Balancing the educational needs of students against external factors is never easy. In the best of times, their home life, peer pressure, and access to technology all need to be considered. But addressing health concerns created by the COVID pandemic creates an even greater challenge, resulting in measures that can vary from school to school and from one month to the next.
With so much uncertainty remaining, even as vaccines begin to roll out, there are plenty of questions about what lies ahead. Here are some ways to prepare for different possibilities and adapt as things continue to change.
Returning to school
There are several advantages to learning on campus. For one thing, it’s how students are accustomed to receiving instruction. They can raise a hand and ask a question and get an immediate response. They can also interact with other students and work together in groups, face-to-face, to solve problems.
There are also, generally speaking, fewer distractions at school than at home. Teachers are better equipped to keep order in a single classroom than are dozens of parents — many of whom have to work, themselves — at keeping tabs on their kids in different home work stations. Plus, the class completion rate is five times higher in person than online.
There are health challenges that need to be met on campus. Masks, hand wipes, and sanitizers must be provided to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, and students must maintain social distance from their peers and teachers. This isn’t always easy to coordinate in small classrooms with restless youths, especially when they haven’t seen each other in months.
Here are a few strategies teachers and schools can employ:
- Look for opportunities to teach lessons outside when the weather permits. Programs focusing on science and the environment are natural choices, but you can also do reading or math assignments under the trees.
- Keep air circulating in classrooms by opening windows a few inches.
- Schools should make sure their overall filtration and ventilation system is working, and may choose to install portable HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) purifiers to remove dust, mold, pollen, and bacteria from the air, according to the EPA.
Learning from home
Online learning offers several advantages. It gives students affected by bullying and peer pressure a buffer against distractions that can adversely affect their learning experience. As with working remotely, it’s easier for students to work flexibly, around their home schedule, while improving their technology skills in the bargain.
Parents, meanwhile, enjoy the benefits of reduced transportation costs, along with the ability to touch base with their kids’ instructors from the comfort of home, rather than disrupting their schedules and traveling for face-to-face conferences. Most importantly, children can reduce their potential exposure (and their family’s) to COVID-19 by staying home.
But there are plenty of challenges to learning from home, too. One study showed that roughly two-thirds of parents feared their kids would fall behind socially, emotionally, and academically if they worked from home.
To be successful working from home, students will need adequate access to technology, good internet connection,the proper software to communicate with teachers and complete/submit assignments, and support in understanding how to use these tools. They’ll also need parental oversight, along with a dedicated workspace to help them stay focused — a place away from family activities, smartphones, and video games.
If you haven’t got a place like that, you may be able to create one by clearing out clutter in a corner, basement, or spare room.
Hybrid learning offers flexibility and freedom for students. In some districts, students are given the choice of attending classes in person or online. Importantly it reduces the number of students in the school at one time allowing for social distancing. Some schools have put half their furniture in trailers in the school parking lots. In others, a mix of online and on-site classes is offered. As 2020 neared its end, this hybrid model was the predominant approach, with almost two-thirds of school districts adopting some form of mixed curriculum.
Instructors can feel challenged to teach students effectively in the classroom while also ensuring that they’re reaching remote learners enrolled in the same course. Even so, technology can lend a hand. Well-placed cameras can transmit the necessary information to students at home, and microphones can help teachers be heard through masks.
It’s more important than ever in these classrooms for teachers to gather data, assess students’ progress, and adjust strategies if something isn’t working.
The pandemic has thrown everyone for a loop, and schools are responding in different ways, so it’s important to stay on top of where things stand and maintain a solid educational environment — both at home and on campus, if classes are held there. Adaptability is essential to balancing health with educational success. We can’t afford to sacrifice either one.
Ann Lloyd is currently pursuing her MBA with a focus on marketing. She is passionate about supporting students and runs a blog entitled the Student Savings Guide.