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How learning changes when school happens at home and online

More than 55 million American students are staying home amid the coronavirus pandemic. The impacts are huge — affecting students, parents and teachers. Learning is happening with a host of new challenges. Kate Gardoqui of the Great Schools Partnership joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the many consequences of asking Americans to stay home is what it's meant for schools, teaching and learning. For most, the normal school day has been halted, at least for now.

    We're going to focus on the various aspects of this periodically.

    Let's start with what it means to be teaching from a distance, learning from home, and coping with children at home all day.

    This is one way teachers and students see each other in the age of coronavirus, organizing parades in small towns where they wave from a distance.

    More than 55 million American students are now out of school and expected to learn from home.

    To find out how that's going, we talked to a handful of parents and teachers.

  • Dawn Bishop McLin:

    I'm Dawn Bishop McLin in Madison, Mississippi. I'm a mother of two girls.

    We start off every morning about 8:30. We have a schedule. And that schedule is a blessing, because it keeps us on track.

  • Aaron Warner:

    It's been a tough adjustment. My name is Aaron Warner. I'm from South Burlington, Vermont, and I have a son who is 9 years old

  • Megan Smith:

    My name is Megan Smith. And I live in Seldovia, Alaska.

    I am a teacher. And I teach sixth through 12 grade. And I have two kids. Cecilia is in kindergarten. She is 6. And Kaylee is in third grade, and she is 8.

    It's challenging to not be able to sit one-on-one with the students and really help them understand what they're missing. And I think, as a parent, my biggest challenge is just going to be, how often can I be available, and teaching my own children that they're just going to have to be a little bit more independent and do things on their own.

  • Aaron Warner:

    With my son being autistic, it — a lot of times, there are these things where I can't just be like, hey, you know, here's a math worksheet from your teacher. Spend 30 minutes on this.

    It's, I have to sit there with him and we go through it. I probably only worked 15 hours last week at my regular job, just because I was taking on all this other stuff. And it was important to make sure that he had some consistency from — as we make this transition, because it's hard for him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That transition in some cases has been helped along by technology, play dates via iPad, classroom video conference calls on a technology called Zoom.

  • Sarah Soliz:

    My name is Sarah Soliz, and I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I have two kids. And they are 8 and 11.

    One day, we watched the life Facebook stream from the Cincinnati Zoo because they have been doing — every day, they have been doing show and tell with a different animal.

    Every hour, every couple hours, I try to pick something they can work on. And then, eventually, you know, I just give up and let them play Minecraft.

  • Ricky House:

    My name is Ricky House. I am an 11th and 12th grade social studies teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School in the District of Columbia.

    My biggest thing for the past week-and-a-half has just been communicate, communicate, communicate. There are definitely some students who, the minute I post an assignment in the morning, they're going to get right to it and hand it in.

    You have other students who, there are some barriers. We found out last week that a lot of students, 30 percent of the student population in D.C., I think, doesn't have access to technology. So they're preparing to give out devices to those students who are in need, I think, in the coming weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The technology gap is something school districts are grappling with from East to West, passing out laptops and tablets where possible, driving Wi-Fi buses to Internet free zones.

  • Megan Smith:

    We do have a couple of students at the school that we put all paper book packets together and gave them work that way.

  • Dawn Bishop McLin:

    I'm a professor of psychology at Jackson State University.

    I know some challenges for my college students are, some don't have adequate Wi-Fi. Some live in rural areas here in Mississippi. There's still a digital divide among minority populations in their community. So, I have had to adjust how I teach.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And as for the challenges of being home all the time:

  • Amber Hyatt:

    Last week hit, and I think the realization kind of started that this is going to be the new norm for a while.

    And we have always a lot more feelings, just a lot more anxiety and kind of refusal to do the work, basically. So we're kind of working through that.

  • Sarah Soliz:

    Not everything I do is, you know, academic, per se. I feel like there are lots of things, you know, they can learn from.

    We learned to make pretzels, for example. And that was really fun. But, yes, I mean, it has been challenging. It's hard to get my work done. It's hard to, you know, not go crazy in your house and feel like you're just living in a junk pile.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And teacher and parent Megan Smith had one final note of advice for parents.

