As a clinical psychologist, working primarily with high school-age teenagers, I have heard first-hand what it has been like to be a student during COVID-19. Boredom, low motivation, apathy, distractions, no structure, minimal parent understanding of tech, difficulty comprehending material offered online without actual in-person instruction, no peer influence motivating performance (social desirability) = the comments, complaints, and confessions I have heard since April 2020. I have also heard that teens with pre-existing depression and anxiety are performing better than pre-COVID-19 because they no longer have to deal with social stressors, peer pressure, high parent/teacher expectations, no social pressure to outperform, improved sleep, easier to self motivate than to be “forced” to complete schoolwork, no more concerns about appearance and fitting-in. In both cases however, a majority of teens report an overall loss of learning. Yes, they struggle to complete the work, or find it easier to complete, but they fundamentally believe that they are not advancing or growing academically. The work tends to be more labor than intellect.
While I am not a teacher, I do have some considerations and/or recommendations for educational programs as we approach the Fall 2020 semester. Some of these suggestions may challenge traditional teaching practices, however in actuality they are more in-line with traditional teaching styles than different.
HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATIONAL PROGRAM
- School schedules maintain “period system”; eliminate block schedules to promote simplicity and compliance in “getting back” to school.
- Start school at 9 am
- Consider 40-45 minute periods (allowing for 6 periods/day).
- End regular day at 2:15 pm.
- All Teachers show-up to their web-based classroom for normal hours.
- Office hours every day 2:15 – 3:00 pm
- Web Cameras must be ON from 8:00 am – 2:15 pm to record attendance (not at lunch), make use of visual cues between student/teacher, earbuds or headphones are strongly rec’d to cut-down on outside noise.
- Day #1-#3, parents attend remote learning orientation/training from 8:30 – 9:00 am. If unable, a video tutorial explaining tech features, sign-on, expectations, how to access teaching staff, access to online parent forum – will be sent to family and/or available on school website.
- Online Parent Forum (moderated by administrative staff) available to all families (consider non-English languages as well) to inquire, question, clarify any learning issues.
- Every 2nd and 4th Friday Teachers are available for 1:1 or small group (similar to Discussion Sections in University lectures) office hours. Thirty minute appointment times beginning at 9:30 am. These are ideal for kids with 504 Plan or IEP.
- Every 3rd Friday All Staff meeting from 9:30 am – 11:30 am. Curriculum development, grading, or office hours for remainder of day.
- Every Friday student logs onto software web-based instruction from 9:00 am – 12:15 pm. Students then have option to use office hours, or “leave” for day at 12:15 pm to begin homework.
- Weekend homework should never exceed 1 hour (with exception of Honors or AP courses).
- Office Hours can also be used to return parent phone calls, and meet with parents online.
- Mental health groups and individual appointments can be scheduled on Fridays between 12:15 pm – 3:00 pm and Monday – Thursday between 2:15 pm – 3:00 pm.
Once again, I am not a teacher, and therefore this schedule may seem absurd. It is based on the feedback I have heard, witnessed and experienced from dozens of high school teens, here in the East Bay (San Francisco Bay Area). Teens, need structure, healthy motivation and reasonable expectations, direction, accountability to themselves, their peers, family and to their school. You’ll notice, I have the day starting at 9:00 am, based on the abundance of research that later start times promote learning and performance. I have built-in ample office hours for students, parents and staff collaboration. There is also time devoted to those with learning challenges and mental health needs. There will of course come a time when students will return to the classroom…perhaps in waves, staggered over time. What we do know is that our impromptu model of learning during the first wave of COVID-19 was less than impressive. We did out best, that is clear. However moving forward, we must meet students where they are, and engage them with a combination of tradition and technology.