Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~Bill Gates, Business @ the Speed of Thought
The ups and downs of shelter-in-place continue to impact us in a variety of ways. This week, the impact of distance learning has begun to take a toll on my younger son.
Yesterday, my younger son’s teacher emailed me:
It looks like last week, C completed Source 1 (visual analysis) in Task 1, but he did not complete Source 2 (reading analysis) or Source 3 (video analysis). It does not appear as though he worked on any of Tasks 2 – 4. I am happy to work with you to modify the amount of work for C – if you feel like the workload is too much. Our district directive is to have ~1 hour of humanities work each day, so students can practice the skills and have access to the content that we feel is most important. I’m happy to hold C accountable for all the assignments but to reduce the work within the assignment. For example, instead of looking at three sources in Task 1, perhaps C only analyzes 2 (or even 1). Please let me know how you feel about me modifying the work. If you would like to move forward, I will draft an overview document with directions and materials that includes the accommodation.”
Since last week’s school week was only three days (Monday and Tuesday had been deemed “Distance Learning preparation for the teachers”), I stepped back, refusing to handhold and allowing my son to self-manage his assignments. Each time I checked in on him, he assured me he was working on his schoolwork; yet the work had taken the bulk of the day.
When I received the email, I admit I was disappointed. Each day last week, my son sat with me in my office, head bent over his laptop, working. When I checked his screen, his Humanities assignment was open and partially complete. I checked the parent portal: the math was marked “Complete,” but Humanities showed partial completion.
“What’s going on in Humanities,” I asked my son.
“Nothing,” he replied.
“Nothing? I’m not sure what you mean.”
“It means nothing; nothing is going on. I get a bunch of assignments, and I have to do them,” my son explained.
“Yes, I am aware. How come last weeks weren’t completed?”
“I have no motivation,” my son said.
“No motivation? Why?”
“What is the point of the work? I’m not learning anything. I am watching videos and doing busy work. I don’t see my friends from school. The assignments are boring.”
I could hear the defeat in his voice. The experience for my older son is the opposite: he has daily Zoom classes for all his classes; he sees his classmates and all of his teachers regularly. He’s engaged and motivated, and despite distance learning, he still feels connected to his classmates and teachers.
For my younger son: there is no connection to his classmates because there aren’t daily Zoom calls. Today is the first day of Week 5, and he has had Zoom calls. There is an option for a check-in call once a week, but there aren’t daily classes. He cannot see the smiles and silly grins of his classmates; instead, distance learning is passive: watching videos, filling in worksheets, and answering questions online.
The Mission and Vision of his school state: “At the end of the day, we leave school with a sense of accomplishment and a desire to return the next day.”
There is no sense of accomplishment: his goal is to get the work done, so he doesn’t have to hear me remind him to do it. It is painful to see his morale and attitude about school dip lower and lower each day.
I know I am not the only parent who feels this way. I ran into a friend yesterday afternoon while out walking with my dad; she expressed the same concerns for her 8th-grade son and explained how her daughter, a junior in a local private high school, was having an entirely different experience.
“It is like a normal school day: class on Zoom, a passing period, and then on to her next class. The only different thing is that she is at home,” my friend explained.
I’ve had similar conversations with other friends; we cannot understand why we have the technology and are not using it. A friend’s daughter’s preschool has daily Zoom lessons with her class of 30 children between the age of 2-1/2 and 5!
Teens need to be around their peers; they need connection; connecting with their peers and the teachers is a vital missing piece of distance learning. The schools have made it a point to provide students who need a laptop with a laptop. Carriers are offering free access – and yet technology is only used for check-in purposes rather than teaching. At this time of year, the kids have already learned what they need to know – it’s the social and lack of connections that will have a significant impact when all is said and done.
I don’t expect online instruction daily, but once or twice a week would be better than what it is now: only if the student needs help or needs a check-in. If 2-1/2 to 5-year-olds can participate in Zoom calls for preschool, why isn’t technology being used in the same manner in middle school? All the assignments for my 8th grade are “click the blue CW or HW to download your .pdfs” or “refer to SWUN and YouTube videos.”
My son now stares at a screen all day with zero interaction with a teacher or his peers.
Each of my sons will close a chapter in their respective schools. One will head off to college, the other to high school. As if missing graduations weren’t enough, the extreme differences in their distance learning experiences make it painfully so.
I can always cave in what I know other kids are doing: playing video games online with his friends. Perhaps the hours spent playing Minecraft will help him develop an interest in becoming an architect or a designer; maybe hours playing Call of Duty will hone marksmanship skills for the military.
But the hours spent staring at a screen, without the camaraderie of his fellow classmates? It is pure torture for him. And for me.