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With back-to-school less than a month away, it’s still undetermined what classrooms will look like on the North Shore. Some district officials are optimistic for an in-person or even a hybrid return to school, while others remain strong in their beliefs that e-learning makes the most sense, at least to start out the year.
The subject has actually gotten pretty controversial, partly due to the difficulties and challenges that e-learning presented students, teachers and parents last March when the concept was suddenly put into play.
The good news is, for students who end up in an e-learning environment this fall, things are expected to be a lot different than they were last year.
Shira Schwartz is a North Shore based Educational Advocate, who said teachers are now more aware of e-learning challenges, and now know how to better navigate instruction through a screen.
“Last March, everything was so last-minute,” said Schwartz, a Highland Park mom of three who spent 25 years teaching elementary school at private schools in Chicago and on the North Shore. “One school district principal told me she gave her teachers 15 minutes on a Friday to gather their things and she let them know they weren’t coming back, so they had such a short time to think about what they needed. There was so much uncertainty and a struggle to implement that kind of learning that teachers weren’t used to.”
According to Schwartz, the challenges teachers had caused a lot of pressure on parents, who had to step in and help their kids acclimate.
“Parents were overseeing and supporting schoolwork and they weren’t used to doing that,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said teachers have learned the importance of providing clearer expectations where students are left with fewer questions about assignments; what the assignment is, how to do it and why they are doing it.
“Students need to know from teachers what to do when you get stuck,” Schwartz said. “Instead of asking Mom and Dad, they need to know, ‘How do I get support from my teacher?’ If you’re home, you typically go to your parents. Students need to understand that they can ask their teacher when they are in school, even if it’s virtually.”
According to Schwartz, here are some specific e-learning issues students have:
- Managing time
- Initiating and completing assignments
- Understanding directions
- Paying attention and focusing
- Feeling uncomfortable talking in a virtual setting
- Refusing to connect virtually, to show up or to do any work
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, here are Schwartz’s four e-learning tips for parents:
1. Communicate with teachers.
Partner with your kids’ teachers to talk about ways to help them better succeed and stay motivated and happy. Examples might include setting a timer, previewing material and breaking down assignments.
2. Teach kids how to take a break and re-engage effectively.
3. Create a schedule that works.
Break down what needs to get done for the week and then each day and maybe even each hour. A schedule helps make things seem more manageable.
4. Communicate with kids, especially if they are refusing to participate.
Talk to your child to figure out what is causing the refusal. Possible reasons include: he or she feels overwhelmed, they don’t understand the work, they’ve already missed part of the lesson so it’s too scary to try to catch up, they feel anxious, they have issues that make learning more difficult, or they have a difficulty coping with the change from in-person learning to e-learning. Uncovering the reason will help in discussions to getting the child back on board.
Schwartz said there are some positives of e-learning, mainly that it teaches students how to become independent learners.
“This can be a year of really positive growth and learning skills for many kids,” she said. “Once a student learns to be a learner, the content comes much easier and more quickly. As you move onto post-secondary education or employment, you are able to navigate difficult issues that come your way because you have the skills to persevere, and to use your resources to be independent.”
As a parent of two high-school aged kids, I can speak firsthand about my experience with e-learning last winter. Three words: It. Was. Hard. But I think that was mostly because it was so new to all of us. I know our district did the best they could under the short notice, but school days felt unorganized, and my kids didn’t seem challenged or motivated.
I do think parents, students and teachers learned a lot during e-learning, and that teachers and staff have had all summer to plan e-learning curriculums and develop solid strategies for success.
One tip I have for parents is to try to be patient and understand the many feelings students might have in an e-learning environment. For example, as a kid, it must feel lonely not being able to whisper a question to the friend who sits next to you in math class, or look at a fellow classmate and laugh at something together or even notice how nice your teacher is being today. Not being able to eat together in a lunch room or go to band practice or basketball practice after school breaks my heart for kids.
Remember that as parents, what are teachers, too, and because parents and kids are home together so much more nowadays, we can take advantage of teaching by example.
We can teach our kids to have gratitude for health, family and friends. We can show them self-discipline and the rewards of working hard. We can demonstrate the importance of being kind to others, and we can show them how to be patient and wait out the storm.
Hopefully sooner than later, life and school will get back to normal, and kids will once again be sliding down the slide on the playground, attending school plays, and cheering on their friends at school football games.
But until then, why not make sure our kids get the most they can out of learning from home? After all, education is vital to a child’s growth, health and happiness in life, no matter if that education takes place in a building or at your kitchen table.
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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.