I have watched with interest over the past few weeks as schools struggled to deal with the COVID-19 virus in a professional and logical manner. I believe their efforts to address the situation through technology and working diligently to maintain contact with parents has been admirable. The information I have seen shows a well-intended effort to replicate the school day in the home, and that effort should be applauded. Nevertheless, as a former teacher and school administrator, I know, with the rare exception, how difficult duplicating the school day at home will be, especially at the high-level school administrators, teachers, and parents would like to see. That does not mean parents and teachers should not try or should give up. Absolutely not! Kids need academic direction during their isolation from school; however, in the case of school replication at home, it would be wise to ask are we trying to do too much?
For example, trying to duplicate at home what happens during the school day is a fail waiting to happen as parents, students, and teachers grow frustrated trying to achieve the almost impossible. Not only does trying to replicate the school day cause frustration for everyone concerned, it is likely to turn into busy work to fill time rather than provide meaningful work, and that does not benefit anyone, especially the students. Again, I am not saying don’t give kids assignments while at home, but I question the value of assigning as much as six hours of schoolwork each day to them. Realistically, such assignments should be toned down to no more than three maybe four hours a day at most. Shorter assignments would keep students working on schoolwork during morning hours and provide an incentive for free time during the afternoon hours. Besides, it is not the amount of time spent on assignments that matters, but rather, it is the quality of the assignment and feedback on the assignment that has the most impact on learning. One suggestion for parents and teachers who want to truly impact academics while students are isolated at home is to consider putting a book in their their hands rather doing busy work on online assignments and handouts. Research, indicates reading followed closely by writing is the most academically impacting activity in which a student can be involved. Another benefit of a book is parents could model reading for their children. Wow! How innovative might that be!
This next part, may rattle the bones and nerves of some teachers and administrators, but when it comes to academics, if the virus had to choose a part of the school year with the least impact on academics, the fourth nine weeks was certainly the best time to choose. Let’s face the facts, the fourth nine weeks begins after spring break in mid-March, and any new academic material is presented during the first three weeks of the quarter, and even then, it is squeezed between students missing academic time for spring sports and other school related programs. By mid-April, if not sooner, presentation of new academic material falls to the wayside as focus turns to district championships, district benchmark testing and prepping for state tests, and then May crawls into the picture. The month of May is pretty much an academic washout with state testing, reviews, final exams, award programs, and end of year celebrations. So, it is easy to see students miss little academically during the fourth nine weeks of the school year. That is simply the nature of the beast! If the virus had hit during the first, second, or third nine weeks, it would have been an entirely different story. Working kids eight hours a day at home to make up for what they would have missed in school during those quarters would not have been enough. Fortunately, that did not happen. Thanks to the luck of good timing, academically speaking schools are not, at least should not be, in dire straits.
Therefore, I encourage teachers to give assignments in moderation and parents to continue to work with students on the assignments as best they can. But, to really help students get the most of their time at home, the best thing would be to get them out of their rooms away from PlayStation and sit them down in the living room, kitchen, or on the back porch where they can easily be monitored as they READ a book! They will learn more by reading than from all the ungraded online assignments and handouts combined. Kids who read are successful throughout their schooling.
Finally, other than hating this has happened to the seniors, and spring events such as sports, show choir, band, debate, and prom have been canceled, everyone needs to take a deep breath and understand our children and grandchildren will be fine academically even if school does not reconvene for the remainder of this school year. It is rare for anyone to fail the fourth nine weeks, and this year will be no different for those students who have done what they were supposed to do academically. Therefore, read a book and enjoy this rare opportunity to be with your kids for an extended period of time.
Remember, there are always blessings if you look for them even in a time crisis.
©Jack Linton, April 9, 2020