What teachers need to know about their students as they return to classrooms after lockdowns

  • ProfessionalDevelopment
  • covid19
  • BSfS
by Marshall Cavendish Education | Oct 19, 2020

As students in different systems and countries progressively return to school, teachers face a challenging but vital task. That task is to find out as much as possible from every student about ‘where they are at’ – both in terms of the knowledge and skills expected of them at their stage of development, and equally importantly, how have they been affected emotionally by their experience of the pandemic and remote learning?

We know from recent survey findings, individual reports, anecdotes, and from neuroscience, that many students will have been put at risk in the challenging and difficult conditions surrounding remote learning. We must assume many if not all of them are likely to need special care and attention.

Research globally during this pandemic has discovered some remarkably similar but worrying developments in schools everywhere. To begin with, about 460 million students worldwide have had no effective schooling during lockdowns and remote learning. This was because schools were ill-equipped to respond to the crisis, or that students and families lacked devices, connectivity or access to broadcast services. These inevitably are the students whose existing disadvantage may well have just become a lot worse. For example, many teachers have had serious reservations about what has gone on with remote learning. Australia’s Grattan Institute research cites a large teacher survey in New South Wales that recorded only 35% of teachers being confident their students were learning well remotely, with that number dropping to 15% in disadvantaged schools. Respondents also agreed that about 70% of students were not adequately prepared for remote learning. We also know that many families lacked suitable spaces for students to work and it was common for very well-intentioned parents who did not have the skills expected of them to struggle when trying to provide support for home-based schooling.

Read also: Getting the Balance Right Online, Remote Learning

 
Children and young people with special education needs may have suffered the most. They are likely to have lost the vital expert and personal support provided regularly at school, even if they remained supported remotely through online connections. They are likely to have struggled with the lack of familiar structures and routines, and were likely to have been fearful in these uncertain times. We need to ask, how are they now?

Final year students also have faced uncertainty in a highly disrupted year. These students are typically intent on doing their best, proving themselves, and working for the chance to pursue their chosen area of tertiary study or work. It is a year to prepare for the future. But they too have been denied daily, real (as opposed to virtual) contact with their teachers. The all-important impact of immediate feedback has been compromised, as has the opportunity to learn with and from their friends and peers. ZOOM and other programmes have helped, but only just.

We have learned many things from education science, but two lessons are critical here.

Mind, brain and education science tells us that students learn new knowledge and skills based on connections to their existing knowledge, understandings and skills. This process of ‘transfer’ not only determines how well they can learn, but also how well they can transfer new learning to new situations. Teachers must be very mindful and informed about where students ‘are at’ as they plan and deliver their lessons to students who have returned to classrooms. There is a pressing need to identify the inevitable ‘gaps’ in knowledge, understanding and the all-important, deep-seated mental representations of students resulting from remote, inferior teaching and learning. Despite valiant efforts by many teachers and numerous examples of innovative teaching practices, the less satisfactory nature of remote learning should be acknowledged and addressed. It cannot be denied that these circumstances have made it especially difficult for teachers to accurately assess what students have and have not learned effectively while away from the classroom.

Secondly, we know from neuroscience that academic learning and a student’s emotional state are inextricably linked. Stressed and anxious students don’t learn well, if at all. Teachers need to explore and understand to what extent each of their students has been adversely affected by remote learning, and what support and scaffolding they will need. Teachers will have to take (additional) time to come to know how each of their students has coped or not coped with a Covid-19 education regime. In particular, they need to identify those who appear to be at greatest risk.

Read also: Sustaining Quality Education During the Pandemic - Risks, Responses and Opportunities 

 

Clearly, none of these tasks are easy and they will further erode the time teachers need to resume some degree of ‘normality’ to school education. Determining students’ preparedness to learn is always a critical skill for all teachers, but at this time, it becomes very difficult and yet an essential task.  It may be even harder for teachers to explore and assess each student’s emotional state and their current level of well-being. However, without meeting these challenges front on, future teaching and learning may well be severely compromised.

This article is written by Peter Adams, Global Director of The Balanced Scorecard for Schools Programme at Marshall Cavendish Education.


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