In person connection is a human need that can never be replaced with technology. Psychology and neuroscience studies have shown that our brains actually start to synch up in a process called neural synchronization when we communicate face-to-face. There are so many benefits to interacting with other humans in person, especially in a learning environment. As technology overtakes many aspects of our lives, it is ever more important to focus on having those face-to-face interactions and relationships that keep us mentally strong, emotionally healthy, and even more academically successful.
From existing research, what we do understand is that students who already struggle usually struggle even more with online learning. According to EducationWeek, “In comparisons of online and in-person classes, online classes aren’t as effective as in-person classes for most students.” In studies randomly assigning a similar set of students to either online or in-person classes, most students rated their class as more difficult if it was online. While a strong curriculum and skilled instructor can help to relieve this discrepancy somewhat, most research points to online learning as being less effective than traditional in-person instruction.
In 2020, online learning became a solution to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus. Educational institutions of all types had to rapidly reconfigure curricula and teaching methods to accommodate remote learning needs. In the process, hundreds of thousands of students became less engaged in school overall, some stopping attendance all together. In a national survey of teachers this year, ⅔ of teachers reported a significant drop in the completion of assignments with online learning. When students are not in an actual classroom, it is very easy to disengage from online learning, because all it requires is a click, or even a simple aversion of the eyes from the screen. Keeping students engaged is extremely difficult with remote learning, even for the best teachers.
For students who don’t have consistent access to devices, internet connectivity, or even parental guidance during school hours, remote learning is even more damaging. According to research from Pew Trusts, for example, “virtual learning means unequal learning,” especially among those with disabilities like hearing loss or blindness. Smaller children tend to experience even more inequity with online learning when one or both parents have to work, because they need an adult’s physical presence there to guide them into focus and academic success.
In light of the difficulties revealed as our country experienced remote learning on a massive level, face-to-face learning has come into sharper focus as the best educational setting for our young people. This eBook is meant to present current research from experts on how important it is to promote in-person learning for your student.
This eBook contains all you need to know about the major issues involved in evaluating the importance of in-person learning for students of all ages, including:
While most experts agree we should pay close attention to the amount of time our teens spend in front of screens, some pediatricians recommend young people spend no more than 2 hours on screens each day. This includes educational apps, games and even Zoom meetings for classes. Clearly, students engaged in remote learning for the entire school day will far exceed this recommendation, and it becomes very hard to stick to screen time guidelines when school is fully remote and reliant on technology.
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a full Media and Children Communication Toolkit, and recommends that “parents of kids and teens 5 to 18 years old place consistent limits on the use of any media.” When there is no physical divide between home and school, and a lack of consistency and schedule, screen time becomes an even bigger issue.
Negative effects of too much screen time can include:
In a society where it is already difficult to get out from behind a screen, online learning makes it even more difficult to set healthy limits.
Every child and teen benefits from healthy parental involvement in their education. Attending parent-teacher conferences, participating in extracurricular activities, and even simple help with daily homework makes an enormous difference in student success. However, in the context of widespread, mandated remote learning for public school, healthy parental involvement is gravely threatened.
On one hand, parents may not be able to be involved enough to help their student find academic success with online learning. Especially in middle to low income families, both parents may be working full time. Even if that work takes place in the home, it is incredibly hard for parents to accomplish work responsibilities, and pay enough attention to remote learning. And, even if that can be worked out, most parents are not trained in teaching and don’t have the pedagogical skills to help their children succeed. They are simply not professional teachers, and it is impossible to be everywhere at once, for example helping the student with a video lesson and completing their own work responsibilities to keep the family finances afloat.
On the other hand, many parents have had to adjust work schedules or even quit working all together to accommodate the need for student guidance for online learning. The ripple effects of this are many, but one important aspect is parent burnout. Even with increased involvement from parents or guardians, the quality of education can suffer, because even in the best of circumstances, parents are not trained enough in all of the subjects in high school, for example, to effectively provide enough guidance. Teachers and administrators are trained professionally for a reason.
When we talk about distance learning and being able to reach a teacher when he/she is needed, we also need to remember that many of them have their own families to help steward through the pandemic. Teachers are people too. They may have children who are in remote or hybrid models and need adult supervision to get their schooling done. In situations like these, teachers may have less time to be available to students and their families. Perhaps during what would normally be a planning hour, they are now trying to wrangle their own children to sit still for class. This inaccessibility of teachers, combined with the feeling of lost connection can impact the effectiveness of teaching in very serious ways. It will take a lot of coordination and patience for teachers to meet the needs of students and families when communication is on the line.
It is an incredibly large feat to put a remote classroom in place and then to maintain it at a high quality level. It is much like being two people at once, especially if remote learning and in-person learning are happening simultaneously. Teachers need to monitor students in the classroom for things like proper mask-wearing, physical distancing, and refraining from sharing supplies. They also need to be available for remote students who may need technical support or who cannot hear what is being said. Furthermore, they need to adapt their lessons to be effective for those in the room with them as well as those seeing it on a screen. This can take lesson planning to another level entirely. It requires more time, a new technological expertise, and perhaps a whole new approach to the way they have already been teaching. With these demands of extra planning and more challenging instruction, teachers are feeling depleted. “‘I have NEVER been this exhausted,’ Sarah Gross, a veteran high school English teacher in New Jersey who is doing hybrid teaching this fall, said in a recent Twitter thread. She added, ‘This is not sustainable.’” These difficult circumstances and being faced with constant unknowns are pushing teachers to their limits.
