Transitioning Into Virtual Learning Mode: A K12 School Perspective

Schools and teachers have been forced to quickly transition into a virtual school to ensure continuity of learning for its children.

Anthropologist would agree that in the evolution of human civilisation, “for decades, nothing may happen. But in weeks, decades may happen”. This maxim is apt for COVID-19’s impact on K-12 Schools. The past few weeks witnessed tectonic shifts in the way learning was transacted, which till then, only made incremental changes over the last several decades. Schools and teachers have been forced to quickly transition into a virtual school to ensure continuity of learning for its children. Several longitudinal studies have recognised the need for such continuity of learning support during school breaks (Including summer vacations). Lack of learning support during long school breaks does lead to significant learning loss, especially for primary school students on literacy and numeracy. Irrespective of a school’s cultural capacity to change and its technology maturity, one can never be prepared for such an unexpected jolt. Yet, there are a few principles that can help schools navigate this transition better for its stakeholders.

William Dagget proposed that schools of tomorrow should not just focus on the traditional 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic) but on the new 3 Rs: Relationship, Relevance and Rigour (in this specific order of priority). Daggett’s 3 Rs is equally pertinent while rolling out a virtual school plan.

Relationship: A once in a century black swan event like COVID-19 would activate stress hormones in young brains and could potentially lead to experiencing chronic stress. Lack of social support due to lockdown would only accentuate the stress network in Children. Thus, schools should view the primary purpose of virtual classrooms is not to transact curriculum but to exhibit care. Teachers should transact love more than lessons. A scheduled 15-minute call to every child every week, fortnightly call to parents (they are equally stressed) are some of the ways to create a safe holding space.

Relevance: Relevance means students understand why they are learning what they are learning. One study finds that over 97 per cent of students enrolled in MOOCs drop out before the completion of the course. Such high dropouts in online classes are not just due to the tardiness of the technology interface, but also lack of relevance in the mind of the learner. K12 schools could build relevance in virtual platforms in two ways. One is to focus on the core of what is worth learning. Teachers have to ensure that their revised lesson plans cut out the peripheral and nice to have learning targets and focus on what is most important to learn. Another way is to have students work on self-directed projects that students genuinely care about. Teachers could work with each student to curate a project and define performance standards for the project. It would demand innovative thinking on the part of the Teacher, but it would surely set students off on a path of guided discovery at their pace within the means available to them at their homes.

Rigour: Schools must ensure that students work around a set rhythm and routine despite school shutdowns. Rhythm, routines and rituals provide the necessary cognitive comfort to growing brains. Thus a well defined and predictable virtual timetable, morning meetings, scheduled small group meetings etc. provides the essential structure for the children’s brain to be productive. Schools should recognise that it is counterproductive to exactly replicate the usual timetable into the virtual platform; especially for younger students. Virtual learning should have a more substantial component of asynchronous/offline learning with reduced synchronous learning. Definition of homework and assessment should also change. Teachers should resist grading student work but focus only on giving regular formative feedback. Given the variability of technology infrastructure and home support for students, Teachers should assume best intentions with students on assignment submissions and deadlines.

Lastly, if teachers are expected to provide abundant love and care to their students, then school leaders should exhibit the same to their teachers. Constant prying of parents into their virtual classes, lack of access to their usual repertoire of pedagogical practices, Teachers would experience stress at many levels. School leaders should communicate abundantly that it is ok to make mistakes in this new world, and it is ok for their teaching to get worse before it gets better.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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Virtual Learning Mode k12 COVID-19 virtual classrooms

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