(This is the first post in a two-part series.)
The new question-of-the-week is:
How do you think the pandemic will affect our students in the future? What, if any, might be positive impacts? What might negative ones be, and how can we mitigate them?
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, and its impact will be felt long after it’s over.
This two-part series will explore how it might affect our students over the long term and how it affects how we can teach and support them.
Today, Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey , Michelle Shory, Amber Chandler, and Caitlin O’Connor share their projections. Michelle, Amber, and Caitlin were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.
‘Hard to Predict the Future’
Douglas Fisher, Ph.D., is also a professor of educational leadership at San Diego State and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High. Previously, Doug was an early-intervention teacher and elementary school educator. He has published numerous articles on teaching and learning as well as books such as The Teacher Clarity Playbook, PLC+, Visible Learning for Literacy, Comprehension: The Skill, Will, and Thrill of Reading, How Tutoring Works, and most recently, How Learning Works.
Nancy Frey, Ph.D., is a professor in educational leadership at San Diego State University and a teacher leader at Health Sciences High and Middle College. She is a member of the International Literacy Association’s Literacy Research Panel. Her published titles include Visible Learning in Literacy, This Is Balanced Literacy, Removing Labels, and Rebound:
It’s really hard to predict the future. On the one hand, students, their families, and their educators have experienced a range of traumatic events and unprecedented isolation. On the other hand, we have seen students blossom and respond to the supports that have been put in place.
This past summer, nearly 400 of our students were engaged in summer learning opportunities. That’s about 80 percent of the 9th, 10th, and 11th graders who attended our school this past year. Importantly, only about 45 students needed to be there for credit recovery. The rest chose to attend the range of enrichment opportunities, including community college classes, immersive world-language experiences, integrated arts and drama, as well as opportunities to get a jump-start on the content for next year, such as acceleration courses in trigonometry, statistics, and literature.
As a result, we see the future as positive. In fact, we started collecting stories from students about their unexpected learning. We recognize that some students have unfinished learning and we addressed opportunities to accelerate learning in a previous blog post. But have you considered the unexpected learning that your students have completed? We have asked students across the grade levels to describe things that they learned this past year that they did not expect to learn. It’s heartwarming to hear the range of things students recognize that they have learned. Nearly all of them start off with, “in addition to what I learned in class …” and generally focus on one of the following areas:
- Technology skills. This is an impressive area that students recognize as considerable growth. They talk about a range of tools such as Google Docs and Pear Deck, setting up meetings and video conferencing with their peers, screenshots and sharing information, video recording responses in Flipgrid, Seesaw, and Loom, and so much more. A 4th grader said, “I can set up meets with my friends, take a picture of my work and share it, and make videos to teach my classmates what I’ve learned.”
- Personal skills. We’ve lost count of the number of students who told us that they learned to cook, or how to be clean, or how to take care of a sibling. Students recognize the value of these personal skills and their increased independence. As a 9th grader said, “I’m way more independent now and I can almost take care of myself.”
- Social skills and relationships. So many students noted their learning about social skills. Students talked about being more intentional in maintaining friendships, learning to be kind, taking responsibility when you say or do something hurtful, and learning to communicate and collaborate with others. As a middle school student said, “I didn’t think about some things I said, but then it was in the chat, and I saw that it wasn’t really nice. I don’t want to be that person. So, I made the decision to be a better person.”
These are in addition to the academic learning that students did. Again, we recognize that there is unfinished learning for some students and that educators will need to redouble their efforts to accelerate learning. But the question is, do we also recognize the positive impact that we educators have had on students over the past school year?
Having said that, the negative impact of the past year on the emotional lives of our students must be addressed. We see increased needs for emotional support, including students who are anxious, depressed, or have suffered trauma. We recognize that there are students who did not have strong social experiences over the past year and need support to reengage with peers. And we understand that suicidal ideation has increased. Luckily, there are additional resources available for schools to address these issues.
It’s up to all of us to mitigate the emotional impact of the past year as we continue to develop students’ academic development. In doing so, we must remember that learning was not lost but rather that some students have unfinished learning, which we can address. And a lot of students have unexpected learning that we should celebrate.
‘A Balanced Approach’
Michelle Makus Shory is a veteran language educator with 25 years of experience in five states. She is currently a district ESL instructional coach in the Jefferson County public schools, Louisville, Ky. Michelle helped establish Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Louisville:
The pandemic magnified inequities. Students who didn’t feel like they were a part of a school community became even more disengaged during distance learning. Additionally, students who were less experienced with digital platforms had difficulty keeping up during remote instruction. (A colleague recently told me about a student who didn’t know she needed to click on the “join class” button in Google Classroom—and missed out on instruction for nine months. Yes, nine months.) But there are many positive changes, too. Thinking about the future is exciting—and a little scary.
Students and teachers now understand the importance of digital literacy—and agility. Although technology is not a replacement for human connection and interaction, we found ways to Zoom, break out, chat, and work on and offline. Most of us learned to app smash (mixing two apps like Google Meet and Jamboard). And school carried on during the peaks and valleys of the pandemic. “Snow days” are probably a thing of the past because much of our work is now housed online. Computer labs will be transformed into something more useful—and hopefully more creative like maker spaces or design labs. Digital literacy will now be a part of every class instead of an add-on or elective.
Teachers became exposed to a plethora of tech tools to support students. We hope students will become comfortable with text-to-speech, read-aloud, and translation features to personalize their learning experiences. Additional tools like Google Socrative, Desmos, and YouTube will likely remain popular as a way to build background knowledge, fill in learning gaps, and guide students who want to accelerate their learning. With this increased access to technology, students are now more in control of their learning.
