My seventh grade students weigh in on the pros and cons of remote learning

*note: This piece first appeared in Cardinal & Pine

As school year 2019-20 winds toward its surreal and heartbreaking conclusion, there is much uncertainty on the horizon as far as what next year has in store for students and teachers.

This week the Center for Disease Control released guidelines entitled Considerations for Schools which outline how schools can operate safely in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.  Some of those guidelines–including seating one child per row on buses and spacing desks six feet apart–make it abundantly clear that there is probably no way we’re going to have all of our students coming to school at the same time until the virus is well under control.  

School year 2020-21 will almost certainly include some measure of remote learning, and it’s important that our efforts to improve that learning experience are informed by the people that we are serving.  

With that in mind, I surveyed my 7th grade English students this week to get their thoughts on what they’ve enjoyed about remote learning, what they haven’t enjoyed about it, and what suggestions they have for how we could improve remote learning going forward.  

As background information, my school provides each student with a Chromebook, and they were given the option of taking those devices home with them when school buildings closed.  Instructional approaches vary somewhat, but in general teachers are holding some live class sessions on Zoom, posting assignments on Canvas or other online platforms and holding regular office hours to answer questions as well as encouraging students to reach out by email whenever they need assistance in understanding and completing their work.  

I have nearly 150 students in all and was able to get a surprisingly high survey participation rate, so I am pleased with how representative the survey responses are.

In terms of what my students like about attending school from home, answers focused primarily on sleeping in, various freedoms that aren’t typically part of the physical school setting, and the ability to work at one’s own pace:

The one thing that I have enjoyed the most is sleeping more and more free time.

I like that I could wake up a little later than 5 am

The fact that I get to eat whenever I want and I get to go to the bathroom whenever I want.

You can take short little breaks every once in a while, and you can sit on your couch and eat snacks.

I can sit in my bed and do my work.

Something that I have enjoyed over the last couple of months is the flexibility on assignment due dates.

I am able to talk to all of my friends while doing my work. Even if it is virtual, it is better than nothing.

We have a lot more free time, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I can get out earlier and not have to spend a hour getting home from school

The freedom of being able to wake up later, and also being able to finish something without having to change classes and lose passage into “the zone”.

constant food

I have gotten closer to my family because we are usually busy with school and extracurricular activities which didn’t give us as much time to go for a walk and talk with each other like we do now.

As for what they do NOT enjoy about remote learning, many of my students talked about missing their friends, the limitations of technology and how much harder it is to learn when you’re working on your own:

Being trapped at home all day.

I have not enjoyed how the work mostly doesn’t work and I am getting tired of zoom.

One that I definitely not enjoyed is that even though it can be fun at times to work from home it is very hard because I lose my focus very easily and get distracted doing other things and it’s been super stressful to keep up with all of the work from all these classes.

My sleep schedule is off, I am stressing a lot more, and I wish I could see my friends in person.

You do not get to see your friends and teachers face to face. It makes it hard to do anything because you can not just have a conversation with the teacher.

I can’t see my friends and it’s much easier to learn with a teacher in front of you.

Being at home has many distractions from school work

I haven’t enjoyed the fact that there is little to no human contact and it’s, in my opinion, harder to concentrate.

Something I didn’t enjoy was the fact that I eat, sleep, and learn all in the same place.

It’s harder to learn new concepts without someone teaching it in person.

At home I don’t have a teacher to remind me what to do so I worry that I’ll miss something.

I keep getting distracted and every time I have a question. I need to send an email.

It’s harder to manage yourself and stay on task.

I don’t like how it’s harder to interact with the teacher because asking a question can take upwards of 30 minutes and you might have to ask another or maybe they didn’t understand the question.

You can’t get help easily and you can’t be with your friends. Also, almost all our work has been in projects. And when projects stack up, well, you’re in deep shiitake mushroom sauce.

In terms of suggestions for making remote learning more effective, students wanted their teachers to work on organizing information so it’s easier to keep track and be understanding of how responsibilities in the home can impact student work:

every class should only have 2 assignments MAX every week. just because we’re home doesn’t mean we have all the time in the world.

Maybe not give us as much work or if u do give us a later date so we can have time because we do have lots of other classes that we need to focus on especially if some of us are taking a new language and still trying to get use to that and things.

Explain Better on how to do the assignment.

Making it feel like I’m not stuck at home

By making everything cohesive. I am getting zooms at the same time on the same day, some teachers go back and forward the way things are organized. It makes it a lot harder for the student because they have to figure it out on their own.

not expect us to be on every zoom call

I know there is required work that we have to do because we’re still in school learning but too much of it is very overwhelming because i’m pretty sure most of us are new to this unexpected change and i’m trying my best.

Two student suggestions really brought home for me the limitations of online school and reminded me that the most important goal is a return to normalcy:

There really is nothing we can do to improve online school because having less human contact is the whole point of quarantine.

Find ways to keep us safe so we can reopen the school.

Teachers are doing the best we can to keep students engaged and learning during this pandemic, and we’ll continue to work at making remote learning more effective, listening to and incorporating feedback from all stakeholders, including our students.  

We will master new digital tools, streamline organization and delivery, and improve access by bridging the digital divide that exists in many places across the state as we wait for health experts to solve COVID-19.

But as we carry out this work, we need to keep in mind that remote learning isn’t and never will be an acceptable substitute for in-person learning. 

15 thoughts on “My seventh grade students weigh in on the pros and cons of remote learning

  1. Would you be willing to share the questions you asked? I would love to do this with my high school students for our last week.

    • Sure, it was very simple:

      What is something that you have enjoyed about learning from home the last couple of months?
      What is something that you have NOT enjoyed about having school this way?
      What suggestions do you have about how we could improve “online school”?

      • Learning from home has been extremely challenging, you can’t show the teacher in person that you don’t understand a subject or a question. But overall, it’s easy because it challenges us to not rely on our teachers so much because during tests we don’t have our teachers helping us all the time, and I know for a fact we that when we get older we need these skills to help us, not just in high school or college, but also in real-life situations. For example, during our jobs, we won’t have someone to tell us what to do all the time because were there to help them and not them help us.

  2. I wonder if there’s a way to share with the Department of Ed student insight. I know that they sent out a survey to teachers and families but I really think that the most important stakeholders are students.

  3. I like finishing my homework instead of looking for the paper work later. I like to finish my work before my next class. I do miss my teacher grading my work early so I can see it instead of wondering what my grade is. I think online school should grade your work if you wanted to. There should be a grade work option

  4. I enjoyed learning from home because I can take my time doing work. There’s no lunch break in online school. To improve the school I think that we should start later in the day to get more sleep.

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