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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

8 Things I Learned About Distance Learning Simply by Asking My Children

There are two questions that every parent asks and then immediately regrets: How was school? And, as a follow up, What did you learn today?

The answer to the first question is invariably Ok, but this is only teenage code for I really don’t want this conversation to continue, so let’s just leave it there.

The second question, for the few that get this far, is invariably greeted with a quiet shrug of the shoulders or, in the best of worlds, two words that are perfectly designed to deny the opportunity for any further interrogation: Nothing much.

A photograph of a family saying cheers with their drinks over dinner
How was school? What did you learn today? Two questions that children find impossibly difficult to answer

Two months into distance learning for the three children in our house, I’ve had to give up asking the first question on account that it would be nothing short of asking my children, How was your bedroom today?

So I decided to mix things up and invent some new questions.

Looking back on two months away from campus, what do you miss the most?

How have you changed as a learner?

In what ways has distance learning made you a better learner?

What is important to you right now?

As you think about the rest of this year, and next year, what are you most afraid of?

As you look back on the last two months, what are you most proud of?

And, just to avoid an overly intense dinner time chat, I sent an email and patiently waited for a reply.

Within a matter of hours, I received a series of honest, articulate, considered replies - all of which gave me insight into this thing we’ve labelled and packaged up, as if any of us actually understood what it was until just a few weeks ago.

So here are 8 things I’ve learned in the past 24 hours, just by asking the real experts who have all this time been working in the rooms above my head.

1. They are taking their learning seriously: “Personally I don’t believe that distance learning has made me a better learner.”; “I'm proud of my school work and how I am able to get better grades now than when I was actually on campus.” “Distance learning has made me a better learner by making me realise that I should pay more attention in class.”

2. They have an increased and profound sense of gratitude for their school: “I think this situation has made me realize how lucky I am to actually be able to go to school and how that when we are back on campus I feel I will feel more grateful for everything I have at school.”

3. They have all lost something: “I miss a lot of things but what I miss most is hanging out with my friends and talking to them.”; “The thing I think I miss the most from campus is just seeing everyone and not only friends but also people that you don't particularly know, I miss being able to sit on the lower field on a sunny day after lunch with my friends, I miss laughing with my friends in class.”

4. Real learning is taking place in the spaces in between structured lessons: “I find myself to be most proud of the way I am dealing with my breaks, as well as my free time. Personally I am very proud of myself for finding active things to do while maintaining good habits to keep myself from being lazy.”; “I am most proud of the fact that I have picked up some new hobbies like editing videos.”

5. Learning is more effective when the pace is slowed: “Now that we are not actually in school I feel like the quality of my work is a lot better because now I have so much more time and I don't feel like I am rushing things left and right.”; “I have changed as a learner by being more mature realising that my goal is not just to finish my work and that I shouldn't rush through it.”

6. Social distancing has led to a greater sense of family: “Often we kids decide to do things that exclude our family. But when spending family time together, it ensures that a deep, strong, family bond develops.”; “Right now I'd say the most important thing is making sure that I am healthy and that my family is healthy.”; “I'm proud of quite a lot of things actually. One of them is that during this time I have helped out a lot with my family at home and I think it has taught me that it is good to be together.”

7. Success is defined in terms of autonomy and self-control: “Quarantine has also taught me independence which I think is a good thing because it teaches me how to do things alone and figure things out by myself.”; “I have changed as a learner during the quarantine ... I have grown to be more independent with myself.”

8. Fear is never far away: “I am also afraid of losing contact with people I love.”; “Personally I am most afraid of failing next year. I am afraid that the teaching system isn't working and that, within a heartbeat, the time will fly by ... making it harder than expected.”; “I'm most afraid that when we start school again next year, everything will be so different but I want it to stay the same.”

Distance learning is a dark art that few of us understand, even those of us who work in schools. But if anyone should ask me over dinner tonight, What did you learn today?, I have my answer ready.



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