Many districts focused on essential standards during remote instruction and cut out some of the “busy work” that can fill a student’s day. We hope this focus on what is most essential and beneficial will continue and we will see fewer mindless worksheets, word searches, and coloring sheets.
Finally, we were reminded that relationships are the heart of all classrooms—whether online or in person. We found ways to connect, encourage, laugh, and inspire whether we were six feet apart or in different ZIP codes. Hopefully, classrooms will leverage what couldn’t be replicated in distance learning: the power of being and learning together for a common purpose. This is what teachers and students missed most and what makes school so meaningful.
There are several adverse effects as well. Vulnerable learners struggled with different learning-management systems and applications, making learning experiences frustrating. Given the prevalence of technology in schools, the gaps between students who are comfortable with technology and those who are not will widen. Additionally, there will continue to be inequities between students who have access to more reliable internet and those who do not. It is also quite realistic that some learners were so likely turned off by online learning that they have entirely given up on school. Schools must work hard to reengage these students.
We have also seen a decline in teacher morale. Teaching online, in person, and in hybrid environments was exhausting and caused tremendous stress for teachers of all experience levels. Further, being apart from colleagues and working in isolation led to decreased enthusiasm and teamwork. We also saw many teachers balancing teaching online and their own children—not an easy task. In many districts, we saw a shortage of teachers willing to teach summer school or sponsor extracurricular activities. They simply ran out of bandwidth.
Moving forward, we need a balanced approach. All students need access to technology and reliable internet, but we also need to provide varied learning experiences for students who learn best in physical classrooms. We must also remember that students are primed for learning when they are comfortable and feel valued. Therefore, schools must continue to adapt and provide equitable learning environments where all students can thrive.
Schools must also take care of their teachers and administrators. As new initiatives are introduced, less critical tasks must be removed so that we do not experience even more burnout. Further, it would be exciting to explore more flexible options for teachers and students who thrived during online learning by providing more online pathways.
‘A Generation-Defining Event’
Amber Chandler is the author of The Flexible SEL Classroom and a contributor to many education blogs. She teaches 8th grade ELA in Hamburg, N.Y. Amber is the president of her union of 400 teachers. Follow her @MsAmberChandler and check out her website:
The pandemic will be a generation-defining event for our students. For many, there were personal tragedies, financial issues, food insecurities, and illness, and for all, there was isolation, loss of support systems, and an inordinate amount of screen time. Not all experiences related to school were bad, though. Some kiddos thrived with online learning, and teachers found new ways to reach their students.
One of the biggest takeaways from the overreliance on technology was that there are some really excellent platforms and programs that I plan to continue to use. I’ve never particularly liked review games, but I saw dramatic improvements in 2020 on test scores after my students were given more resources for practice. I began to incorporate EdPuzzles, Quizz, Quizlet, and CommonLit. My own children benefited from Kahoot. I plan to offer more opportunities for review games, and now that I have created them, future classes will benefit. I also think that complete reliance on Google Classroom helped both teachers and students appreciate the platform and its potential for organization.
On the flip side, I will not be using technology the way I have in the past. I’ve been a paperless classroom for seven years and I’ve prided myself on that. However, students are socially stunted from the isolation, masking, and social distancing of the pandemic. Instead, I’m going to mitigate that major problem by deliberately planning extremely low-tech, highly interactive, engaging activities that were once reserved for ice breakers. I expect that I’ll do a team-building activity once a week to reintroduce students to the classroom community. These additional social-emotional supports will help students readjust to the classroom full time.
To be honest, I think the implications of the pandemic are yet to be determined. I do think it will be generation-defining, and it is in everyone’s best interest if educators do their best to accentuate pandemic gains like independence, resilience, and empathy while mitigating the yet-to-be seen negative effects. While we are unsure of the outcome, educators can rely on social-emotional best practices and adjust curriculum to meet the needs of all students.
Cait O’Connor is a 9th and 12th grade English teacher in the Hudson Valley area of upstate New York:
The pandemic and remote learning made the experience of school both more embodied for some and less so for others. Students were able to choose where, how, and when they exist in a learning space remotely, as they were mostly in their rooms or other living spaces. For students in larger bodies, this may have been the first time they actually “fit” into their learning vessel (desk) and can focus on the content ahead of them comfortably.
For other students, the pandemic learning experience was disembodied. Unreliable Wi-Fi connection forced students to take class in their car, be kicked out of the meeting, or miss class entirely, creating learning inequity. Teacher policing of how the students in their class dressed, what they ate and when, and what was going on in the background all made the learning space about expectations of compliance rather than compassion and community.
Specifically, I think this pandemic affected students with body-image issues and eating-disorder concerns. While teachers were debating whether cameras on equals engagement, students were suffering from body-image issues. If cameras were required, some had to stare at their faces on a screen and be uncomfortable, triggered, or self-conscious. This took away from their learning and actually could have had the opposite effect of engagement that teachers expected when they could see their students’ faces.
Cameras-on rules assumed and implied that teachers were entitled to their students’ attention, engagement, and space, and they created a disembodied experience centered around compliance rather than community and collaboration.
There were several ways to engage students even when you couldn’t see them: chat features, poll features, apps, check-ins, hand-raising features, and more. If and when we have to revert to distance learning again, think about how your students feel in their bodies and engage them as willing participants in the classroom environment.
Thanks to Doug, Nancy, Michelle, Amber, and Caitlin for contributing their thoughts.
Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.
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