Silver Linings: Why Remote Learning Allows Some Students to Shine
March 2020 saw a massive upheaval in Americans' day-to-day lives as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take its toll. While professionals able to do their jobs remotely transitioned to working from home, schools closed their doors and took on the Herculean task of moving learning from the classroom to the cloud—no small feat under ideal conditions, let alone when the country is in crisis and life has changed seemingly overnight. Every individual is coping with and adjusting to the upheaval in their own way, and students are no different. But although schooling in a pandemic has proven difficult for some, others seem to be not only getting by but flourishing.
First, it is important to recognize the inherent challenges of remote learning for certain groups. For instance, students who are homeless or housing insecure, highly mobile, and/or come from low-income families may not have access to Wi-Fi or internet-enabled devices at home due to the digital divide, while those with special needs or disabilities may find it difficult to secure hard copies of papers, Braille assignments, or the level of physical and mental support to which they are accustomed.
However, according to a recent piece in the online publication Edutopia, teachers have reported that some students are thriving—and while this phenomenon is not the norm, Edutopia went on to identify a few recurring themes of learning within classroom walls that are simply not conducive to the success of all students.
So, let’s take a closer look at several reasons why remote learning allows some students to shine:
The highly structured school day leaves little room for downtime or flexibility, with each ring of the bell signifying the immediate need to switch gears and move to the next class or obligation. High-schoolers standing at the precipice of the world beyond K-12 education may be taking advantage of this period by moving at their own pace and taking more frequent, longer breaks—an approach that has been found to reduce stress and “increase their productivity … [providing] opportunities to develop creativity and social skills.” Some students may choose to spend this time with family or FaceTiming a friend, while others may take the opportunity to bolster their physical well-being with a quick exercise session. One teacher interviewed by Edutopia paraphrased a 10th-grade student's succinct summation as follows: “The reason I enjoy online learning is because of the opportunity to structure my day efficiently. I am able to work out, relax, and complete the work in a timely manner, with no distractions.”
Reduced social pressures
For every meaningful experience and lasting friendship, there is an array of social woes and anxieties that make middle and high school a notoriously difficult time. As young people navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood, bullying abounds and self-consciousness heightens. Students who are particularly affected by these social pressures may feel more comfortable at home, where they have a safe space to focus on schoolwork without an underlying sense of judgment from those around them.
Cathleen Beachboard, a Virginia-based middle-school English teacher, relayed to Edutopia that “One student told me he likes remote learning better because he no longer feels the extreme pressure of failing. He says that now that the pressure of state testing is off, he feels he can really learn.” Moreover, according to Beachboard, this student wasn't the only one to express such a sentiment.
Due to the inequity issues mentioned earlier in this piece, many educators have taken a more lenient approach to instruction and grading during shutdowns; rather than prioritizing the workload completed by students, the focus has shifted to fewer assignments that are more accessible. For students who strive to keep their grades up, achieve a certain standardized test score, and ultimately get into their desired university down the road, working at a slower pace with fewer assignments seems to help them more fully absorb the material.
The bottom line
For many students, families, and teachers, learning at home is a far-from-welcome new frontier, but it is especially important to identify silver linings at times of adversity. Through this lens, school shutdowns are an opportunity to help students unlock their previously untapped potential and identify strengths and skills they can carry with them long after the school doors reopen.
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