July 13, 2020

Distance learning spare students chaotic classrooms

Veronique Mintz is a 13-year-old student in New York who isn’t having troubles with distance learning that we hear so much about in the media. She isn’t missing the social interactions of in-person schooling because, as she tells it, those interactions were rife with distractions that impeded her ability to learn.

Over three years of middle school Veronica’s classes were disrupted daily by students “Talking out of turn…Destroying classroom materials…Disrespecting teachers…Blurting out answers during tests…pushing, kicking, hitting one another and even rolling on the ground.”

Things are different now that she’s learning at home. The upside of school closures is that she has a quiet, safe, and productive place to learn at her own pace without a demand for student collaboration learning activities that hold the most dedicated students hostage to the varying motivation levels of fellow students.

Writing for the New York Times opinion page, she says:

I have been doing distance learning since March 23 and find that I am learning more, and with greater ease, than when I attended regular classes. I can work at my own pace without being interrupted by disruptive students and teachers who seem unable to manage them.

Students unable or unwilling to control themselves steal valuable class time, often preventing their classmates from being prepared for tests and assessments. I have taken tests that included entire topics we never mastered, either because we were not able to get through the lesson or we couldn’t sufficiently focus.

I do not envy a middle-school teacher’s job. It’s far from easy to oversee 26 teenagers. And in my three years of middle school, I’ve encountered only a few teachers who had strong command of their classrooms — enforcing consistent rules, treating students fairly and earning their respect.

I go to a school that puts a big emphasis on collaborative learning; approximately 80 percent of our work is done in teacher-assigned groups of three to five students. This forces students who want to complete their assignments into the position of having to discipline peers who won’t behave and coax reluctant group members into contributing.

Distance learning gives me more control of my studies. I can focus more time on subjects that require greater effort and study. I don’t have to sit through a teacher fielding questions that have already been answered. I can still collaborate with other students, but much more effectively. I am really enjoying FaceTiming friends who bring different perspectives and strengths to the work; we challenge one another and it’s a richer learning experience.

We spend so much time defending the rights of students that struggle with self-regulation, motivation, and focus that perhaps we forget the students who take school seriously and show up fully present to learn. Given the fact that classroom management practices aren’t likely to calm increasingly disinterested students distance learning is one way to address the needs of students like Veronica who deserve every opportunity to learn in a quiet, respectful, and knowledge-rich setting.

Remember, equity means every student gets what they need to thrive.

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