  • Megan Smith:

    That we don't need to be totally, solely focused on academics, because, at school, that's not what the school day looks like. I would say don't beat up yourself as a parent. If your kid is not engaged academically all day long, they really are going to be fine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more now on the challenges presented by distance learning, I am joined by Kate Gardoqui.

    She is a former teacher who now designs curriculum and trains other teachers. She is a senior associate with the Great Schools Partnership. And joins me via Skype from Maine.

    So, Kate Gardoqui, how big a challenge are we talking about for these millions of students and teachers and parents?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    This is a tremendous challenge. There's just no way to overestimate it.

    If we think about those groups one by one, for the teachers and the educators, everyone involved in every school district, they had, in some this cases, 24 or 48 hours to prepare to completely reenvision what education looks like, and they did it with great creativity.

    It's just — it's monumental. And, for our students, we asked them also to reenvision what learning looks like, to reenvision what their social lives look like. And for parents, as we just heard, we're hearing from so many parents trying to educate their children, take care of their children, and do their own jobs at the same time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It's just remarkable.

    How different is it for — when you're teaching elementary, primary grade students, young students, vs. middle school and high school? Is there — is one or the other particularly harder, or is there a great difference?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    I think each of those age levels has its own challenges.

    The high school students may be able to learn more effectively on their own, or they may be able to, you know, govern themselves more effectively, but the depth of what we ask of them is so huge, that there's really just great challenges all around.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What are the main things, Kate Gardoqui, that are lost when you don't have that person-to-person contact, the eye contract that you have in a classroom?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    You know, I have worked in schools all my life, and the thing that most characterizes so many amazing teachers is the depth of love and caring that they give to students.

    And I think that's been one of the hardest things for teachers, is that they can't check in with those kids that they really love and care about, look in their eyes, look at their body language, see how they're doing.

    And I know that there are schools out there that have divided up their whole student population, and they're making sure that every kid has one teacher or one educator who is checking in on them on a regular basis.

    And I think that's a great practice that schools have used to try to fill that gap.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is there some formula for what part of this is the is — clearly, a lot — it's the students' responsibility in large part, but what part of this is the parent's responsibility and what part is the teacher's?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    Boy, I think, right now, you know, in this unprecedented moment, all we can ask is for everybody to do their best and to keep the children first, to constantly ask, how are the children doing?

    And so, for parents, that means checking in as much as we can, setting up those schedules, also giving kids some freedom to just de-stress. And for teachers and educators, it means setting up as many ways as we can to figure out what kids might be falling through the cracks, what kids are missing out on what we're trying to share with them, and how can we stop that from happening?

    How can we reach out the kids who need the most?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I know there's no one piece of advice that fits every circumstance, but, in general, what advice do you have for parents who are watching and wondering if they're doing the right thing, what more can they be doing?

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    Well, I would say, kids know how to learn. That's what kids are best at.

    And so, you know, in this time, the most important things are to check in with your kids and give them lots of love and support, push them to think, and push them to read. You know, talk about what's happening in the world in ways that are age-appropriate, and ask them good questions, and try to make sure that they're reading.

    And those are the most important things that we can do to support our kids right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And — because I'm thinking parents have to be out there who are juggling work and time that they think they should be spending with their children, and they have to be feeling guilty or worried.

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    Yes, that's — it's so hard for all of our parents, for all of our teachers.

    And so the other thing that — as parents and as teachers, that we have to do is try to do our best. Show our students love. Let our students know that they — that we know they're learning, and that we can see everything they're learning on their own.

    They may be dealing with stress by playing the guitar for three hours, or by talking with friends and supporting them, or maybe they're reaching out to grandparents. And so, as parents and teachers, we want to be recognizing those things that kids are doing and honoring that and asking, how can that become what our students learn during this time?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Kate Gardoqui, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

  • Kate Gardoqui:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will continue to report on this topic in coming days with a look at the particular challenges involved in teaching children with learning disabilities and special needs.

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