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From the Mouths of Kids: What We’ve Learned from Students Schooling at Home. Part 2: Online Schoolwork and Schedule

by David Engle | Jul 21, 2020 | 5 min read

As parents deliberate whether to send their children back to school in the fall, amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country, perhaps we should all listen to some people who will give it to you straight, who have experienced learning at home first-hand–kids.

As we shared in part 1 of this blog series, YouthTruth, a national nonprofit organization, conducted an anonymous survey of more than 20,000 students, who provided more than 40,000 open-ended responses to the following three questions related to schooling at home during the spring 2020 school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • What about learning at home do you like? Are there things you hope will stay the same next school year?
  • What about learning at home do you find challenging? How can your school help?
  • Since your school building closed, briefly describe your day…

From there, YouthTruth analyzed the responses, categorized them accordingly, and created a list of five benefits and five challenges associated with learning at home (remember, learning at home is not the same as homeschooling!).

These are some really interesting and valid insights that neither parents nor educators may have been fully aware of. And they deserve as much consideration as the challenges when deciding the right course of action for the upcoming school year. But right now, we’re going to focus on the challenges since there may be solutions that can be implemented either by you as a parent or by school administrators. In part 1 of this series, we discussed distractions and ways to minimize them. Today, we’ll focus on challenge 2: online schoolwork and schedule.

This issue is a tricky one, mostly because the shutdowns and subsequent moves to distance learning were rushed. Because of the scramble, many schools simply dumped a stack of assignments on the students to keep them busy for a couple of weeks, until teachers (and kids) could find their footing and put together some type of classroom-like environment. In many cases, however, that never happened; teachers for the most part continued giving students assignments, but there was a lack of live or even recorded instruction in schools across the country. This posed several challenges to students, many of whom felt they weren’t receiving adequate instruction.

Consider some of these responses from surveyed students:

“I feel like we have more schoolwork and it’s hard for the teachers to help with schoolwork because we can’t really interact with them.”

The root of this problem is most likely caused by the large amount of work students were given during the first days or weeks of the pandemic lockdown. Teachers wanted to ensure that their kids had enough to keep themselves busy until they were able to figure things out. Unfortunately, many kids felt that their teachers didn’t actually figure things out. While most teachers were required to dedicate certain parts of the school day to “office hours” or meeting time, that either didn’t happen or just wasn’t sufficient for what students needed as far as individual attention or instruction.

So, as children tried to work through their assignments, they found themselves stuck and unable to ask their teacher for help. Parents are able to help out where they can, but they’re not teachers. And as these students became stuck or frustrated, it became easier for them to fall behind because they weren’t able to proceed to the next assignment without understanding the previous concepts.

This is obviously something each school district needs to work out, as it’s certainly looking more and more like schools are going to operate either exclusively online or in some sort of hybrid in-person/online capacity to start the school year, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge from coast to coast. Parents and students who were disappointed in the lack of structure during the spring are not only hoping, but expecting, things to be much better this time around, as schools have had months to survey students and parents and adopt a new and improved system for online learning.

“It is hard to find assignments and meetings. I think the school can help by having us make classes for meetings specifically instead of mixing it with the normal assignments.”

One of the big problems students experienced is that teachers used different platforms for distributing their schoolwork and information–even within the same grades in the same schools. For example, students may have had one teacher putting assignments in their Google classroom, while another may have been using his or her own website. Some used apps like Class Dojo, Remind, or PowerSchool to communicate with students and parents–but that made it extremely difficult and frustrating for kids to keep track of which teacher was using which platform. Some teachers used Google Meet for conferences while others used Zoom. There was no consistency or synergy among teachers, and that led directly to confusion among students and parents.

The ideal solution here would be for each school to stick to one means of communication for meetings and one central location for assignments and classwork. Otherwise, it will simply be a repeat of spring’s frustrations. Teachers will need to create consistent meeting schedules and ensure that any and all resources are available and easy for kids to find.

“I find it challenging on how we don’t get a lot of instructions as we do in a normal school. My school can help by taking a bit more time to answer our questions and concerns.”

In my opinion, this directly ties into the first remark above. Again, not to pile on teachers here (most truly did the best they could in a short period of time and were caught just as off-guard as the rest of us were), but parents and students had a difficult time navigating through the spring without much assistance. Because of the lack of live instruction, or even recorded classes, many kids were left to their own devices (or their parents’ little remaining knowledge of school subjects) for their lessons. And, again, even as teachers were holding designated office hours/meeting times, many kids obviously were still not getting the direction they needed, which can only come from an in-person or live-class environment.

As alluded to above, it’s the hope of parents and students (and teachers as well) nationwide that school districts have created a much-improved plan for distance learning, one that incorporates ample live instruction, face-to-face meeting time with each child, and more structure.

Unfortunately, the challenge of schedules and online schoolwork is something that has to be dealt with by school districts; parents and students can only wait and hope that the plan they roll out is an effective one. When posed with the question, “What could your school do to help?”, students simply hoped that teachers would reach out to help those who need it. For younger kids, this is imperative. For older students, perhaps a transition to student-led learning is the next logical step toward a more independent, less-teacher-reliant approach to school.

If gambling on your child’s education is not something that appeals to you (and it shouldn’t), maybe you just want to forego traditional schooling altogether and start homeschooling. If that’s the case, and you are looking for a new homeschool, you’ll find that Bridgeway Academy offers something for every student, including Live Online Classes that are taught by a certified instructor in a virtual classroom environment with other kids across the globe.

How are you planning on handling school if it’s held remotely again? Share in the comments below.

David Engle
Hello, and thanks for reading! I’m David Engle--dad, husband, sports fan, and writer/editor. As a father for the last 18 years (father of two for the last 14), I consider myself to be pretty well-versed in all things related to education, childhood, and parenting, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to share some insights and knowledge with fellow parents. I have been a professional writer and editor for a quarter of a century (it pains me to admit that) and have been writing in the educational space for a number of those years. I reside in southern New Jersey with my wife, two kids, two dogs, and three cats. Never a dull moment.
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