LEARNING: Old Methods vs. New

Collaborator: Brittany Harlow
Published: 11/23/2020, 8:08 AM
Edited: 03/11/2021, 10:22 AM
(TULSA, Okla.) “When it’s safe, we’ll return.” LeeAnne Jimenez is vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, a union for Tulsa Public Schools teachers. She’s been a teacher for 24 years, teaching mostly third through fifth grade. “Teachers are very concerned for their own health and safety, returning to the classroom,” Jimenez said. “About 60 percent of teachers have reached out asking for us to advocate for them not returning to the classroom.” The COVID-19 pandemic has upended learning. Due to safety concerns, many districts nationwide have opted to start the school year in virtual and distance learning, or at the very least, provide those options. Jimenez said many of their teachers aren’t ready to go back. “They've reached out and said, I have twenty-four kids in a small classroom,” Jimenez said. “I can't socially distance. So, TCTA reminds them about everything they CAN do. Wash their hands frequently, have sanitizer on hand that’s at least 60 percent alcohol, encourage students to keep their areas clean, and make sure the air inside the classroom is circulating. But, Jimenez said, it turns out, catching COVID at school isn’t the main cause of spread for students. Its children catching it outside of school, and showing up with it. “The reason a lot of schools are transitioning back to distance learning is not because a lot of students have it, but because there's been exposure outside of the classroom and that impacts the time in the classroom,” Jimenez said. TPS is moving in the other direction, transitioning students back to in-person learning. Pre-K through third grade began in-person classes in November, with the option for families to stay in distance learning if they wanted to. Students in grades 4, 5, and 6 will return on November 30. Students in middle, junior high, and high school will return to in-person classes on January 4. Why is the district pushing to go back to in-person learning, despite rising cases in Tulsa County? “Believe it or not, the social, emotional well-being of students is what the district is trying to focus on right now, and that's the reason they're citing for coming back into the classroom and moving away from the distance learning,” Jimenez said. “Because the children need the interaction.” Experts like child development specialist Dr. Barbara Sorrels say social emotional learning has only begun to be prioritized in the classroom in recent years, and there’s a lot more that needs to be done to improve learning in general. “We continue to do school the same way we did school 100 years ago,” Sorrels told VNN. “We know what they need. It's not rocket science, neuroscience and child development tell us what children need. But we ignore that information.” She said the ways in which children are taught are outdated. “Our old traditional believes that children learn best through sitting a desk through didactic forms of teaching,” Sorrels said. “Teacher driven curriculum that often is just memorizing a bunch of irrelevant facts. The sage on stage who pours knowledge into your head. We know that that's not how children think. We know that that's not how the brain works.” Sorrels said learning isn’t about sitting. It needs to be active, experimental. And that learning should involve play, capitalizing on the interests of children while being relevant to their lives. “Children learn through making connections to their lives, what they already know,” Sorrels said. “The brain is driven to make meaning. The brain is driven to figure out how the world works and give giving them opportunities for that. Hands-On interaction.”
For those teaching students through distance or virtual learning, reality has moved even further from that ideal education. “It’s hard to teach in a play-based method when you're sitting in front of a computer screen and when your children are not in the same room,” Jimenez said. “A lot of our teaching population is of the not tech savvy age range, and so they were having to learn in a manner that was not natural to them.” “Digital learning is natural to our students. They're flying by. It's not natural to a lot of our teachers.” Not only have teachers had to learn how to become tech savvy quick, they’re having to keep up with constant changes, while managing classes of 20 to 40 students. Some of whom aren’t even showing up. There are state standards that must be followed. And TPS standards are even more demanding. “They're more rigorous than what the state has put as a minimum for standards,” Jimenez said. Jimenez told us TPS is filled with “social justice warriors”, who want to make sure the curriculum they are teaching is culturally relevant to every student. With state standards designed from a “majority gender, majority cultural viewpoint”, that makes covering all of the bases that much harder for teachers in their district. Parents across the U.S. are feeling the pressure, too. Pew Research Center surveyed more than 2,500 parents of school-age children last month. The majority of them expressed concern about their children falling behind in school because of disruptions caused by the pandemic. Three-in-ten said they were very concerned. And parents with lower incomes were more likely than middle-income and upper-income parents to express that concern. The survey also found that seven out of ten parents whose children are getting online instruction said an adult at home needed to provide more instruction or resources than what the school was providing. Many parents said they were more concerned about various aspects of their children’s lives, like having too much screen time and social well-being, since the coronavirus outbreak. Read the full results of the study here: https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/10/29/most-parents-of-k-12-students-learning-online-worry-about-them-falling-behind/ Jimenez said people are starting to realize how much society relies on school for more than just academic education. “This pandemic has brought forth the need for innovation and the need for possibly restructuring our entire system,” Jimenez said. “Teaching is so much more than just matching standards and getting academic content from one place to another, it's also about building those relationships and noticing those things for children to help them grow and thrive.” Coming up next, the third and final installment of VNN’s LEARNING series “How to Be Better” will detail the updates necessary to truly help students thrive, and how one Oklahoma lawmaker is working to make them happen. Want to catch up on Part 1? Click here: https://app.verifiednews.network/articles/share/1475 The Oklahoma Media Center is a collaborative of 18 Oklahoma newsrooms that includes print, broadcast and digital partners. The OMC’s first project is Changing Course: Education & COVID. This story is part of that effort.


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