Managing the coronavirus curveball in your final year of school
Miriam Tanti has seen firsthand just how gruelling the final year of high school is for teenage students.
“It’s an extremely tough year and a lot of hard work,” says Associate Professor Tanti, an educator and researcher whose son completed the Higher School Certificate in 2019.
“I’ve seen how difficult it is in normal circumstances, and I really empathise with those students and parents going through Year 12 during the pandemic.”
But she also believes that current-day students – who are adept at using technology as a learning tool – are better armed than previous generations to handle the situation.
In recent years, schools have been equipping students with digital know-how so they can engage with technology in a purposeful and educational way.
“Lots of schools have learning management systems where all of the resources and content is uploaded, and students complete work and submit assessments through this system,” she says.
“So while remote learning might be really different to a classroom environment, the medium is something these students are really familiar with.”
That’s not to say that students won’t have difficulty dealing with the changes the pandemic has forced on them.
As well as the move to remote learning, teenagers face uncertainty about what lies ahead. With state and federal education departments scrambling to respond to the pandemic, students are caught in a fluid situation, with things changing rapidly.
They’re also missing out on the social aspect of school: the group interaction in a classroom, seeing friends face-to-face both in and out of school, and engaging in extra-curricular activities like sports, drama and music and potentially school formals and other social events.
“These are rites of passage that mark the final school year, and you can't exactly have a virtual school formal or a virtual carnival – there is simply no replacement,” Professor Tanti says.
“This lack of face-to-face connection with peers will be the biggest issue for some teenagers, and in some ways it’s just as important as the content that’s being delivered.
“Alongside that, the uncertainty is a major issue, especially for senior students. Things are changing on a daily basis so we don’t really know what exam time is going to look like, and that’s having a huge impact.”
Looking for the positives
The best way to manage uncertainty, says Professor Tanti, is to focus on that which hasn’t changed.
“This is an extraordinary situation and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed, so it’s important that parents help their teens to focus on the things that are within their control,” she says.
“Teachers are still committed to providing students with a high quality education through this period. They’re developing engaging classes and resources just as they normally would, and although the medium is different, the content remains the same.
“If you can take on a positive attitude and have a flexible and open mindset, you can actually start to use the situation your advantage.”
One of the main positives to come from remote learning is the flexibility and control it offers.
Even in previous years, students have had the option of taking certain subjects by correspondence, enabling them to learn in an online environment.
“My son elected to do this with one of his subjects last year, and he preferred it because it gave him greater flexibility, and he was able to connect with experts,” Professor Tanti says. “It allowed him to focus without the normal distractions of a classroom, and it made the transition to university study a smoother one.”
Remote learning also gives students the opportunity to choose what they learn and how they learn it.
“If you’re a visual learner, you may wish to look at a series of images or watch a video; if you’re an auditory learner, you might listen to a podcast; and if you prefer the text, then you can read the text,” she says.
“You can also control the pace of your learning, so you might watch a video explanation over and over until you fully understand it. You can’t do that with a teacher explaining something in the classroom.”
The move to online learning might also give individual students more one-on-one time with educators, because they’re not competing with their classmates for their teacher’s attention.
Early feedback from students is that they’ve found teachers are more accessible through email, discussion forums and video conferencing.
“These online forums and drop-in sessions facilitate the proper discussion of issues, so if you post a question, not only will your teachers answer, but your peers may also help. That makes learning far more personalised.”
Eyes on the prize
Keeping focused has proved difficult for many of us amid the turmoil of the pandemic, and this is also the case for students.
Much of the advice given to teens in their final year of school still applies: have a structure and a plan; set achievable study goals; stay well rested and well fed; and make time for exercise and relaxation.
Perhaps one of the toughest parts of learning from home will be maintaining a good level of motivation and self-discipline.
“Waking up five minutes before your first class and engaging from bed while still in your pyjamas isn’t conducive to study,” Professor Tanti says.
“You’ve got to start the day as you normally would, and that means getting up and going through your normal morning routine, so that you’re well prepared to participate.
“Once you’re ready to go, play an active role in the learning process by contributing to discussions and asking questions or taking notes so you can ask questions later.”
And as well as study, teenagers need to use technology to stay in touch with their friends.
“Social distancing doesn’t mean social disconnection, so it’s important to stay connected with friends via social media, or set up a study group via Zoom so you can work together and support each other, collaborate and keep each other accountable,” she says. “This is more important than ever during these times.”
Professor Tanti has compiled seven tips for learning online through the pandemic. We list them here:
1. MORNING ROUTINE: It’s important to start the day as you normally would – get up, shower, get changed, comb your hair, have breakfast and go for a walk if you have time.
2. LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: You don’t want to undertake studies five minutes after waking up and/or from bed. Find a quiet place in the house – a room with a door that you can close. The main living area or kitchen is not ideal.
3. REMOVE DISTRACTIONS: Remove any potential distractions, and this includes your mobile phone. Put it in airplane mode.
4. TECHNOLOGY: Make sure you’re aware of the technology required and test the audio and video before your online class.
5. WHERE TO BEGIN EACH DAY: Start the day by reviewing emails received from teachers or checking in to the learning management system.
6. ACTIVELY PARTICIPATE: Record notes, answer questions and contribute answers by using the audio feature on online forums and discussions. Record any questions you have and then make sure you ask them when given the opportunity
7. POSITIVE MINDSET: Most importantly, you’ll need a positive attitude and a flexible and open mindset. This type of learning is different not just for you, but also for your teachers.
As the Acting Head of ACU’s School of Education in NSW and the ACT, Associate Professor Miriam Tanti prepares pre-service teachers to teach in contemporary learning environments, through the meaningful integration of digital technologies.
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