Balancing Act: Remote Learning in Middle School
While many families are home together due to “Safer at Home” orders, some are finding it challenging to keep children motivated to participate in remote learning. Families of middle school students are no exception, so the Pasadena Education Network (PEN) sought out advice from Frances Milnes, a 6th Grade English/Language Arts, Social Studies teacher at Washington STEAM Multilingual Academy (WSMA).
In addition to being a teacher, Milnes is the parent of a middle schooler, so she knows firsthand the unique challenges that remote learning presents for families. What gets her through each day is her philosophy in teaching and in life, which she says is fairly simple…to find balance in all you do.
Balancing structure with flexibility
A student’s daily schedule typically includes school work, physical activity, creative time, social time, and frequent breaks. “Providing students with familiar structures and routines brings them to a place of stability in an unstable world,” Milnes shares. In addition to providing a predictable class schedule for her students, Milnes is incorporating familiar routines that her 6th graders would experience in the classroom, such as practicing daily organizational skills.
While structure and routines are beneficial, it’s just as important to provide some flexibility and choice. For example, parents of middle and high school students may give students some ownership in managing their schedule and breaks.
“What I’ve found is that negotiations are necessary,” says Milnes from a parent perspective. “[My daughter] knows she can have breaks during her school days, and she takes them. She knows that I’m working as well, interacting with students while she is doing her work, and she is respectful of that. She knows she can come to me and I will do my best to help her with her work, but I also give her choices.” Allowing students to manage their own schedules may help families more easily navigate this new learning scenario.
Balancing schoolwork with non-academic activities
It’s important for families to include time each day to connect with each other to maintain healthy, positive relationships. “We spend time together doing nonacademic activities,” Milnes shares of her routines with her daughter. “We like to play games, watch movies, take walks, and have more time to discuss things. I ask her about her video games, and encourage her to contact her school friends. It’s not perfect, but it never was. We all just need to take it one day at a time.” Teachers like Milnes are also finding ways to incorporate fun activities into lessons to maintain valuable connections with their students.
Balancing expectations with empathy
Milnes emphasizes the importance of continued high expectations for her daughter’s as well as her students’ personal growth and development. She believes, however, that these expectations might look different during remote learning as teachers and parents adapt to meet the urgent needs of students and families.
“I have received multiple emails from students apologizing for late work. There is no late work in remote learning. We can’t imagine what some of our students are dealing with at home. Many of my students have younger siblings and they have had to become babysitters in this pandemic. They are not always available during normal school hours.” Parents too, may find that their expectations and priorities are shifting during the Coronavirus pandemic and find comfort in knowing they are not alone.