So much of what makes headlines are the stories about fear, what’s wrong, and what needs to be better. Talking about virtual learning during a pandemic is no different. It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of kids not being in the classroom and of naming all that they are missing out on. Online classrooms have also put a brighter light on disparities in access to technology, WiFi, food, and other resources students benefit from while being in a physical school. We can also look at all of the stories of parents and guardians struggling to work, support their learners, and keep it all together.
The pandemic has been long and exhausting at best — but there have been bright spots, and some kids are learning that they prefer online school and are thriving because of it.
Kids who were forced into online learning were essentially forced to work from home. And as an adult who is able to do that for at least part of my week, I’m not at all surprised that certain kids took to the change. If some adults can work better at home, it makes sense that some kids may learn better at home too. Here are reasons why these kids are crushing online school.
Yes, there are set meeting times and daily video check-ins, but when students are able to learn from home, they have more control of their schedule. Without the rush of getting to school, they can sleep longer, too; and if they don’t have to be awake for a meeting, they can start their work whenever they’re ready — house rules obviously apply. Kids can also set their own pace. Some kids may pick up a concept much more quickly than what it would have taken if they were stuck in a 45-minute class. They can then move onto another lesson and manage their time more efficiently. But if a kid needs extra time for something to sink in, there isn’t the pressure to learn it in a set amount of time.
Also, there may be some days that call for appointments, mental health breaks, or the need to help a family member. Instead of a student missing the opportunity to go to school, they are able to juggle their schedule to make sure their personal and educational needs are met without stress or punishment.
The noise of a classroom along with visual distractions can make it hard for kids to focus–either on what their teacher is saying or on the work they are trying to do. Kids with ADHD who are easily distracted in school are realizing that online school has made them better students without the chaos of a classroom. But even without having a diagnosis, the overall decrease in interruptions from classmates, unexpected announcements over the intercom, or noise in the hallway can increase concentration. Not that working or learning from home is without distractions — ask me how I know — but the environment is more controlled, and that’s a huge relief for some learners.
More Opportunities To Be Heard
Students can be painfully shy or too anxious to speak up in class. Or they may not have the personality that makes them want to compete with louder and more vocal students. Online learning, thanks to the mute button, allows one student to speak at a time. Chat boxes and email also allow students to get their questions asked and their thoughts communicated in ways that aren’t rushed or interrupted. There is also a level of privacy that makes it easier for a student to communicate their needs; some kids don’t speak up in class because they are afraid of being made fun of for not understanding a concept. Private and electronic messages can help a student feel more comfortable and supported in their learning.
The social dynamics of a classroom or the playground can be brutal. Society is slowly more accepting of marginalized folks, but queer students and students of color are under constant threat, if not attack. So are students who need extra help in the classroom because of physical or intellectual needs. Intentional bullying and implicit biases harm students who don’t fit into a heteronormative society that still favors white and able-bodied people. For some kids, the ability to learn from home decreases or eliminates bullying and microaggressions. Students who are bullied suffer academically, so when kids don’t have that anxiety or pressure to fit in, they tend to get better grades and enjoy school.
The pandemic has brought more awareness to the social-emotional needs of students. Because most of us practiced social distancing and many folks still have very limited contact with people outside of their home or small bubble, the focus has been on mental health, kids included. Teachers were already rock stars, and continue to learn how to support their students’ emotional health — but the teachers in my district really stepped up their game when they didn’t have physical access to students. They made sure to schedule check-ins with students and parents. They let go of some of the educational requirements to be sure kids were mentally well and feeling safe. I noticed an increase in intentional efforts to make sure students were thriving in all parts of their lives. It may have taken online learning for kids to be seen and feel supported.
The focus for too long has been on the need for everything to go back to “normal” as if everything pre-pandemic was perfect and we need to rush back to it — including going back to full-time in-person learning. The reality is that we are still dealing with change and new ways of performing everyday tasks. Certain students needed that change and others didn’t realize they needed it until they had an opportunity to learn in a different way. When the pandemic ends, there will likely be plenty of kids who decide online learning is their preferred new normal.