The fear that arises when placing such incredible demands on teachers is that they will experience burnout and will ultimately leave the profession or retire. According to Education Elements, there are three components that people experience when burnout happens: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a decreased sense of accomplishment. Teachers tend to be caring individuals to begin with - probably a big part of their decision to teach. Unfortunately, “caring too much for too long causes exhaustion” and when they’re working very hard to make a hybrid situation successful, we can only assume that they care a whole lot. Then, add the impersonal nature of teaching online and missing in person interaction with colleagues and the connection to others that is essential to managing burnout is gone. Many teachers are also feeling as though they are working harder and harder and not making any kind of difference. This particular type of burnout - related to the pandemic and remote or hybrid learning - is concerning because the stress is unrelenting. With the support of administrations, teachers will need to maintain a healthy balance of work and life. Proper self-care, as trite as that may sound, can really be the difference in being prepared to tackle the bigger issues facing the educational system.
With sudden school closures at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, those familiar with the importance of social interaction for teenagers began to worry. Now that the majority of US schools have returned with either a hybrid model or strictly distance learning, the concern is growing. Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health’s article on the topic addresses the loss of predictability in a daily routine and how that can impact developing minds. “Many friendships started by sitting next to each other in class…[and] groups of friends eat lunch together each day.” These easy and natural interactions that were built into daily life have disappeared. The opportunity for enrichment through interaction with students of different cultures or life experiences has been greatly reduced. This highlights the importance of intentionally connecting students through group work or partnerships and encouraging them to engage with each other socially.
Many teachers have pointed out the benefits of in-person learning and one of those is the ability to have spontaneous one-to-one moments with students. These quick interactions can occur as a teacher walks through the classroom or as students enter or exit the room or as they pass one another in a hallway. These short encounters often help a teacher build relationships with the kids and can provide insights into how the student is absorbing material, whether they are anxious about something, and even a glimpse into any personal struggles they may be enduring. It is very difficult to reach this level of personal connection on a Zoom call.
The not knowing is the constant for everyone during this pandemic. Will I get the virus? Will someone I know get it? When will school be normal again? When will restaurants open? Will we ever get to see a movie in the theater again? None of these questions have definitive answers. Not knowing can cause a great deal of fear and anxiety. Teenagers are already trying to navigate a stressful time in life; maintaining grades for eligibility in various competitions, choosing or gaining admission into colleges, discovering who they are, creating and nurturing relationships. For the past year, many have also been faced with an entirely new school format. Pandemic worries piled on top can certainly create increased fear and anxiety. It is imperative that these students have the support that they need to make it through this unparalleled challenge. Plenty of sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet are a good start for managing fear and anxiety, but children and teens need to have connections with trusted adults to help them navigate their stressors.
Practice makes perfect, right? There are many anecdotal stories about the awkward Freshman who becomes the well-loved senior in four short years. Like many fictional stories, there is usually a kernel of truth. In these stories, it is likely that the awkwardness the freshman experienced in the beginning was diminished with practicing social interaction. Being tossed into a social situation every day can be easy for some teens and difficult for many others. The hope is that, with continuous exposure and guidance, they can learn to function well in social situations. High school is a great place to develop these skills, but distance learning has put a definite wrench in that model. Perhaps some students feel more comfortable behind a screen, not forced into interaction with others. But this isolation can be detrimental to proper social development.
In-person learning provides the kind of environment that fosters relationships with trusted adults. As students interact with teachers, administrators, coaches, and other school staff members, they are learning interaction with non-family authority figures, a crucial life skill. There are many skills that students learn at home, such as how to do laundry and shop for groceries. However, at school they will learn different life skills, like organization and time management, how to search for a job, read a map or use public transportation. They can build on skills that help them stand up for themselves and speak their mind respectfully. Being in a classroom with peers and trusted adults creates opportunities for these lessons.
Stressful for any student who is involved in extracurricular activities, the absence of team sports, clubs, competitions, and events has seniors particularly saddened. These students feel a void for missing their last theater performance, the Friday night football games, final competitions with the debate team or robotics. School dances or mixers, field trips and off campus events are all opportunities for personal growth. These are not trivial things and missing them will have repercussions.
In-person learning is a crucial component to raising healthy, mentally stable, and well-educated children. It is also critical for elementary, middle-, and high school teachers to have one model to plan around. Hybrid and remote classrooms are complex to create and maintain. The last thing we want is to push teachers into early retirement or see them leave the profession in droves.
Protecting students and faculty is our top priority at Lutheran High School. This means that our decision to remain open and to offer in-person classes is based on the undeniable benefits of in-person versus remote learning. By taking extra precautions like staggered schedules, small classroom sizes, and guided hallway traffic patterns, schools like ours have been able to safely welcome students to campuses. Maintaining real connections and relationships, supporting student engagement, and providing a space where life feels somewhat normal for students has been a point of pride for our school over the past year. Preserving as much predictability as we can will help students academically, emotionally, and mentally. With the rest of their worlds resting in an unrelenting unknown, school should be a safe place.
So if you find your family in a tricky situation with grades falling and online attendance lacking, what can be done? Research nearby schools to find out which ones are open for in-person learning. What COVID-19 precautions have they put in place to justify remaining open? Are their students experiencing academic and personal successes? Colorado has a statewide open-enrollment law, which means that your student can attend any school you wish them to attend, regardless of where you reside. It might be a great opportunity to look into private or charter schools. Many tuition based schools offer assistance or scholarship programs, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Whatever you choose, the fact that you’ve read this entire eBook speaks to your dedication to the success and well-being of your student. You’re already ahead of the game!