Teaching from Home, Part 6: Emphasizing academics and social life for 9–12 students
Author: Jillian Daley
Posted: April 24, 2020
About the Series: Gov. Kate Brown has mandated that Oregonians stay home and that schools stay closed for the rest of the academic year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. In response, the Oregon Department of Education has required school districts to quickly put distance learning plans in place. To help parents, educators and anyone who supports school-age kids power through to the end of the school year, Portland State University College of Education is running a six-part series, Teaching from Home. We began with general advice for those who are now doubling as a teacher and a parent and then started sharing specific tips for teaching children with special needs and students at different ages. 
Read the whole Teaching from Home series:

How does one go about shepherding older students through the final years of their education? Portland State University College of Education (COE) Professor Emeritus Pat Burk said it’s about knowing what matters at this stage for students’ education and to them, personally. 

High school is more content-based than middle school and rife with complex social dynamics, Burk explained. For older children, Associate Professor Anita Bright offered a video-specific suggestion to keep students focused on content.

Tips from the Experts:

Tip #1) Correct the coronavirus social disruption.

Burk, who works in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department, said, “First, this is a huge disruption to the most important thing in their lives, their friendships, their troupes, their groups, their relationships. The world of academic content, and the social world of high school sometimes rotate in separate universes. The key in times like these is trying to help kids with both.”

He recommended regular class, sports team and extracurricular group check-ins to prevent isolation. He also suggested students share their art or music via podcast or Instagram.

“I think we should remember that high school is also a lot of fun for kids,” he said. “Making sure there is time to just be connected, for example, virtual class meetings, class check ins, sharing funny stories or new discoveries while on ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe.’ Guest teacher interviews. Alumni guest speakers; remember, the college kids are also home now. Get a college freshman in to talk about the first year of college. Lots of ways to keep the social life of the school alive.”

Tip #2) Hold workshops.

“Another issue for seniors is college admission and applications,” Burk said. “Just the other day, the entire Oregon University System dropped SAT and ACT test requirements for admission. Seniors may be placing a lot of emphasis on the writing sample. So maybe students and teachers could collaborate on a writers’ workshop to develop their senior essay.”

Tip #3) Encourage students to network—and write.

“I think a huge challenge for high school students is to look out for each other,” Burk said. “To be willing to reach out beyond their immediate friends and to make sure that all students are getting tangible, positive contact from others in the school.

“Student journalists have a huge role to play here, both in learning online journalism ... and in developing the teacher and student stories of interest on living with COVID-19. This may end up being one of the most significant events, not only in their high school years, but in their lifetimes. How could that experience be captured, shared and preserved?”

Tip #4) Keep communication lines open.

Older teens “also have TONS of questions, so opening communication channels would be great,” Burk said. “Some are very important to them. What about prom? Is there going to be a graduation for seniors? What happens to my grades and college letters of college recommendation?

“Some questions may be less important. What do I do about the chicken sandwich that is still in my locker? Some questions are personal. How do I turn in assignments and papers? Can I still talk to my counselor? Staying engaged in the lives of kids at this age is very, very important for both teaching staff and support staff. High schools are big, complex places, and there are dozens of ways to think about how we can use technology to stay in touch with kids.”

Tip #5) Be there for students who are struggling.

“Finally, I think we need to give thought to kids who are really struggling with this,” Burk said. “They have to know a confidential and reliable way to call for help if they need it. Depression can set in so quickly. They may be in an abusive situation. They may feel disconnected from a particular teacher, coach or counselor that was an important touchstone everyday.”

“They may feel cut off from friends. They may have been given full time childcare responsibilities when the childcare agency closed and parents are still working; so, now they have online school and small children to care for. How does that work? Parent(s) are now suddenly laid off, rent is due and food is low. That is real family pressure. How can we use technology to reach out and connect with our students most in need of help?”

Tip #6) Consider going audio-only.

Bright, who works in the COE’s Curriculum and Instruction Department, said, “Some school settings have (or will) implement synchronous, web-based learning with their students. This can be taxing for students and families in many ways, including the fact that not all students necessarily have good access to the required technology and infrastructure, as well as the fact that in many families, there are multiple folks competing for the same resources (such as electronic devices as well as bandwidth).

“And although it’s often wonderful to get to see the faces of our students, insisting that the camera be turned on is not necessarily best for all learners, for a variety of reasons. Providing flexibility on this is essential.”

For a list of educational, technological, and psychological resources, please visit the Teaching from Home resource page

Photos, in order of appearance, top to bottom:

Possible Portland State students visit campus. (PSU file photo)

Students from Hillsboro High School participate in the inaugural Ethics Bowl in 2015. (PSU file photo)

Emeritus Professor Pat Burk

Associate Professor Anita Bright

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