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Teaching Colleges Must Partner with Communities to Fight Twin Pandemics

The following article is an excerpt from Inspire Magazine and is reprinted with permission.

Woman reading book to students outdoorsAfter schools shut down in March due to COVID-19, teacher Sarah Thornburg and her team tackled remote teaching with gusto.

“We were like, ‘Let’s go.’ We found out, not only could we not teach the way that we wanted, but we shouldn’t,” the Columbus, Ohio, teacher said. “Everything had to slow down and focus not on content but on (students’) mental well-being.”

Some high-schoolers doubled work hours to pay bills. Some feared they would expose grandparents to the virus. Families lost businesses.

“That’s a burden that’s incredible for anybody to have, much less for a 15-year-old to deal with,” Thornburg said. “You can’t teach a child who’s completely freaking out about, ‘Are we going to lose our home?’ That was eye-opening.”

Fear about violence against Black Americans intensified anxieties. Students may not have an outlet for those fears, said John Marschhausen, superintendent at Hilliard City Schools and superintendent-in-residence at Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology.

“We’ve got to get our staff ready to have these conversations, and it doesn’t matter the grade level or the subject. If a kid … wants to talk about what it’s like to be Black in Hilliard…we’ve got to be ready,” he said.

In response, the college’s Racial Justice and Equity Task Force developed a training module on implicit and institutional bias in schools, tailored to K-12 educators. Thousands of educators from six Ohio districts participated.

The college’s Reopening Task Force also partnered with schools to implement reopening plans. Those stressed making student engagement a priority for online learning. A study by Associate Professor Tzu-Jung Lin will do just that, developing a social studies curriculum for remote and blended learning that fosters discussion and deepens students’ understanding of civic issues.

Virtual morning meetings using break-out rooms allow critical small-group discussions, even among young students. Providing students online, non-instructional time together forges personal connections, professors Eric Anderman and Kui Xie wrote in August.

Almost no research exists on how to best teach children remotely because experts believe most children learn better in person. But teaching adults online offers clues.

Weaving curriculum into activities that interest children—and offering online assets to underscore learning—gets the job done. For distracted first-graders in Hilliard, Pet Week unleashed students’ enthusiasm for writing and creating videos about animals.

Bexley Middle School algebra students worked in teams designing roller coasters using online graphing software. 

“Student submissions were still wonderful, creative and interesting,” teacher Mark Frank said. 

Deep learning happens at even young ages if you pose the right questions, said Theodore Chao, associate professor of STEM education. That inquiry-based learning meshes well with online instruction. 

“Instead of telling a student what to … do and having (them) memorize things, open up with a really deep inquiry-oriented question, and then have them…explore it,” Chao said.

College experts recommend expanded professional development about social emotional learning and remote teaching.  Such instruction is critical to leveling the deep furrows that the twin crises have created in education.

Read full article.

Robin Chenoweth is the communications specialist at The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology.


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