By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.
The world changed dramatically in early 2020. Teachers were told suddenly to pivot to online or virtual learning. The word pivot means “to spin, rotate, or twist.” That is exactly what it felt like for most teachers and students: to be twisted into a new way of instruction. But while the platform of learning may have changed, the science of learning did not! Unfortunately, the platform change has widened achievement and opportunity gaps, and students have become far less engaged in learning.
Now, with the advent of COVID-19 vaccines and an overwhelming desire to return our students to in-person learning, kids will be coming back to our classrooms in hope of picking up where we left off. With kids having been out of the classroom, some for almost a year, I am concerned they may find the return to be challenging.
So, to help with our students’ transition back to the classroom, I reached out to a few students to ask them about their fears, anxieties, and hopes for what is to be our “new normal.” Below are the thoughts and ideas of Evan, Andie, and Selina*.
Create a supportive social and emotional environment.
Some kids have spent a lot of time by themselves or with a small group of friends, out of direct contact with most of their peers. Andie tells me she has kids in her class she has never met. Typically, lunch is a time for kids to socialize with others whom they don’t often see, but lunchtime on school days has changed dramatically. Kids will need time to connect and reconnect with their classmates, so Selina suggests teachers use some of the instructional time to allow kids to interact, discuss ideas, and simply reconnect.
Evan said he knows kids are going to need time to transition back to the structures of the classroom and not having had a lot of social time with friends. He suggests that teachers lighten up on strict rules. He says, “Be gentle. Some kids are just going to need more time.” However, he does not suggest you lower expectations. He believes that teachers need to review the expectations in the class and be consistent with applying them. As he says, “There are going to be a lot of disruptive kids when we go back.”
Strengthening study habits and routines.
About 43 percent of our daily activities are habitual, meaning they are unconscious. Over the past several months many students have formed some poor study and learning habits. At home, kids could take a break whenever they needed one—and sometimes when they didn’t need one. With the freedom and distractions available at home, they could go to the refrigerator for a drink, check their devices for messages, text their friends, or stare off into space without being noticed. Getting back into the routine of staying on-task for longer periods of time is going to be difficult for some kids. You will need to mindfully build back the good habits of study, such as staying on task, planning, organizing, and so on.
Andie suggests treating the first days back to in-person learning as we treat the first weeks of school. Go through the routines, make sure kids know what to expect, have a schedule posted, practice moving around the school and the classroom. Students are going to need to relearn how to expand their attention spans. I suggest sticking to a 10:2 format in your classroom: for every ten minutes of instruction, you allow your students up to two minutes to talk about the information, take a stretch, or practice what was just learned.
Selina also mentions that school days will get longer, as virtual learning typically has not gone the full length of the traditional in-school day. Recognize that students are going to need time to adjust to getting up earlier, staying attentive longer, and being in school longer. They are going to need many breaks. For my colleagues who fear if they give breaks, they won’t cover all the material: you may cover it with fewer breaks, but kids won’t learn it. Kids’ brains need breaks, and their bodies need movement. Without both, they cannot pay attention.
Be patient and do not try to cover it all.
During virtual learning, some kids may have found ways to accomplish tasks that may differ from what is expected in the classroom. Evan said he was good with working on a computer to complete writing assignments, on his own time. He is concerned that being asked to write (longhand) during class might be a challenge for him. Andie and Selina also feel teachers should not try to “spring too much” on them to make up for what may have been lost.
Kids may need additional time to complete assignments, work in groups, or get through materials. Trying to “make up time” will not work—it will only stress you and your students. Pace yourself and your students reasonably. You may have to go through your curricular materials and eliminate what is not essential and admit that some things will have to wait until next year.
In-person group work will need attention. Andie tells me that in some of her breakout rooms, some kids did nothing, and no one talked. Without the watchful eye of the teacher, some kids could hide, leaving others to do all the work. Retrain your students on effective group process, provide each member a role, and guide all your groups to completion. Click here for 10 Tips for Productive Group Work.
Finally, kids are going to need time, support, and understanding as we transition back into the classroom. A big thank you to my student friends Evan, Andie, and Selina for their wisdom. Please let me know if you have other ideas and strategies that will help our students transition back to in-person learning.
* Not their real names
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.
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