Online learning

January 13, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Julie Chami Lindsay    

What a strange world we live in where eight-year-olds are begging to go back to school because they are tired of being home.

Two years ago, school closures seemed so implausible that when it happened, the entire system fell into a state of shock.

Politicians, administrators, teachers, parents, and of course, students struggled to cope with a reality unprecedented in modern life.

Suddenly, the Monday to Friday, September to July, morning attendance to afternoon dismissal routine that not only determined the schedule of almost every family, but ultimately dictated the start times of parents’ job, sports, extracurriculars and dentist appointments, vanished overnight. A tradition, hundreds of years old, stopped dead in its tracks.

Whether you have children or not, shutdowns have impacted everyone.

No more stopping for students crossing and big yellow busses on your morning commutes. Colleagues and employees with young ones, scrambling to make it to work on time if at all. The widespread fear that this generation will suffer academic consequences that will certainly impact the future of our planet. And maybe the most disturbing of all – children walking around Walmart in the middle of the day.

The closure of schools is no small sacrifice. Not for anyone. It is hard and it is scary. And if you are a parent or someone who cares about a child, it is hard and scary to watch how hard and how scary it has been for them.

As adults, we have experienced broken promises before. But for some of these kids, the promise of safety, the promise that we’d be back to normal has been their first experience of true let down.

And here we are, two years since the onset of this pandemic, and once again schools across Ontario are shut down. For at least the next week and a half, most students (save those with significant needs that interfere with the ability to learn from home) will transfer back to virtual learning forums, this time a little savvier and a little more prepared.

Sadly, a lot more disheartened. So, as a parent and an educator, who has been teaching online since the pandemic started, I’d like to help. Here are five things that I’ve learned that I will share with you.

Firstly, we must all take the time to recognize the impact of this catastrophe on our children.

We talk about our kids’ mental health and the instigates of the pandemic, the illness, the fear, the lockdowns, and the uncertainty. But as they transition online, we must acknowledge their strife in the context of their role as students.

Parents and teachers, it is our responsibility to concede to the fact that children are not simply switching learning modes. They are dealing with an infinite number of associated factors including stress, displacement, loss of socialization, loss of motivation, and the chronic irritation of unreliable virtual platforms and internet connections.

It is impossible to assume all children will want to attend, let alone participate fully in their academics at this time. Allow for breaks. Some kids will require five minutes and some maybe five days. Instead, use this time to facilitate the learning that happens outside of the classroom – such as meaningful discussions with family members, helping to shovel the snow, baking a loaf of bread.

Let’s be kind to our youth. Remember that every child has lost this time in school. When things eventually return to normal, we will all be in the same, post-covid, boat. Hopefully unmasked and wedged in each other’s personal space.

Secondly, be kind to the system. Be kind to principals, teachers, support staff, and the administrators that answer the phone and gather your children’s belonging for you to collect. Yes, there is some bias in this statement, but believe me, we are all in this together.

Providing a virtual platform with face-to-face instruction is a difficult shift that requires additional planning, work and that is being potentially witnessed by every parent at every moment.

The job description of everyone in this school has changed and expanded. Every new position is being navigated while attempting to support students and families who are also treading water alongside us.

If you don’t agree, that’s okay. But don’t forget that our children’s respect and devotion to the school system and their education will reflect how we speak of it. In other words, if we respect the school system, we poise our children for success within it.

Thirdly, make sure you have a device and internet access for your children. EACH ONE OF YOUR CHILDREN. Do not rely on smartphones and wifi hotspots. Most platforms and assignments will be difficult if not impossible to access on devices that are not computers or chromebooks.

Contact your school for this. School boards are providing students with chromebooks. They are also providing rocket sticks, which essentially is internet access for those who do not have it.

In short, each one of your children must and will have access to these tools, but you must contact the school, ask for it, and retrieve it. Even if you are not rushing to get your child logged on, it is wise to rush and get these supports in place so that they are ready when you are.

Your child will have a virtual platform and login information. You will probably be invited to join this platform as well.

The initial invitations for you and your child arrive in your child’s school provided email account, your personal email, or possibly both. I urge you to take the time to ensure you child has joined the virtual classroom.

They may also be expected to join a separate classroom for each teacher including physical education, music, guidance, library, French etc… Whether your child is four or fourteen, explore these platforms together. Figure out where assignments will be posted and where they are expected to be returned. Find the announcement and resource areas and if you have any questions, contact the teacher. Contact the teacher until you receive the answers you require.

The more familiar you and your child is with the virtual classroom, the more comfortable, confident, and effective you will both will be.

Next, use this time to your advantage. Think of virtual schooling as a unique opportunity to gain insight into your child’s learning.

Get involved. Check in when you can and ask to see your kid’s work. This will help to reenforce the accountability that they would have in person. It’s easier to be invisible online, especially when most students keep their cameras off.

During this virtual learning time, it is more important than ever to vamp up dinner table conversations about what they did that day, what they are learning about, and how they are feeling about it.

It is also an opportunity to connect with teachers. Virtual conferences are much easier to arrange than in person ones, so don’t hesitate to contact teachers with questions, comments, and concerns.

In some twisted way, this alternate universe that has turned families and schools upside down, might be the reminder we all needed to remember to do the things that matter most.

Finally, there are technicalities that will also make major differences in your child’s experience online. Make sure that they are prepared to learn.

Rest, a healthy breakfast, a glass of water, and having snacks on hand are all going to facilitate a more productive day.

Sitting up as a table or desk, instead of lying in bed or sitting on the floor is going to improve attention and retention.

Make sure that your child has a place to take notes, pencils, erasers, sharpeners for math, and grade appropriate materials.

If you have a printer or access to one, it is a good idea that it is available for you child. And, please don’t forget to check the chat box. Each online platform will have a message board where students can post when they are asynchronous and a chat box when they are in video conferencing mode.

Most of the time, students can post messages that are visible to other students. Sometimes these messages are inappropriate even when students are very young.

While teachers will do their best to shut this down, your child is at an increased risk of reading (and writing) things that are disturbing, upsetting and/or confusing. Talk to your child about this. Check the chats from time to time. Online bullying is real, and it is very easy to hide from adults.

Everyone and their dog are predicting how the global pandemic will impact our children’s education in the long run.

The reality is that no one has those answers. It is obvious that right now it is taking a toll on mental health and skill development for many.

The world is a different place and so the reactions to it will be different as well. But the optimist in me may predict that this generation will be more resilient, more appreciative, more well-rounded than the ones before because they are facing adversity unbeknownst to us.

As we re-enter a time of restrictions and online learning, let’s continue to do the best we can to support each other and our children.

Until next time, ask questions. Demand answers. And stay safe.

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