Angela Farmer

DR. ANGELA FARMER

Last spring, there was little to no time to prepare or to analyze data or determine the best and most feasible alternatives to face-to-face learning. Educators across the nation embraced their best judgement and utilized the tools available to them and their students to craft education in a box, some virtually, some literally.

About eight months later, many are still trying to figure out what works best. In all of the literature and analyses available, what appears to be lacking most abundantly is student feedback. Schools know what they can afford to offer. Some districts can offer students on-line devices; however, not all students have access to free or homebased WiFi. Some districts are sending materials by the mail. In this instance, it can be problematic to get the materials back from the students in order to effectively assess whether or not select concepts need further reinforcement or if they were easily mastered.

There are also a number of posts and articles designed to help adults learn how to help their children with not only homework, but teaching concepts, especially in math. One site recently posted shared the availability of an App that allowed parents to take a photo of the math problem which could, then, be returned with the problem solved, step-by-step. Again, this was aimed at adult support.

It is, however, essential during this most unusual time to regularly access honest assessments from the students not just of the students. In one article shared by Educationdive.com, the author references a survey in which 19% of high school students shared that video chats helped them to feel involved in distance learning, but a mere 2% indicated that they felt like this strategy had been done well in their classes. The author further references research by Josh Star who reiterates the need for student voices to “inform the conversation.”

Therefore, rather than the adults in the dynamic dictating that this is what the kids will need and this is how they’ll access the tools and interact with their peers, it is more consumer focused to ask the students what has and has not worked so far in their experiences. When the situation is viewed outside of an institutional paradigm and rather as a consumer needs-based assessment, very different images are likely to emerge.

According to one student whose message was captured, “I’m supposed to graduate this year, but I don’t know what’s happening with my classes, if we’re going pass/fail or not.” Another student, this one in middle school, shared that it’s really difficult to do lots of work at home with all the distractions as well as the lure of social media, which can dominate students’ attention.

By consulting with the students to understand their needs and to hear their recommendations, adults, both educators and parents alike, are more likely to realize that some of the best ways for this generation of digital natives to learn may well be one that the analog adults haven’t yet imagined. Rather it’s adjusting the size and digestibility of topics and the assignments that go with them or covering a topic in multiple ways to ensure that everyone has had the opportunity to understand, clearly education has to be reinvented forever.

For years educators have reflected as to how the traditional school calendar was crafted out of agrarian convenience for help with farming and how desks in rows still paid homage to one room school house. If nothing else positive emanates from the COVID-19 pandemic of perhaps, at least school leaders will be given the latitude to work with their teachers to serve the needs of the students in the most practical, feasible, and relevant way possible. Regardless as to the approach or the delivery, educators across the nation must embrace the needs of the students by listening to their feedback and ensuring that any and all actions taken are a result of student needs and accessibility and not of adult convenience. Kudos and encouragement to all the students out there learning and adapting to this new world of learning. Thank you to all the educators doing their best to leave no child behind.

DR. ANGELA FARMER is a lifelong educator, a syndicated columnist, and an author. She serves Mississippi State University as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Honors Education for the Shackouls Honors College where she can be reached at afarmer@honors.msstate.edu

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