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VOL. 44 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 3, 2020

Easing transition from classroom to home

By Kylie Hubbard

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Dawn Kingsley of Gallatin helps her son Will, 11, with his school work.

-- Photo By Billy Kingsley For The Ledger

From “Classroom to Cloud.” That’s what the Northshore School District of Washington state is calling its shift from in-person to online schooling. The shift occurred after the coronavirus, COVID-19, forced schools to shut down to slow the spread of the virus.

Nashville Metro Schools, Wilson County Schools, Cheatham County, Robertson County will be closed at least through April 24, as are most school systems in Middle Tennessee.

Although more tech savvy than most adults, the question remains if children will be able to remain focused on online classes as they would in a classroom setting.

“If we’re talking about moving to online, that is challenging enough for adult students … let alone young kids,” University of Tennessee-Knoxville professor of elementary education Amy Broemmel says.

Metro has partnered with NPR to give instruction during the virus shutdown.

Some counties are already up and running with online classrooms. Williamson County Schools are offering WCS Learning Plan and Resources.

Sumner County’s online learning outreach

Rutherford County’s online classes

Professor Broemmel says children certainly have the capacity to learn from online resources, but online classes won’t be an easy transition or fix. When you combine learning differences with internet access issues, virtual classrooms may not be the best solution, Broemmel explains.

Even if every student had access to a computer, and barring any other complications, nothing can replace a teacher, adds Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown.

“Even in a situation where you’ve got children interacting with their teacher through the computer, it’s just not the same,” Brown says.

“It might help mitigate some of that learning loss, but it pales in comparison to the actual learning experience in the classroom.”

Instead, Broemmel suggests parents and guardians take the time to focus on emotional and psychological needs before attempting to fill the void of a teacher or tutor. Skills like tying shoes, cooking and doing laundry can all be taught while parents follow their normal routines.

“There’s lot of maybe non-academic ways to support students as far as learning that are beneficial in the long run even though they may not show up on a standardized test of sorts,” Broemmel says.

But what about the information that is on standardized tests?

Broemmel says no one should downplay the learning loss that could occur depending on the length of school closures, even as standardized testing like TNReady is canceled for the school year.

‘Home-school mode’

Dawn Kingsley, a mom of middle school-aged boys who lives in Gallatin, says she is concerned learning loss will affect her children if school closures extend past two weeks after spring break.

“If you go on vacation, you come back and your brain’s kind of mush after a week. You’re like, OK, I’ve got to reengage. What was I doing before I left?” Kingsley says. “Well, after three or four weeks, it’s going to be worse.”

Kingsley is used to working remotely as a health care reimbursement specialist, but now has to juggle a new role of at-home teacher. She says she is working with her oldest son’s tutor to see how skills in English language, science, social studies and math can still be enhanced.

The difficulty will be creating a balance between school work and at-home relaxation. Kingsley points out she has received instruction from her children’s music teachers, who will continue lessons at scheduled times, via Zoom or Facetime. The family has not heard from teachers or the school system for further instructions.

“I want to keep them engaged with things that aren’t all electronic. Because, you know, they don’t have electronics at school…,” Kingsley says. “But at the same time, this social isolation is difficult. I mean, it’s difficult for me.”

Using her tutor as a resource, Kingsley hopes to pull together tips and additional resources from her teacher friends to go into “home-school mode.’’ Ways to keep children entertained and to teach them have been circulating social media for a few weeks.

Even with a plan coming together, Kingsley adds she is still taking things day by day in her house.

“I’m trying not to panic too much about the long-term implications of them being out until potentially May, which is the end of school,” Kingsley says. “I just don’t know what any of that means yet.”

Broemmel suggests parents incorporate multiple check-ins with their children to ensure their emotional and physiological needs are met. Kingsley says she hopes to curb any emotional uprisings by letting her sons connect with friends on the phone and making a family pact to be kind to each other.

“We’re just really unsettled and it’s really uncertain,” Kingsley says of the situation. “None of us have ever been here before.”

Keeping children engaged

Most professionals agree the most important piece of advice for this situation is to keep children on a routine.

“This is going to wreak havoc on their routine, not only in the classroom, but also in the home,” Brown says of the two worlds colliding. “So I think encouraging parents to as much as possible maintain a routine for their children is going to be really critical.”

Keeping a routine can include waking up at the same time every day, having recess, and finding educational resources to utilize at the same time every day. For example, Mo Willems, author of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” is teaching children how to draw his characters at 1 p.m. each day.

“Most parents are not educators by trade and there’s nothing that can replace the experience and training of a professional,” Brown says. “However, there are a lot of free resources online that parents can access to intellectually engage their children and their students.”

National Children’s Literacy Website offers tips on how to teach children to read. “Storyline Online” offers thousands of stories read free by celebrities and authors.

Websites such as Open Culture have developed lists of resources for home schooling students during COVID-19.

Broemmel suggests the routine include short spans of learning versus an 8-3 timeline of worksheets and lessons. One-on-one lessons work differently with students than the typical one-on-25 in the classroom. Broemmel says two or three academic chunks of an hour to an hour and a half should suffice for grades 3 and higher, and a few shorter academic chunks for grades 2 and lower.

In addition to building and maintaining a routine, Broemmel suggests parents not overestimate the ability of a child to sustain attention to tasks and to not hesitate to reach out to teachers for help.

“Let them be kids,” Broemmel points out. “Make sure you answer their questions so that they can feel safe in this environment that even some adults don’t feel safe in.”

One of the most vulnerable populations during the virus are students for whom school is a safe haven.

“I’m not terribly worried academically,” Broemmel admits. “I’m very concerned for the physiological needs of students whose homes are unsafe or who don’t have ready access to food and those basic necessities.”

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