsafe in school and feel better about not having to go into a school.

What we know is that:

  • Not all students are engaging online because they do not have a laptop of their own.
  • We constantly have to keep student and teacher privacy at the forefront of using technology tools.
  • No one has all of the answers about the spread of the Coronavirus, and that should make us proceed with caution.
  • Not all parents want us peeking into their homes during a Zoom classroom experience because we may judge them already.
  • Not all students want us to impede on their virtual world. That is a world where they have control and can engage socially. They don’t want to see their teachers and leaders in that world.

Many discussions at this point are turning toward the fall, but before we get too caught up in what the fall should look like when it comes to remote learning, we should continue to focus on what is working now. That information can help us inform the fall. What’s interesting is that there are teacher pandemic pages on Facebook that allow teachers to share ideas, ask questions, and even vent about school, students, and parents. I continually take those questions and comments and code them to help clarify what issue the commenter is really focused on.

However, when we look to Facebook or other social-media platforms for student groups, we can’t seem to find any student groups, and if there are some hiding somewhere, they lack the same number of members.

Students are relying on each other through social media to get through the isolation of the pandemic, but mostly it’s about finding specific friends and sharing videos for entertainment. If schools haven’t already, they may want to create an online community platform where their students feel safe to share ideas. Unfortunately, if students didn’t feel heard when they were in the brick-and-mortar structure, most will not want to share their voices in an online platform.

Student Voice: What Do They Have to Say?
A few weeks ago, I posted a blog focusing on what students want us to know about the pandemic. In the post, I provided student answers to six or seven of the survey questions. After posting the blog, there were a variety of comments on social media. Most of the comments had to do with the excitement that there was a blog highlighting student responses. That is something that is interesting on its own. Why do we find it so refreshing to read posts focusing on student responses to the topic of student learning?

In the survey, which had several hundred responses from students in the U.S., Canada, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries, students had a lot to say. One student remarked, “We would like it if we could ask more questions during the live lesson instead of being on mute.

In an effort to make sure I don’t mute anyone, I asked students how their pandemic teaching experience could be improved. Like I wrote before, we know that pandemic learning and in-classroom learning is not the same. However, there are elements of this that we will need to do in the future, because we may have no choice except to have an element of remote learning in all of our schools.

For the purpose of this blog, I took the comments from that one question focusing on how their pandemic learning experience can be improved and coded them under technology tools, teacher clarity, social-emotional connection, and student engagement. The following are the answers from the students who responded.

Technology Tools

  • Teachers knowing how to use apps/platforms they are using to assign us content.
  • Using other technologies that are available.
  • Teachers using Zoom more for a real-time classroom.
  • Too many PowerPoint slides to read.

Teacher Clarity

  • Better directions (hyper docs) that aren’t so wordy. My mom has to help read them.
  • Easier access to my teachers. I can only get answers between 9-10:30. I had to wait for answers.
  • A way to get more help to do work I don’t understand.
  • More clear and effective communication from every single person working at the school.
  • More contact from the teacher with more virtual lessons taught before assignments.
  • If teachers post the time they are going to meet a day or two ahead of time instead of the morning they meet. Let me know ahead of time if I need to print something.

Social-Emotional Connection

  • Nothing. I want to go to school.
  • Social gatherings.
  • More time to chat with friends.
  • Other kids’ parents make them behave.
  • More teacher check-ins.
  • Getting back to school. It’s just not the same to look at a screen. I miss books.

Student Engagement

  • Less busy work.
  • More interaction. Shorter videos. More excitement and enthusiasm. Small groups are good. Less busy work. Fewer worksheets.
  • Having my own laptop would be an improvement.
  • Actually having a virtual class would be good.
  • Some teachers have been posting a lot of content and assignments, and some take me 10 minutes.
  • Have more Google meets learning. So it feels more like a real classroom. So I can ask questions.
  • If all my classes were more often or at least at the same time of day since I have them once a week.
  • Educational games that I can do with other classmates.
  • Less review. More new learning.

So, what can we take from this information as we move forward? Here are some of the highlights:

Least favorite lessons - Worksheets, PowerPoint slides that are too long, uploaded videos to watch that are too long, one-hour lectures where students feel they are muted the whole time.

Favorite Lessons - Collaborative activities with peers, lessons that allowed them to engage in dialogue in Zoom chat rooms, seeing their teachers and getting some help when needed (more office hours?).

Perhaps some options?

  • Short lectures where success criteria and clarity are provided.
  • Learning that can be completed on their own off the computer. Perhaps a short flipped video once or twice a week and self-directed learning that follows.
  • Classroom discussions through chat rooms. Perhaps students can be inspired to ask questions during the lesson by providing them with a sample of questions.
  • Survey student input. We should all have an option of having voice in decisions about the fall.

In the End
Before I get accused of criticizing, I want you to know that I am not. This has been extremely hard for all of us in one way or another, because we are all experiencing the pandemic and changing job roles because of it. The purpose of each and every one of these blog posts is to garner information to help us all move forward. I deeply appreciate the work teachers are doing, because I am a former K-5 teacher (11 years) and principal (eight years). When I write about these topics, I still have the faces of teachers and students in mind and post these blogs where my former teachers and students can read them.

All of us, regardless of what role we are playing in pandemic learning, want students to be lifelong learners. One of the shifts we can make to go from pandemic learning to remote learning is to ask students AND teachers for their feedback on how to make this a better experience. Asking for feedback is not enough. Showing those stakeholders how we used their feedback to inform decisions is equally as important as saying we heard them.

Questions students inspired in me are:

  • How often do I ask students what they are thinking?
  • How often are teachers and students asked whether they feel safe?
  • In some cases the mute button on platforms like Zoom are necessary because of background noise throughout a class meeting. Is it possible to teach children how to use the chat section or the raise your hand option?
  • How do we keep equity at the forefront of our conversations?
  • How often do I ask students how their pandemic learning experience can be improved?
  • How often do students see their teachers in a remote classroom experience where there can be dialogue?
  • I cannot possibly take all of this feedback from a survey and use it for my high caseload of students. Perhaps, however, I can find one or two common themes among the feedback which relates to my present caseload of students and use it to improve.
  • What about students who are not engaging online? I explored this issue in this blog.
  • All things being equitable. The Monterey Office of Education (California) has worked out a plan with city buses to park for a number of hours in different parts of the city where access is an issue. The city buses work as hot spots for students who lack internet access, and those students were provided with netbooks and tablets. Is this a viable option for your district?

Please consider taking one of the following surveys:

K-12 student? Please consider filling out this student survey.

K-12 parent? Please consider filling out this survey.

Want to expand on your instructional-leadership strategies during the pandemic? Check out Peter’s vlog offering some suggestions of where to focus.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is the author of several books including his newest release Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020). Connect with him on Twitter or through his YouTube channel.

Opening picture courtesy of Getty Images.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.