The Nitty-Gritty is a series of posts looking at the new school year after pondering the lessons learned from the distance-learning experiment of the spring and sketching out the approach this teacher will take as the pandemic continues.
The first post looked at how to structure curriculum units in a way that would be adaptable to either an in-person model, whereby the students are physically present in the classrrom, or a distance-learning model, whereby the students stay home.
Today, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will look at the structure of learning and what teenagers reported that they needed to help them maintain their learning.
Most teen students said they missed being in school, but their reasons went beyond missing their friends.
More than half reported that they missed the structure of the school day, where bells rang, there were assigned places to be, and learning was organized. Those who believe school buildings are no longer necessary fail to understand how the building itself, a location dedicated to fostering learning, works in the background, little noticed, to keep the attention of students on their learning.
My teenage students got it. They commented on how learning at home brought many distractions that kept them from focusing on their lessons. One said that she tried to sit down and tune into the classroom meeting, but then her mother gave her work to do and she had to do what her mother said. But being at school removes those distractions. Location, with its underlying structure, is important.
Now, in these pandemic days, being ‘on property’ may not be possible. But this is a recognition that distance learning must find a way to replace the structure of a school building. The question is how.
Another thing to keep in mind is that three-fourths (76%) of students said they needed help in keeping track of their assignments. This despite GOT creating assignments in the Teams platform (equivalent to Google classroom), creating assignment entries in the online gradebook, and sending out grade reports via email.
Don’t blame the students. Teenagers are engaged in their developmental agenda and their body growth, which includes the brain. Their executive functioning, via the prefrontal cortex, is the last part of the brain to achieve adult status. Its growth is not finished until the mid-20s in age.
That is why teenagers are often impulsive. It’s not that they lack capacity to make good decisions, but the delay often finds them committed to decisions more driven by the amygdala, the center of emotion before they can think their way through it.
It’s easy to blow off an assignment, thinking they’ll do it later, and than forget what they were supposed to do.
Teenagers need structure, especially 9th graders who are transitioning from middle school. They love the new freedom of high school (You mean I don’t have to go to lunch in a line escorted by my teacher? Nope, we trust you are now old enough to know where the cafeteria is and can get there without causing mayhem along the way.) But they lack the organizational skills necessary. They need help.
The other difficulty: teenagers said they needed help in setting up a time schedule for learning at home that they could keep.
These are important lessons, not only for learning that must take place at home, but also for a resumption of in-person learning. How will a student manage home-learning assignments? How will they prepare for tests? A plan is needed–one that involves parents, not as educators, but as caring adults who will help their children follow the plan.
GOT is planning instruction for the fall. What this comes to is that an introductory unit is needed. Before students can begin to tackle Geometry or Algebra 2, they need to work through their learning needs and make a plan that will provide the structure that they need.
A learning plan for the new year will be the emphasis of the first week–one that students will create in consultation with their parents.
There is more that must be considered and included. That will be addressed in future posts of this Nitty-Gritty series.