Thursday, May 28, 2020

Problems with remote learning from the perspective of a NYC student and a NYC teacher

First, here is testimony from Joshua Applewhite, NYC high school student, at yesterday's City Council hearings, who said that because of remote learning, "I feel like a robot. As a matter of fact, I feel like this whole situation is handled like we’re robots and we’re not humans with different feelings and different circumstances and different situations.” 

More on the findings from these hearings here and here, including the fact that the city’s summer school plan for remote learning calls for only one counselor or social worker for every 1,045 students and only one teacher for 30 struggling students.

Below this video is a piece by Ronit Wrubel, a NYC teacher, who points out another big problem  with remote learning - it's difficult for teachers to see their students' eyes.


Exactly 10 years ago, in April of 2010, I wrote an essay called "Don't Forget The Eyes".
I had been teaching using a document camera where I projected images onto a pull-down screen and showed most of my lessons using slides, photos, and various worksheets that had been transferred onto clear acetate pages. I used colored write on/wipe off markers to share my teaching points. I found value in the interactivity of this ‘teaching tool’.
My document camera was positioned behind my class meeting area in order to properly project what we were learning. The children would look at the screen while listening to me. They'd raise their hands and crane their necks backwards to respond, then forwards to the screen, and on and on again. It became the new normal, but it never felt right to me. Something was missing.
I couldn't see their eyes.
I couldn't see their smiles. I couldn't see their 'aha moments'. I couldn't see a look of confusion. I couldn’t see a glimpse of humor. I couldn't see their body language or their glances towards each other. I couldn’t see sadness. I couldn’t see a twinkle.
I couldn't see their eyes.
I moved my document camera – I reverted to more time with chart paper and the chalkboard and I eventually got a SmartBoard for forward facing teaching.
I saw their eyes. And it was glorious.
Until now. Now there’s a new normal. Now I'm not in a classroom. And I won't be, possibly, for the rest of this school year. And the children are stuck at home. And they’re confused. And lonely. And bored. And scared. And their parents are faced with the difficult task of working from home, or not. And helping ‘homeschool’ their seven or eight year olds. Without the time or knowledge or tools. And I’m home using my computer, Google Classroom, and more than a dozen websites and platforms to teach my 26 second-graders. But it doesn’t feel right to me. Something is missing.
I can’t see their eyes.
I can’t see their smiles. I can’t see their ‘aha moments’. I can’t see confusion. I can’t see a glimpse of humor. I can’t see body language or interaction. I can’t see sadness. I can’t see a twinkle.
I can’t see their eyes.
We are living in the midst of global trauma. A pandemic, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a century. There are no words to describe how sad this is for us all. For the lives lost, the lives impacted, the lives upended, the lives teetering on the edge. The steps being taken now are the right ones. We have to flatten the curve, stem the tide, keep safe until we know more and see more. We have to change the paradigm of teaching and learning. We have to and we are and we will.
I understand the decision to keep NYC schools closed for now. I understand that keeping children, parents, teachers and support staff healthy and safe is the proper choice. I understand that remote learning is the right way to continue. And I understand that I can find ways to ‘see’ my students using various online tools. But it’s not the same.
I’ll be there for my students in all the ways I can. I’ll work with my colleagues and my administration and a plethora of online platforms. I’ll devote endless hours to finding the best ways to use technology so I can make the rest of this school year exciting, engaging, and academically rewarding. I’ll attend to their emotions as well as their skills. \
I’ll keep making videos, and screencasts, and slideshows and documents and parent emails and updates and at home projects and online searches. And I’ll schedule live sessions with my class. I’ll keep the learning going. I’ll keep the class community together in all the ways possible. I’ll still be their teacher and they’ll still be my students. But it’s not the same.
I miss their eyes.

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