The Covid Curve
This article is a brief exploration of the challenges associated with "Distance Learning" for High School students.
As we commence the 2021-2022 school year, educators everywhere are assessing the outcomes that students achieved during the last five quarters of “Distance Learning.” Also sometimes called “Remote Learning” or “Online Learning,” educators worldwide have been forced by the circumstances of the pandemic, to abruptly change how their educational content was delivered to students. Beginning during the last quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, and extending through the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year, an enormous number of students in North America and around the world, became unwilling participants in a massive educational experiment. The outcomes from this unprecedented experiment are now in, and I’m afraid to say that they are decidedly mixed.
First, we should acknowledge that Distance Learning wasn’t uniformly bad for all students. According to Edutopia, some students thrived during Distance Learning (“Why Are Some Kids Thriving During Remote Learning?”). Based on my own Distance Learning experience as a teacher during the last five quarters of school, it became apparent to me that there were three indicators that a student would prosper during Distance Learning: (1) Students who were already high achievers before the pandemic, tended to maintain their academic performance while engaged in Distance Learning; (2) students who had strong technology skills, also tended to perform well in Distance Learning classes; and (3) students who enjoyed good internet connectivity, and who also had the computer resources to stay engaged in school, likewise tended to be able to keep up with the curriculum.
But of course, not all students fell into these positive categories. What is clear from the pandemic data is that many students have lost unexercised academic skills and as a consequence, have actually fallen behind their peers in school. In a survey of Canadian schools conducted by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) in May of 2021 which surveyed more than 9,500 educators nationwide, approximately 70 % of school administrators believe absenteeism was higher this past school year than in previous years (“Teachers worry for students’ futures as questionnaire reveals growing gaps” @ www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/schooling-under-stress-questionnaire-kitchener-waterloo-region-wellington-county-1.6024302). Worse, 80 % of teachers surveyed also agreed that “they are at least somewhat behind schedule with their required curriculum,” and 65% agreed that some students will not catch up academically (Ibid.) From these Canadian results, it is clear that while some students forged ahead during the pandemic, a large number of students have fallen behind.
Second, many students were struggling to cope with stress, anxiety and isolation. Not being able to see friends was stressful, the absence of social engagement that is so important to adolescents in particular. Having family members who were infected with the virus was stressful. Not being able to see trusted teachers and counsellors was stressful. And so forth— the interruption of the school routines they have become accustomed to, does appear to have interrupted executive functioning skills and emotional regulation for many students. Not all, but certainly many.
A third reason for the poor outcomes from Distance Learning, is that the content isn’t accessible for many students, either because of technology issues, unfamiliarity with the use of computer technology, or simply class avoidance from disinterest or disconnection from school. In my own experience, students who struggled to access content from their computers would sometimes log into class from their (more familiar) cellular phones. This proved to be a poor substitute for computers, and limited the ability of some students to engage in many assignments. It is clear that the presentation of content in new ways electronically, became a barrier for many students.
Finally, the absence of classroom structure was disastrous for many students. Teachers have now learned, unequivocally, indisputably, that there are many students who really need the structure of an actual classroom. In the absence of that structure, student engagement was reliant on maturity and self-motivation to log into class on time, stay engaged, and complete the assignments. The problem here, of course, is that many adolescents still lack the emotional maturity to stay engaged. Students who fell behind by even just a few assignments, often felt like catching up was hopeless, and so they mentally checked out of school. They appear in the electronic classroom as a silent icon, “present” by virtue of being logged in, but simply not engaging the teacher or the content.
So, now that students are finally returning to the classroom, presumably many of these challenges will be alleviated. However, because it is clear that the academic skills of many students have actually regressed during the pandemic, it seems obvious that additional support will be required if they are to catch up. This is where Wisdom Communications can be of service. Our practice combines the teaching methodologies of professional educators, with professional coaching methodologies, to provide parents and students with an active academic mentoring program that will be beneficial for any student. By mentoring the student, helping them resolve academic challenges, and helping them keep on track and up-to-date with their school work, our Academic Success Program aims to coach high school students to success in all facets of the high school experience.
Our mission is to help students achieve greater success in school. Let us know if we can help you.