Why do some students thrive in distance learning?

 The Sky is the Limit

This post has been a long time in the making. I intended to publish in the Spring, for the #BlogginThruIt challenge. If you have read my earlier post, you would know that I was quite busy teaching my classes during distance learning.

My students all did a great job with distance learning overall. Sure there were some challenges along the way, but for the most part, students rose to the occasion. Some students thrived during this period. They excelled in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the physical classroom.

Focus and attention in the regular classroom presented a challenge for some students. I saw the same children paying attention, completing assignments, and participating actively during distance learning. They worked harder, met with success, and gained greater confidence as a student. One student had the quiet at home to read and focus on a chapter book. He started to love reading and was proud of his accomplishments. Another student found it easier to look at the teacher more on the computer screen and was not distracted by friends.

Quieter students also thrived during distance learning. Their voices were louder through blogs, speeches, and projects. They were quite expressive readers and took a more active role in class discussions. Three of my shy students gave eloquent speeches and made it to the public speaking finals. They also found it easier to reach out and ask questions through google hangouts.

Students with anxiety found it easier to be at home and concentrate on lessons through Google Meet. The day to day stresses of being in a noisier classroom and interacting with more extroverted classmates was gone. They found it easier to reach out to teachers and get individual help when needed. They also connected more with their teachers.

Student voice and choice took on greater importance. Genius Hour, Stem Bingo, and Blog post challenges let the students take their learning into their own hands. They loved the freedom and unstructured time in the afternoons to pursue subjects and projects that interested them. Some students learned about coding, 3D architecture, stop motion animation. One student worked on putting electricity into his treehouse and building a go-kart. Another student coded a raptor into a Minetest( Minecraft like) game.

There was one student in particular who had distance learning challenges. His mother was worried if he was ready for Grade 5. This student decided to make his drone for his Genius Hour project. I met with him individually to discuss his project. He told me how he had ordered motors and wires. He told me how he had learned about electricity and how he was thinking about designing the propellors. His older sister arranged a meeting with a friend studying engineering to help problem-solve drone building. As he talked and reflected on his project to date, he stopped and told me,” I have learned so much already by working on this project.”

Our class had also made a connection via Flipgrid with students in Taiwan. The children made videos to learn about each other and our different countries. There was one student in my class who had been attending Chinese school on weekends to learn Mandarin. This boy took the opportunity to practice his Mandarin and make bilingual videos to share with the students in Taiwan. He also took the time to learn and create a Stars Wars-themed bilingual video for May 4th. This global connection provided him the perfect venue to personalize his learning through these authentic tasks. The students in Taiwan loved learning and practicing their English with us.

The majority of my students become more self-directed. That is not to say that we didn’t have our challenges at the beginning with Roblox or watching Youtube videos. Some difficult conversations with parents and students took place. The students realized schooling came first, and they were in charge of getting their assignments done. The students became adept at navigating the schedules following the links and sharing their completed work.

Students took advantage of the unstructured time in the afternoon to pursue their interests in writing stories and blog posts. It is funny how much harder they worked on assignments they chose themselves. Some students wrote epic stories, and some worked with a partner to create a terrific blog post. The quality of the work improved as the students became self-directed and owned their learning.

Distance learning allowed the teacher greater freedom too. I had the time to personalize programs so students could extra help, a small group lesson, or enrichment. The key was to keep all of the students busy and engaged. In the physical classroom, I always had someone or many students needing help. In distance learning, I could offer more individualized teaching during office hours or in the afternoons. I could send a quick message to a student on google hangouts while continuing to teach the lessons.

I will be reflecting more on how the students thrived in the Spring and will embed these lessons learned into my planning for the upcoming school year. All students should have the opportunity to thrive and reach for the stars each school year. It is my job as a teacher to create the environment to make this happen for my students.

 Update December 6, 2020
I chose remote learning for my own quiet 13-year-old this fall. She has focused on her learning and has been able to reach out to her teachers. I am happy to report she is thriving in virtual school.

I have been teaching in the classroom for the last 13 weeks. I have made a point of connecting with my quieter and anxious students a little more. I check in with them more frequently throughout the day and give them a chance to share their voice. I am happy to report they are thriving as well.