I spent a day as my virtual student and this is what I learned

Accessibility

While technology has it’s challenges, remote learning has pushed teachers to utilize tools that help learners access knowledge in various ways. From using speech to text apps to immersive readers, students have become savvy in getting information in ways that work for them. I watched young people make videos about what they’ve read instead of answering prompts in traditional reading logs. I listened as students sent teachers notes using voice memos asking for feedback on their writing. I viewed colorful and careful calculations as students sent links to whiteboard apps showing how they “showed their work” for solving math problems. Today’s students are also able to apply their learning to real life situations immediately now as they get innovative using household items to complete tasks. Technology has opened up a wide range of access and student choice for students who struggled in the traditional classroom setting.

Flexibility and Rest

In Europe, it’s common to take a siesta in the middle of the day. Companies like Google and Facebook are praised for having nap pods in the workplace but schools are way behind on promoting the importance of rest. Despite, napping and rest having countless benefits for psychological and physical development, it is something rarely seen in a traditional school schedule. Remote learning has changed that. During time between classes, many students choose to rest. If they aren’t taking a nap, they are sharing a meal with family or having a brain break by walking outside and getting sun and fresh air. Being remote has created a flexibility in schedule where free time activities aren’t dictated by the teacher. My students love it. If work is assigned asynchronously, some students choose to complete that assignment later in the day. Remote learning has highlighted that there is no “one size fits all” style of learning and the traditional 8 AM — 3 PM school day doesn’t work for everyone. Students now get a chance to choose to work when they are naturally more productive.

Family Partnerships

As we have now virtually entered into our students homes, their family partners have, respectively, stepped into our classrooms. Our remote class has celebrated parents birthdays, giggled at funny pets, and admired cute baby siblings as we learned together. In more serious moments, parents have chimed in with connections to political events happening like the attack on the Asian community or the guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd. The guardians of the student I shadowed said “(My daughter) says to me “just know I love that teacher!” I’ve been listening to how you teach the class. I’m very happy that you came to teach the children of grade 5. My daughter had a lot of problems in grade 4 but this year is different. Thank you so much.” Often times, when I’m teaching, I forget that there are additional eyes and ears beyond who I can see on the screen. At times, that extra presence can feel daunting but for the most part, we have had positive experiences. One such experience is when my student’s mom saw me struggling to read in Spanish and hopped on to read this beautiful poem to us and all the kids applauded. Or when I had couldn’t figure out how to help a child through a tech problem and a parent talked me through it. This time learning virtually together has definitely bonded us, but most important, its shifted the level of power from the teacher being the sole source of knowledge in the room to a family effort.

Safe Spaces

For many students who have chosen to stay remote, it was all about safety. Students feel less pressure to conform to many of the norms that traditional classroom spaces has put on children. Black students and students of color are expressing freedom from biases teachers have about them that often lead to microagressions in the forms of verbal comments, harsher punishments, and low expectations. Many of the fifth grade girls I shadowed say they keep their cameras off because they were body shamed a lot in fourth grade. With all changes happening with their bodies, plus the pressure from growing up in a social media culture, they feel like they can be free and wear what they want now without anyone judging them. Students who were labeled as behavior problems have flourished as many of the triggers from classroom spaces no longer exist. Some parents say they will never send their child back into the school building. I now ask myself, how can I create these safe spaces for all my students once we are physically together again?

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