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Online Learning: How to Help Middle School Students Develop Crucial Skills This Year

For tweens and young teens, navigating distance learning this school year will require an array of skills they might not yet have developed, writes middle school director and author Jody Passanisi for MiddleWeb. Without the rules and routines of a physical classroom—the external “regulatory systems” that allow kids this age to learn from watching peers and teachers—middle school students will need extra help to build up the self-regulatory skills needed to “set themselves up for success physically, materially, and emotionally.”

Even adults struggle to focus, avoid distractions, and keep track of schedules and time when working from home. Yet, Passanisi notes, “we’re asking adolescents to perform in similar ways without the life skills—the self-knowledge that comes with time and age—and without a fully developed frontal lobe which helps us adults do these things on our own.”

Based on observations and feedback gleaned by educators at her school during the months of distance learning last spring, Passanisi addresses skills middle school students might struggle with during distance learning and offers suggestions for how teachers can help.

Fostering Valuable Skills in Middle School

Teach time awareness: Becoming aware of the passage of time—especially without the external assists of bell schedules or seeing peers hustle to class—is tough for kids when they’re learning from home.

Guide students to avoid distractions: During the isolation of the pandemic, technology that helps kids stay in touch and socialize is great—but it can also become a distraction during class. Try setting up a STEM lesson where kids “measure their own reaction times or retention rates when multitasking and not multitasking,” Passanisi suggests. “When students figure this stuff out themselves, they are more likely to respond favorably to requests to pay attention.”

Lead students to build connections: For some kids, distance learning “caused a retreat into themselves” with factors such as isolation, difficulties at home, or pandemic-related anxiety making it difficult to stay connected or reach out for help. “For those students who seemed to slip through the cracks anyway, we began [during distance learning in the spring] keeping very close tabs on them through one-to-one contacts,” Passanisi writes.

Help kids get organized: Ask students to create their own learning space at home, if that’s possible, so that “within the confines and capacities of their own unique living circumstances,” kids have a spot “that feels like school,” Passanisi writes.

Boost students’ self-motivation: The structure of in-person school and the joy of socializing with peers provide external motivations to learn, and without them, staying motivated can be tough. Teachers can help by “connecting what [students] learn to what matters now… what is going on in the world, what they are experiencing at home, and how they can make a difference,” Passanisi suggests.

Build in opportunities for self-advocacy: Advocating for themselves is hard for many students—and it’s even harder during online learning. Passanisi suggests setting up conditions for self-advocacy by, for instance, allowing time and space for kids to ask questions and making sure there’s “equity and parity in the voices that are heard.

Excerpted from “How to Help Middle School Students Develop Crucial Skills This Year,” written by Jody Passanisi director of middle school at Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School in Palo Alto, California.  Read the full article in Edutopia for more details on each of Passanisi’s recommendations.

Source: Edutopia | How to Help Middle School Students Develop Crucial Skills This Year, https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-help-middle-school-students-develop-crucial-skills-year | © 2020 George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia, a program of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a trusted source shining a spotlight on what works in education.

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