Age of Awareness
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Age of Awareness

Home Schooling and Learning Pods: Whom Do They Benefit? The Answer Might Surprise You. Really.

With COVID and the rising cases in select parts of the country, we are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty as we approach the start of the school year. That uncertainty applies whether we are talking about PreK or college.

Levels and Types of Uncertainty

The lack of certainty is operating an several levels. First, there is uncertainty as to whether schools will reopen — as brick and mortar institutions where students attend in person. Then, instead of returning to in person educational opportunity, some schools have determined to remain online, offering students only courses through the web, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Still other schools are considering some hybrid approach — some in person learning and some online learning.

Even for schools and colleges that have determined which approach to take, there is uncertainty as to how the selected approach will actually operate in real time. Consider these uncertainties: With respect to in person learning, it is unclear whether all teachers and all students will actually show up. And, if they appear, what protections will they have in place to be protected from the virus? Might some educators and students elect to stay at home? Educators could, in some instances, choose to retire. Some students might opt-out of education altogether if they are above the legal age for mandatory schooling. How will rooms be configured? How will testing be done? How will students and teachers fair psychologically? And, what if there is an outbreak of COVID among teachers/students? Will the whole school shut down? How about if there is a community outbreak or an outbreak in a teacher/student’s family? Might schools open and then close and then reopen and then close throughout the semester?

Can you hear a wee yipes?

In terms of online learning, will all students have access to the requisite hardware and software? Will children/adults all learn well in a virtual environment, finding the space and place (let alone the learning style) to enable quality content information? How savvy will we be at developing new ways to maximize engagement online, with augmented reality and new techniques for small group work? How can educators improve engagement with students — even through more “primitive” technologies like cell phone calling and clickers and texts? Can we improve online learning capabilities through new pedagogical approaches such as biofeedback or sensors or another technology to further learning?

Can you hear a wee yipes?

And for hybrid learning, how do we create structure and consistency and a sense of the whole when students are moving in and out of different learning spaces? How will teachers prepare for both in person and online learning simultaneously and what occurs if they have two in person sessions and two online sessions with different groups of students (small in number)? How many preps are fair and wise and doable? How will working families manage when students are in different locations for different hours on different days? And for families for more than one child, how complex will the learning schedule be if children are learning on different days? Who will provide childcare work on hours before/after school and at what cost?

Can you hear a wee yipes?

Are Learning Pods and Home Schooling the Answer?

A growing number of primarily middle and upper class families are considering a variety of alternatives to existing school options. They are considering at home schooling (with parents providing the teaching); they are considering learning pods (Covid-free pods) where small groups of children gather with a tutor/teacher who oversees their learning online (whether from their original school or elsewhere).

A plethora of recent articles have noted the disparate impact such decisions would have on education disparities. For families where one spouse is at home and can provide quality learning (say a PhD in physics who quits her job to educate her children) and other families that can search for and find amazing tutors/teachers for the home setting (perhaps moving weakly from house to house), these seem like positive learning experiences for children. (I for one am not in favor of parents as teachers of their own children.)

For less well-off parents, how will they replicate learning pods or quality home schooling? Will learning pods include children from less fiscally well off families (who may be diverse racially and ethnically)? Will the children in suburbs happily have learning one week a month in a housing project in the Bronx? And how will the housing project children get the learning pods with the best teachers?

Imagine the growth potential for students in quality pods where hands on learning and engagement are possible in small group settings with amazing educators? Imagine the use of nature. Imagine the use of the kitchen. Imagine the use of any number of items that could be purchased online for these students: microscopes, telescopes, art supplies. Imagine the books that could be read and the poetry that could be recited. Image the plays and songs and dances that could be performed for socially distanced parents or promoted on YouTube?

Can you hear a wee yipes?

Consider these Positive Potentialities

I get the problems with both what we may have in the larger educational landscape and the disparate outcomes that will be engendered by learning pods held by affluent, college educated families. I can envision the growing divide among children, something that will be invoke reckoning post-COVID’s crisis (whenever that may be).

But, I think there are ways of creating positives. For real. Learning pods do not necessarily have to be created just by wealthier families in a shared neighborhood with tree lined streets. Seriously.

What if organizations created learning pods? What if schools of education offered amazing instructors for these pods with innovative learning? What if some recent college grads took to leading pods of children of differing ages and stages at Y’s or community centers or Houses of Worship? These pods could happen with small groups of children/students in a myriad of settings. Safely done. Social distanced. Wearing masks.

There could also be groups that offered amazing new approaches for the learning pods. Ideas for creative engagement. Ideas for helping students develop auditory skills that benefit online learning. Ideas for using trauma responsive strategies. Ideas for peaceful protests. Ideas for social community engagement. Ideas for a pod garden with good food to share.

Then, if these pods are successful, maybe we will have developed new ways of teaching and learning whenever it is we return to public/private school for students. Call these learning pods beta sites for new types of educational creativity and approaches. Study what happens in the pods where there is a focus on learning and engagement and not on test scores. Ponder the value of small group learning. Consider whether the learning tools we use now are optimal and what could replace them.

And, reflect on all the places the pods could be located where learning now does not happen or does not happen optimally. Hospitals. Doctors offices. Business offices (with space because of teleworking). The list of location is endless. And, picture the joy of students learning — music, dance, laughter, experimentation.

A Bottom Line in a New Place

Bottom line: we have a ready made chance to be bold and creative. We have an opportunity to try new things. And, might there be folks willing to teach a learning pod who otherwise might not want to teach in a school setting? And how will this be paid for? Contributions on a sliding scale from families, organizational support from Y’s and other similar organizations, donations from the private sector, both individual and corporate, fundraisers?

Stated another way, learning pods done in ways that recognize ALL our children could benefit Education with a capital E. Surprisingly, they could (with the right pieces and perspectives and priorities) benefit ALL our students. That answer will shock those who think the value of learning pods as an answer to COVID is confined to the well-to-do. Think again. Think differently. Learning pods have broader potential than we have recognized.

P.S. I have a new wordplay book that would work well in classrooms and learning pods. It operates as a trauma responsive tool and it operates to lower the autonomic nervous system. It works on the principle that one can laugh to learn (Laugh2Learn), especially if teachers are ready and willing to engage in word play themselves. Everyone can flub up a tongue twister and we can learn lots from trying.

And this book works to augment my new adult book, Trauma Doesn’t Stop at the School Door. www.tcpress.com/karen-gross.

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Karen Gross

Karen Gross

Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor