There are plenty of questions for distance-learning students, parents and teachers

For all concerned: Be easy on yourselves, experts say

PORT ORCHARD — Parents invariably think they know their kids, inside and out. But do they REALLY know them?

The test will surely come after just a few weeks of remote learning, which kicked off Wednesday for students who normally attend classes in South Kitsap School District buildings. Not only will parents get a taste of what normally goes on during the grind of traditional classroom teaching, but they will also be exposed to the little bumps in the road teachers are familiar with: fidgeting, boredom, misbehavior that presents itself when students either lose focus or get frustrated over a litany of minor issues.

While classroom teachers have their own tricks of the trade to get students back on track, parents supervising this novel attempt of pandemic learning at a distance might themselves find it frustrating while reorienting their kids to the task at hand.

We weren’t able to visit on Tuesday with some of South Kitsap’s instructors the day before the first day of school, due to a phone outage. But we did a survey of some educational experts who weighed in on this new, mandated “educational delivery” method. All of them acknowledged that this experience is new for everyone: students, parents and teachers alike.

Students, especially those in the kindergarten-through-third-grade primary education range, are likely nervous and uncertain about how their school day will progress — without having their friends sitting nearby, not getting a friendly pat on the back from their new teacher or having resource materials within arm’s reach.

For teachers, what comes to mind is a vision of trying to herd a roomful of cats from a laptop miles away. What teaching methods will be successful? How much time in front of a computer screen is too much time for their kids?

The Washington Post interviewed high school science teacher Margaret Lorentzen of Seattle. She said on her first day of classes last week that she noticed some small differences in communication via video, which taken separately, presented relatively minor issues. But combined, those differences were distracting and annoying.

Lorentzen said the latency, or lag time, of the audio signal can be disruptive. Visual cues can be missed and the habit of talking over people during a group discussion are limiting factors. She also misses being able to walk around the classroom to help answer students’ questions as they work on their lab experiments.

Still, the Seattle teacher said she’s finding some pleasure in this strange return to teaching.

“The best thing about today was actually seeing students. I think for many of them, they’re just so starved for any type of interaction outside their families,” Lorentzen told the Post reporter.

Students are finding the lay of their electronic campus to be a challenge. Accustomed to knowing the rules in a classroom setting, they can find it jarring being alone in front of a laptop during their school day. And they have plenty of questions: As in, do you turn off the camera when you head to the bathroom? What if your home WiFi goes out in the middle of your mathematics instruction? When are you allowed to speak, and how do you chat with an individual student?

Sonia Livingstone, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of “Parenting for a Digital Future,” said the process of socialization, especially for younger children, is problematic in a distance-learning setting.

“Real classrooms involve all kinds of interaction with the teacher and among the students, so that’s what teachers are finding so difficult to replicate online.”

Livingstone recommends teachers break up how they format their instruction during the day.

While having computer screens front and center during this time of distance learning is unavoidable, we can find ways to change teaching methods that clearly aren’t productive.

“There are no great solutions right now, and that’s really unfortunate,” said Josh Golin, executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “The people who are doing the most arguing — parents and teachers — it’s none of their faults. This is a virus that was mismanaged by our country.”

A Dallas teacher and parent, Sarah Perez, told the Post that the hardest part of this makeshift learning effort is seeing your children unhappy.

“There’s a lot going on and we need to calm down and just let things shake out instead of over-policing this whole situation and stressing out these young little lives,” Perez said. “There’s a way we can just be calm and offer grace, teachers to students and parents to teachers — all around. Let’s just take a deep breath.”

How can parents help — and stay out of the way?

But back to parents: what can they do to make remote learning more tolerable?

  • If it’s possible with your television setup, mirror your laptop screen to the big screen in the living room. It will widen the experience into a more wide-open space and provide a welcome relief from being scrunched in front of a laptop in a small bedroom or den.
  • Talk with your child about their schedule and find out if it’s presenting obstacles to learning, such as bringing on eye fatigue or frustration. Check-in with the teaching staff if it’s becoming a problem.
  • Encourage your child to use breaks in the day to stretch, walk the dog or do jumping jacks — anything that moves the body.
  • Respect your child’s privacy during class time. Reserve off-hours to voice your concerns or to give advice.
  • Let your child know that even though they are learning from home alone, the video session is still “school.” That means dressing appropriately for class and reserving eating and drinking for breaks and at lunch — just like when you are with 30 other students at a brick-and-mortar school building.