Teachers, students adjusting to instruction during COVID

In a time of isolation and quarantine, students have had their academics moved entirely online. This comes with it’s own significant struggles; motivation namely, but some also struggle with internet access, finding a space to work within their homes, study for AP tests or simply understanding the material being presented to them through a screen. Luckily for us, though, age and experience allow us to do all our learning independently and autonomously.

 But for families with younger grade-school children, autonomy is not on the table yet. Many parents are facing the task of homeschooling their children during quarantine. Older siblings have also been called in to help, like Ashlyn Metcalf, a senior. 

Metcalf has been part of the CAPS education strand, and she plans to pursue a degree in early education next year at UNI. Metcalf has been helping out her mother, who is a teacher at Denver, to homeschool her youngest brother Macen. Macen is eight years old, and a 2nd grader at Cedar Heights elementary. 

Along with doing her own school work and preparing for college, Metcalf has been tag teaming with her mother to teach him reading, writing, math, science and life skills. With general information coming from the school weekly in the form of an email, Metcalf said that the outline for the week still gives families some liberty in how they teach their kids. “We try to let him have options in what order we do things. He gets to pick where he is most comfortable learning too. We sit outside, on the couch, anywhere we can get to work.” 

This flexibility has also allowed the Metcalfs to tailor their teaching to fit both Macen and their own busy schedules.
“Sometimes we cook lunch and call it life skills and have art class with chalk in the driveway. I have learned that Macen is very good at math and most of the time he can do math facts faster than anyone else in the house.
Macen is very expressive and outgoing, so this new way of handling school has been good for him to express himself in a more free way and helped him to make some decisions about his own life, which most 8 year olds don’t really get to experience.”

While it’s come with its own challenges, like learning how to separate their family relationship and teaching relationship, Metcalf said the experience is bringing her incredible insight that she can bring with her into her teaching career. “Right now is a strange, but interesting time to be an education student,” Metcalf said. “There are so many new and interesting techniques that are coming out of this. I can see ways to help students who struggle in a traditional classroom setting or ways to get students engaged in new ways.”

Some teachers have also had to make the switch from teaching high school students to their elementary age children. Brenna Griffin, an English teacher, has been balancing her own classes with helping her two children with school at home. With one eight year old, Eleanor, and a preschooler, Tess, their family has had to adjust to teaching two very different levels of earning under one roof. 

Like Metcalf, Griffin also said that the flexibility from the elementary schools has been much appreciated. “There are iPad options and unplugged options for Eleanor for each subject each week, and Tess’s list is a choice board that we can decide what to do when. As a parent, I’m so glad we went with voluntary learning because I feel like it gives me a little more flexibility as a parent. If Eleanor does baking or an art project, for example, where she meets the math objective, I have the ability to check off that skill for the week without having to make her prove it in a different way.” 

But despite the flexibility they have, Griffin notes that there are some things they just can’t replace, especially when she has other classes and students to take care of. “One of the hardest things has been thinking about the importance of play for my preschooler, Tess. So much of her learning is about playing with other kids, which I just cannot replicate. I will sprinkle toys she hasn’t seen in a while in different parts of the house, but it’s just not as fun for her to play by herself, and I can’t really play with her when I need to respond to student essays.”

While some subjects or activities need parental guidance and a little encouraging push, Griffin said that the kids also have had fun doing their own assignments and learning some independence in their learning. Eleanor, for example, has been uploading weekly videos of something she’s learned to the class blog. 

Griffin said one of her favorites has been Eleanor’s workout videos. “Some of them have themes, and some don’t. This has been super cute to watch and enjoy. My favorite one ended with her placing both hands in the air and saying, ‘Repeat after me.’ Raises one hand. ‘I know myself.’ Raises the other hand. ‘I can be myself.’ For some reason, this simple motion and affirmation struck me as something we can all use right now.”


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