Adjusting to online learning is challenging, but many students and teachers are taking it as an opportunity to grow.
Minnesota – Rather than studying in a colorfully decorated classroom surrounded by her friends and peers, 11-year-old Emma now has to do her schoolwork in one of two places—her bed or her mother’s favorite chair.
Like millions of other children across the world, the structure of Emma’s education has shifted dramatically over the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now exclusively takes place at home.
Her elementary school, located in the US state of Minnesota, implemented online distance learning on March 30, after the state governor announced strict measures earlier in the month to slow the spread of the virus.
Students across Minnesota have not gone to in-person classes since March 17, when the state had just 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That number has since risen to over 3,000 and to over 900,000 across the US.
For many the transition to online learning has been challenging. Schools, students, and families all face unique challenges.
“Just this whole entire thing is hard to adjust to,” Emma told Morocco World News.
Her teacher is able to meet with the class virtually every morning but only for a short period of time. The rest of the lessons are available online for students to do on their own time.
Direct instruction comes with many challenges, but online learning also allows students to grow in ways they had not in classrooms.
“Some of the lessons I actually kind of get confused on,” Emma said, “But I’ve been doing better [at] figuring it out on my own.”
Students are not the only ones who need to adjust to the new circumstances, and teachers are among those facing the largest challenges as each find their own approach to online learning.
Many veteran teachers have found it especially difficult, like Doris Kolodji, called Ms. K by her students. She has taught at Emma’s elementary school for nearly 40 years, and the adjustment to teaching online was not easy for her.
Kolodji’s biggest challenge was becoming comfortable with the technology, an obstacle that nearly defeated her.
“The next time a kid is crying and says: ‘I can’t get this,’ I’ll be more sympathetic,” Kolodji said of the experience.
Though she is now able to use the technology effectively, Kolodji has had to adjust how she teaches to keep her students engaged. Her work day is still from 8 in the morning until around 3 in the afternoon, a routine she feels is necessary for her.
She meets with her entire class at the same time everyday online, and after the group session finishes, she works one on one with students who need extra instruction.
“More important than what we cover is establishing a routine for them, to keep them engaged,” Kolodji told MWN.
While some aspects of the transition have been going smoothly, the loneliness of distance learning is still a consequence students and teachers alike constantly face.
“For educators, we all went into this to work with children. We’re still working with children, but not the way we wanted to,” said Gabe Johnson, the school’s principal.
This is what Kolodji misses the most about teaching in person: The interaction with her students and the epiphany moment when they suddenly understand a concept.
“I am reminded after 38 years of teaching—in a profound way I am reminded why I teach, and that is the rapport with the students,” Kolodji said. “I’m learning I really miss them.”
The students, meanwhile, have lost the opportunity to socialize with their friends at school and are having to come up with creative alternatives. This is especially true for an only child like Emma.
“I miss being able to keep in touch with my friends, like literal touch. Hugs, high-fives,” Emma said. Her solution has been sending postcards to her closest friends.
Even after distance learning is over, and children return to school and their friends, Kolodji and teachers like her know the experience will have a lasting impact.
“I will be a different teacher. This will absolutely change me,” Kolodji said.