Though remote learning has brought many challenges, some students seem to be thriving in the new circumstances. What can we learn from them?
All school year, Montenique Woodard’s seventh period, her last class of the day, has been her hardest. “I feel like I don’t know what to do with them,” she said of her middle school science class when Edutopia first talked to her back in the fall. One boy in particular, the “class clown,” was a persistent challenge, and his behavior influenced his 23 peers, 15 of whom are boys.
But reconnecting months later during the coronavirus closures, Woodard shared some surprising news: the same boy was “thriving” during remote learning. “I think not having those everyday distractions in school has really allowed for kids like him to focus on the work and not necessarily all the social things going on because some kids can’t separate that out,” said Woodard, who teaches in Washington, D.C.
We’ve been hearing that a lot. Increasingly, teachers in our audience are reporting that a handful of their students—shy kids, hyperactive kids, highly creative kids—are suddenly doing better with remote learning than they were doing in the physical classroom. “It’s been awesome to see some of my kids finally find their niche in education,” said Holli Ross, a first-year high school teacher in northern California, echoing the sentiments of dozens of teachers we’ve heard from.
That’s not to say it’s the norm. Many students are struggling to adapt to remote learning: Digital access and connectivity remain a pervasive equity issue; stay-at-home orders have magnified existing problems in familial dynamics; and, universally, teachers and students grapple with how to replicate the engagement and discourse from an in-person classroom.
But it’s not a tiny handful, either, and the unplanned break from the physical classroom may be bringing to light hidden reasons some kids struggle while others succeed. In the responses we gathered from our educators, we found recurring themes—like social situations and the inflexible bell schedule—that simply don’t work well for all kids. For a few of the teachers, at least, it’s inspired them to consider making permanent changes when they return to the classroom.