What Should We Do When Schools Are Closed?

Answering this question requires us to realize what is both important and doable in these circumstances. I am both a parent and a professor so I have some experience in pedagogy. Not every parent has this background but most parents have spent some time inside a classroom. This pandemic can indeed be challenging for continuity in learning for one reason: How we communicate. We could all push our children to learn. That is easy. We simply play "cop": Force our children to do schoolwork. This is not what good teachers do inside their classrooms. Good teachers invite their students to learn. It is not by force but by encouragement. And encouragement requires feedback. Feedback, of course, involves a clear assessment of learning. Children like anyone given a task need to know if they are accomplishing something. It is this part where every child still needs his or her teacher at school. And we should not be assigning work on which we cannot provide feedback. This cannot be busy work. It has to be meaningful.

Since I am a professor, I am continuing the course I teach via distance learning. I give lectures through Zoom. These are both live and recorded since I have students who are not just in a different time zone but are currently residing in a different continent. Slides that I use are posted on a blog called "General Chemistry". We have online homework where I am able to get an idea of where my students currently stand. For example, I have the following two questions in a 20-question homework. One question looks okay:

While another may need more work.

The students in my class have had one exam and the class average was more than ninety percent. These are lessons that are not just important, but are doable. Distance learning comes with new challenges. Students need to know not just the topic but also the format or how they write subscripts, superscripts, symbols, and structures. In this case, instructions have to be clear. The last thing a child needs at this time is frustration. In addition to Zoom lectures, I also hold office hours three times a week. During some of these office hours, a student and I sometimes have conversations outside of chemistry. Communication is both important and doable. Social interaction is greatly hampered by the measures put in place to curb the spread of the novel corona virus. Yet, we can do this with the technology that is available. My daughter, the other day, received a postcard from one of her classmates. Even with old technology, we can still keep in touch.

We must look at distance learning simply as a different way to communicate. What leads to learning remains the same, how we communicate, and how we support the learning of our children. There is no research out there that tells us how effective learning is during a pandemic but we do not need research to tell us that these two things are key: important and doable. And lastly, it is two-way. Communication is crucial.