Everywhere I look, I see people writing or talking about the “lost year” in education. I understand why educators and parents feel this way: children have lost the chance to socialize in person, to gain independence from their families, and to get direct help from their teachers. Many of our children feel lonely and have lost motivation.
But some other parts of our fears about this “lost year” in education also come from our traditional mindset of what learning is about, based on the limited criteria that we can actually assess on standardized tests. It’s definitely been a challenging year for all of us, and it’s easy to look at what we’ve lost. But our students have also learned so much this year. Teachers have written to me on Twitter, in emails, on Whatsapp, to celebrate the surprising ways their students have exceeded expectations this past year.
Here’s what they’re saying many students have gained:
- Most students have improved their time management skills. They’re ready, on time, and prepared with the materials they need at the start of each online class. (Do you have any idea how often kids in school had to run back and forth to their lockers to collect notebooks and tools they forgot?)
- Students have been taking control of their learning. They read instructions more carefully, do a better job of self-assessment, and find a variety of ways to solve problems. With remote learning, teachers have acted much more as guides on the side (which is one of the goals we consistently try to reach) because they can’t control students from a distance.
- Students are actively avoiding distractions. They’ve mentioned that they leave their phones in another room when they’re on Zoom meetings, or they set up work stations away from the distractions of video games.
- Students have learned to quickly adapt to new situations and have become much more flexible. They have had to constantly deal with changes or glitches in the system (from weak Wi-Fi to power outages to Google not responding). A teacher mentioned that “in the “before times,” issues like these would’ve upended our entire day — but now we simply try a different approach or, occasionally, accept it and move forward. This flexibility is a crucial skill that students will need to navigate our rapidly changing world.
- Students have shown a great willingness to take risks. When COVID first hit in March 2020, they quickly jumped in to learn new technology and try new strategies in remote learning. Facing problems, trying something new, failing, trying again, being successful — all of this develops resilience and the growth mindset that’s so important in learning.
Understanding the Process of Learning
- Learning independently has helped students discover themselves as learners. What works for them? What doesn’t?
- As they grow in independence, they’re developing the ability to generate their own questions and follow their own interests. In breakout rooms, they brainstorm ideas in small groups. We’re seeing much less need for teacher direction in this type of activity.
- Students have developed a strong appreciation for school. Every time we’ve brought students on campus, we’ve heard, “I miss school so much. I can’t wait to come back.” Music to our ears!
- One of the wonderful things we’re seeing is much stronger empathy: through this experience, students have learned to care for each other in deep and meaningful ways. We hear them worrying about their classmates’ feelings and reaching out to help each other.
- Through all of the focus on wellness, students are learning the language of emotions. So often children (even adults) don’t have the vocabulary they need to express their feelings. They’re limited to feeling “bad,” “good,” “sad,” or “happy.” But through our constant focus on social-emotional learning, students have learned to express their emotions in much more nuanced ways.
- Students have developed coping strategies to deal with their anxiety and sadness. We’ve already been teaching mindfulness for several years, but we’re now seeing students independently use the techniques they’ve learned to help themselves.
- Students have learned how to navigate Zoom, Google Classroom, and a multitude of apps like Peardeck and Whiteboard.fi. They’re capable of quickly learning a new app when we ask them to.
- Even our younger students have become pros at uploading their homework, creating visuals online, collaborating on shared whiteboards and slides, and videotaping their responses to assignments on apps like Flipgrid.
- At first, it was difficult for students to reach out and ask for help when they needed it. But over time, they’ve developed self-advocacy skills and now know how to look for the help they need.
- They’ve learned how to use a variety of formats for communication: from e-mails to Zoom chat to Google Meet, they’re learning how to make their voices heard.
Yes, there may have been less learning of academics this year — it was hard to cover all the material we usually do while teaching from a distance. But we can catch up on the missing academics over the course of a couple of years, and we’ll be able to do it much faster since our students are now so much more independent and have gained efficient work skills.
We would never wish children to learn these lessons through a pandemic, but, unfortunately, COVID is our reality at the moment. However, instead of focusing on what we’ve lost, let’s build on these positives and celebrate all the ways our children have risen to the challenge and shown us their ability to adapt and succeed.
Teachers, I’m sure you saw other positive learning outcomes. Please share them in the comments so we can build on these!