How to harness student strengths in distance learning
For teachers of 2020 was a year of chaotic transitions, remote classrooms, and new training to help us navigate a mostly online curriculum. But what has been left out of those conversations is the impact Covid-19 would have on the minds of teachers. and students. We quickly understood how fear, anxiety, and depression can make learning more difficult, if not impossible.
As a resident artist with Teachers and writers in the Bronx, I was taught to develop programs on inclusion and multiculturalism, and to avoid racial prejudice in my classes, even as a fair-skinned Latina. I have studied how to respond to those who are going through difficult times at home or at school. These trauma-informed teaching strategies had two functions: to understand why children take action, disengage or struggle to succeed in the classroom and create a community where they feel cared for and heard. I left this job for another in higher education, but the lessons left a deep mark on how I would teach at the college level.
Understanding and connecting with the trauma
In the spring of 2020, we suffered a loss of control. Undergraduates were made redundant from their jobs and internships, and many were forced to leave dorms and return to their childhood homes. Students of all ages have lost the communities they built at school – and some have even lost loved ones – leaving them depressed, anxious and angry.
According to Beth McMurtrie of Chronicle of higher education, the trauma decreases the ability to plan, recall information and concentrate. Paired with teachers who did not take full advantage of their learning technologies and assigned more busy work to make up for lost time in class, the young people were both overwhelmed and disappointed. Many have struggled to be successful with online learning and in some cases have given up altogether.
Joanna Johnson was a freshman at LIM College in New York last spring when she returned to Putnam Valley, New York, due to the pandemic. She helped take care of her mother, who had been injured in a work accident. On top of that, her mother’s small business was struggling to survive. “School, at this point, was at the bottom of my priority list, even though I really wanted to do well,” she told me later.
As a then 26-year-old professor who grew up chatting with my peers on AIM and making friends in online discussion forums, I knew how the internet could be a vehicle for raw human connection. I changed all of the prompts on my discussion board to questions about everyone’s reaction to the coronavirus.
- What is one thing that you lost and one thing that you gained because of the stoppage?
- Share an article you’ve read that you think we all should know about.
- Name a song that you keep listening to and post a link so we can hear it.
By demystifying Covid-19 and creating a safe space where we could talk about it openly, my students felt safe and listened, and they were able to connect with each other even though they were miles away. one another.
“I have terrible anxiety that affects me mentally and physically,” Joanna told me. “So being able to talk to other people, read what’s going on in their lives, and listen to new music has been a stress relief that I’m really grateful for.”