Publisher’s Perspective: Grading the effectiveness of distance learning (Opinion)
I need to start this off by saying how much I appreciate teachers. We all know your job is a tough one that has only gotten tougher over the past few weeks.
But on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing that California schools will not reopen for the remainder of the year and that the emphasis will now be on distance learning, as a parent, I am saddened and concerned for our children.
Based on Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s similarities in handling this pandemic, I am certain the announcement for Nevada is not far behind and may even be announced by the time you read this. That would mean no matter what part of Lake Tahoe you reside on, you’re all going to be dealing with this for the foreseeable future.
I don’t know if any other parent shares the same concerns I have, but I’m sure mine are not the only ones, nor are mine exclusive to me.
For the past two weeks, I have worked from home while all four of my children (ages 5, 11, 13 and 16) have participated in some type of distance learning. My wife, who works part time, was out of the house for most of each day, leaving me, trying to juggle the duties of my job and answer their intermittent questions in relation to their work.
This is not like helping your child out with their homework after a days work. This is trying to do the job you’re counted on to do, being a parent, being a teacher, and re-learning the many things that you have since forgotten how to do all, at the same time.
Needless to say, I know I’m not as effective as I could be in those moments. I’m distracted with my own work and when you have multiple kids, they have multiple needs and I find myself all over the place trying to be effective.
But this isn’t a poor me column – it’s a poor them.
If you think about their “old school” school day, they have teachers who they see face to face, learn with their peers, hear answers to questions they might also have, and are in a setting that is less likely to pull their attention in multiple directions.
Distance learning is not that – at least not yet. What we’ve seen so far has been a hodgepodge of things:
• Some teachers requiring video attendance, some not.
• Some handing out of more work to do in a single day than what they would in a typical week creating an imbalance of days.
• Offering up video chats at only specific times if kids need help.
• Not taking unforeseeable circumstances (internet connectivity, power outages, etc.) into consideration even though it’s beyond their control.
Look, it’s not perfect right now. This all came down quickly and there has not been much time to digest what’s the most effective. But if it continues this way, it undoubtedly will not end amazing.
To be fair, I asked my kids what they liked and disliked about all of this. Each of them, who are all pretty good students, said that the thing they like most was that they could learn at their own pace. They didn’t have to wait and could actually get ahead in most classes.
But, they also said how ineffective it has been. They found that access to teachers was limited and not being able to communicate face-to-face was difficult because they couldn’t just go direct to them and ask questions and they have to wait for communication before moving on.
Another item none of them liked was the ability to be around friends. While we all can relate to not being able to hang out with friends right now, as much as we don’t like to think about it, friends are part of their learning circle — they are an outlet for many things, and without that, how much does that factor into retention or progress?
My oldest son also brought up a good point saying that if you leave kids to their devices, the ones that typically didn’t keep up with the work in the first place still wouldn’t – it’s too easy for them to look up the answers and move on. Who’s to know if they’re actually learning or not? How do you even grade based on that variable?
What about the kid who has a troubled home life and was able to use school as an escape? What type of learning environment do they now have to deal with?
There are no perfect answers. I realize that. I can come up with a ton more questions, but I’d rather seek out answers to questions that are the most immediate and ones that we can fix before the year is over.
Teachers are teachers because they can communicate with our children and help them absorb information in a way that resonates with them. With distance learning, you lose almost all of that. True, not all kids like all their teachers, but some of that is still happening even if they aren’t their favorite.
I realize there aren’t too many options given our circumstances, but I really hope the school systems can learn week to week and use what they learn to improve their knowledge of the situation and make it better. Since that is what they expect from our children and their students, I think it’s only fair of us to ask it from them.
Publisher Rob Galloway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-542-8046.
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