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Parents, teachers and students adapt to home learning

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With schools being closed and students being tasked to learn the rest of the year’s materials from home, there has been a bit of an adjustment period in the last month-and-a-half, with students, parents and teachers all having to change their daily routines to accommodate the situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here is a perspective on how three key demographics are handling the state of education as it stands right now and how it will stand for the foreseeable future.
Parents
Rebecca Delaurier is a parent of three children – a 10-year-old, an eight-year-old and a five -year-old – all attending Taylor School.
She gets her children started their school at home by 9 o’clock on weekday mornings, usually finishing the academic work for the day by noon, resuming school-at-home with play and physical activity in the afternoon.
Every two weeks, students receive a new package of assignments from their school, the majority of which is following the core subjects.
“The teachers have provided a daily schedule for each student where they have to do a little bit each day to get through the packages,” said Delaurier.
The change in environment seems to be the biggest challenge in incorporating this new education delivery model.
“We’ve given (my children) their own designated spots to help maintain their focus in the morning,” said Delaurier. “The challenge is them being at home where they have the ability to go to the kitchen to get a snack or go to the washroom a lot, whereas in school it is more scheduled and routine.
“There is also a challenge for them having to listen to their parents right now for their schooling and not just for their behaviour. They are being instructed by their parents instead of taking instruction from their teachers.”
Delaurier added that children can also have a different attitude at home where they can more honestly express their feelings and are challenged to act more like themselves instead of according to the influence of their peers and social environment.
Some of the benefits of independent at-home learning is that students are able to learn at the speed that works for them.
“They are able to take a little more time on one subject, not just an hour a day,” said Delaurier. “My oldest is able to do a little more research and take a little more time to come up with his answers.”
Delaurier also noticed that her children – who used to spend the majority of their day in separate classrooms – are experiencing changing relationships with each other as they spend more of every day with one another.
She finds that her children are settled into the routine much better now as they grow more accustomed to the routine and efficient with completing tasks.
“The teachers are doing an amazing job of determining what the students should have at home and picking the most important aspects of their day and trying to send it home,” Delaurier concluded. “Through their connections with technology, they are still concerned with their mental health and the wellbeing of the students and the school is doing a very good job of keeping that in respect too.”
Teachers
Susan Cowan is a Grade 7 English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher to 75 students in three classes at the ESRSS.
Her job consists of preparing homework packages for her 75 students that goes out every two weeks, printing off and collating the information in the subject areas being assigned, and making them available to be picked up on Monday mornings, with returning of the homework on Monday and Thursday mornings every other week. For those families that don’t pick up those packages on Monday morning, administration ensures that they receive in some way, whether with alternate arrangements or home delivery.
“The initial packages were focused on numeracy and literacy, but now there is additional material from Science, Social Studies, Music and, Basic French and ICT being added in, so we are mindful of student workload,” said Cowan, noting that they are aiming to provide roughly two hours of on-task work time per day, including a guided routine in some cases to help with the pacing of the work so students and parents don’t get too overwhelmed.
This homework is impacted by the safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic as the packages are required to be quarantined for four days before sorting it to give to the corresponding teachers, allowing any viruses to die off.
“My routine is changed based on the fact that we are not together so I can’t give guidance on the material, and the pacing is very different,” said Cowan. “In regular circumstances, there would be discussions, demonstrations and guidance with immediate feedback with students, who then can resume their work independently in class. I would be checking on them as we proceeded through the work, and in many cases, correct as a group. This process is much quicker and you can easily gauge who has grasped the concept and who needs more practice.
“Instead, we have to make sure that the information is all clearly laid out within their work, and in many cases, correct their individual work. I potentially have 75 students worth of assignments coming in.”
Cowan has had to make some changes as to what material she is teaching, as some activities aren’t conducive when there isn’t that direct interaction between student and teacher.
“That spontaneous interaction is what true teaching is about, the connection we have with students in the moment,” said Cowan. “I have to be very mindful of what I am giving to students as I’ve had to choose material that I think students can handle independently or with periodic support from parents, who are also busy and trying to manage their own lives during this time.”
She keeps in mind essential learning outcomes from the curriculum, as well as skills that students are recommended to have prior to transitioning to the next grade.
Using internet technology certainly keeps her days busy as she tries to stay on top of emails coming in from students, scheduling Zooms sessions and posting recorded sessions to Google Classroom for those who were not able to join the Zoom chat live.
Teachers also have to keep in mind that not all students have reliable internet access, and cannot necessarily rely on interactive digital media providing a dynamic learning experience.
“When we don’t have the consistent infrastructure in our communities for all of our students, working remotely can be a challenge,” said Cowan. “These students, as well as those who may not have access to devices, rely on paper copies to be complete with the information required to do the assignments.
“Normally, we would support our teaching in many ways, with discussions, visuals and demonstrations to help students understand a concept. While we can upload a video, it is not certain that students can access it, and that discussion piece is key for many students to understand a concept.”
Cowan also recognized the challenges that some students might have in finishing their work in a timely basis at home, as some may be responsible for younger siblings and don’t necessarily have the time or the regular support to work on their studies.
“We are still getting work from March and early April, or even nothing at all,” she said. “That is when we have to try to connect to those families and see what we can do to support them. Sometimes it’s motivating students to do the work, and in some cases, it is letting them know that it’s okay that stuff is not done by the deadline.”
Through this experience, Cowan has noticed a greater appreciation for the regular school system, and how important it is to have direct social interaction.
“Just because we can do something like this, doesn’t mean that we should give up the traditional classroom for a virtual one,” she said. “This means that the provincial government needs to reconsider funding school divisions appropriately with resources and staff to address the needs of our students and, ultimately, our community.”
Cowan also wants to encourage those teachers, students and parents who feel like they aren’t living up to the tasks that have been set out for them
“We are all doing the best we can given the circumstances,” she said. “Parents need to stop apologizing for not doing enough, or if something is not done correctly or on time. We are trying to manage life in a very unbalanced time.”
Cowan added that she hopes people know that the teachers miss their students.
Students
Hannah Thiessen is a Grade 12 student on track to graduate from the SVRSS.
Her day starts at 8 o’clock, working on mainly math homework until noon.
“I’m finding that working from home is difficult because it is hard to stay on task,” said Thiessen. “The programs we are using have us working at our own pace so that makes it even harder to self-motivate.”
Thiessen misses the social interaction of high school, seeing other people and learning in different environments.
“I also miss knowing exactly what to do for my classes and assignments,” she added. “It feels like everything is up in the air and no one knows what to do.”
While Thiessen was not initially excited to graduate this year, she was coming around to the idea right before events started getting cancelled or postponed.
“I’m not happy that it won’t be a normal graduation because not all of my classmates will be able to make it to the ceremony and it won’t be the same without everyone,” said Thiessen.
She is enjoying the more relaxed atmosphere of doing her schoolwork from home.
“You have far more time to do projects around the house,” said Thiessen. “It is also a nice opportunity to take a break, as school and exams are super stressful. This break has let me take a step back, unwind and make some important decisions without the pressure of school.”

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Jeremy Bergen
REPORTER
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