“For too long, we have allowed assessment to take priority over ensuring access to quality instruction. We should be more focused on getting students engaged in learning and monitoring performance over time,” Noguera said in an email.
It’s clear the pandemic has brought the digital divide issue to the forefront. Even one year into the pandemic, there are still countless stories of low-income kids and kids of color who are not showing up regularly for their Google Classroom or Zoom calls. Again, tech equity is a factor, but there’s also a world of other socio-economic challenges that prevent students from attending their virtual classes.
Special Education Kids Need Individualized Attention
Nicole Schlechter, an Illinois-based mom of four and special education advocate, says that when schools first closed in the spring of 2020, many special education students did not have access to any special education services for months. “It typically takes a special education student double the time to catch up.” Now most school districts have started providing speech therapy, occupational therapy, counseling, and other services online. Remote learning may not work for some special education students. Case in point, physical therapy is simply not transferable to remote learning. There are concerns that other remote special education therapies are less effective, Schlecter says.
“We are seeing a huge increase in behavioral concerns, ADHD prescriptions, and other concerns,” Schlechter says.
It’s important that a child with special education not be rushed into an IEP that doesn’t also work for the child’s family. For example, if the parent of a special-education elementary-aged student has to work, and the school is remote only, the parent should ask if the school district can do anything to address that family’s scheduling needs. Flexibility is key. In my particular situation, I’m in frequent communication with my sons’ speech therapists, especially if I need to cancel due to scheduling conflicts. Both of my sons do not enjoy live video calls, but audio and chat-enabled Zoom or Google sessions can be an option during remote speech or occupational therapy.
As school districts work out how many asynchronous versus synchronous educational hours are effective for different student populations, Zoom fatigue is a real challenge. Clearly, few expect that kids are going to benefit from passively sitting through lectures or online assessments six hours a day every day, with a few more thrown in for homework.
“Sitting still for long periods of time is not good for children. Developmentally, children need to be in the company of their peers and they need to have the experience of learning by doing and learning through play,” says Noguera.
Social and Emotional Learning Are Key
When, it comes to social and emotional learning for educators, parents, and kids, Dr. Marc Brackett, founder and director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a professor in the Child Study Center of Yale University, says it’s not a question of whether or not to include social and emotional learning in classroom learning—it’s an imperative.
“A stressed-out teacher is a stressed-out classroom,” Brackett says. Additionally, Brackett notes, even during non-pandemic times, educators may not intuitively know how to connect with kids on an emotional level or be aware of implicit bias, particularly if it is a white educator teaching a student of color.
To help educators get the tools they need, Brackett and his team developed a program meant to bridge that gap. “Managing Emotions in Times of Uncertainty & Stress” is a free 10-hour self-paced program meant for educators. Another Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence resource is the Mood Meter for adults, teens, and middle-school students.