Home Articles The evolving new reality of distance learning

The evolving new reality of distance learning

Marin Walters (middle) helps her siblings, Adia and Lincoln, with their online schoolwork.

Online learning is here to stay, at least for this school year. I’m one of those students in this new virtual reality.

I’ve got lots of company — in an isolated kind of way. This week’s closure of schools for the 2019-20 academic year affected more than 1 million students in Arizona and their parents. “Distance learning” is the new reality.

For now, many schools describe their online approach as “evolving.” They’re learning as they go — and so are we. It can get confusing and time consuming for all, including many parents who feel like they’ve been thrown into home schooling.

That is the case for Janina Walters, a full-time working mom. A lawyer, she has four kids — ages 6, 8, 10 and 16 — in BASIS charter schools and Saguaro High School in Scottsdale.

“It’s all self-learning. I feel a lot of burden on teaching has been shifted to the parent,” she said. “I’m helping all my children, and it’s really hard to keep up with every school and sometimes even each teacher having a different approach or app or platform, to get their work done.”

It’s true that we’re all having to learn a lot of new platforms. Google Classroom. Zoom. Canvas. Pearson. Schoology. And more. Honestly, it’s been hard to keep track of which technology goes with what class. But we kids are accepting that it’s the way it has to be.

Nate Spierer is an eighth grader at Pardes Jewish Day School in north Scottsdale. He has strong support from his school and a great attitude. “[Online learning] is kind of a perfect fit for what we’re going through with the coronavirus,” he said. “The first day, the technology portion was a little troubling because it’s the first time I’ve done anything like this. But after all the help I got from my teachers and parents, it was pretty simple.”

That’s what’s changing, our schools emphasize. It’s not what we students learn — it’s still the same content —but how we learn it. Schools are using a variety of approaches, ranging from sending printed packets to putting homework online to videoconferencing classes.

A number of students and parents hoped to have more face-time learning, with teachers giving video lectures and leading discussions. But the amount of live class time students are getting seems to vary greatly among schools and even among teachers within a school.

Private schools including Pardes, Christ Lutheran School, Brophy College Preparatory and Rancho Solano Preparatory School seemed quickest to pivot, offering class-like learning sessions online. Nate’s father David says his son spends four hours a day in live classes with Pardes teachers.

“We can’t send these kids all worksheets. That’s not going to keep anyone psyched to learn,” said Kim Walton, business manager of Christ Lutheran, whose curriculum incorporates lots of videos and conference calls for students. “We still do have learning curves that we’re working through though.”

But for many schools, much of the work is online to complete by a deadline. It requires self discipline — and parents’ help. For students, it can feel like self-teaching. For parents, it can seem like turbo homework help or even homeschooling.

That is tough, particularly for parents of younger kids. Brittany Wheeler, a stay-at-home mom, is managing remote education for three children ages 10 and younger at three different schools in Phoenix.

Brittany Wheeler and some of the very-much-hands-on work she now does with her three kids at home.

“I’ve been disappointed that there hasn’t been much virtual learning. It’s just been a bajillion online assignments,” she said. “It would be easier if I had older kids who were able to sit and do their work. It wouldn’t be so hands-on every moment for me.”

Schools are learning, and improving, as they go along. For most, this approach is new for them, too. One solution has been to make “office hours” with teachers available to answer students’ questions through calls or video chat.

Then there is the range of reactions each student will experience, depending on their unique personality and learning style. Doris Dunatov has two children with opposite responses: “My sixth grader loves it so far — she’s more focused at home. She’s easily distracted in the classroom if there is too much chatter. My third grader is like, ‘Nope.’ He needs the social aspect of a classroom setting to be happy.”

Some are warming up to the new approach.

“The kids enjoy how much more laid-back distance learning is compared to classroom learning. Deadlines are longer. Teachers are trying their best not to overwhelm students,” said Kriti [last name withheld upon request], a mom of two at the Horizon Honors School in south Phoenix.

But like me, her kids miss the class discussions and interactions with teachers and classmates.

So does Raymond Cusick, a sophomore at Arizona School for the Arts. “It’s just a very big change to be so isolated for so long away from your friends and teachers,” he said.

The social side is worse for graduating students, whether from elementary, middle or high school. We all feel for their FOMO with graduation activities canceled.

Questions persist: How will all of this affect how students’ grades and attendance are tracked? How will any missed learning be made up? Much uncertainty remains with promises of answers to come.

Wheeler points to the bright side: “My kids all now appreciate school and want to go back to school. I guess that’s kind of the silver lining.”

How to support online learning

  • Create a consistent daily routine. Set expectations about getting up, getting dressed and eating breakfast.
  • Create a dedicated study space that is free of distraction.
  • Build a study schedule that includes breaks.
  • Limit social media.
  • Create to-do lists.
  • Tackle the hard work first.
  • Set accountability by creating goals.
  • Stay connected with your teachers.
  • Ask for help.
  • Create online study groups when appropriate.

Source: Scottsdale Unified School District

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Karen Barrhttp://www.raisingarizonakids.com
Karen Davis Barr is the founder and publisher of Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

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