By: Emily Mao — School News Editor
With the school adopting a hybrid learning model, teachers and students alike had to rapidly adjust to the changes in their learning environment for the 2020-2021 school year. Students who learned in person and students who learned remotely had vastly different experiences and developed different challenges as the school year progressed. To help teachers better understand those challenges, seniors Tanvi Mittal and Samantha Sherman developed a survey that went out to the student body back in December 2020.
With 547 responses across grade levels, the survey covered topics such as in-person vs. remote learning, break-out rooms, teaching methods, and paying attention during class.
A majority of students found that in-person learning was the most effective form of learning because being in the presence of other students and teachers kept them motivated and accountable. However, on a scale of 1 to 5 of how challenging it was to pay attention in class, 70.7% of students answered 3+. The top two reasons for this were class length and not enough breaks/sitting for too long. The presence of other distractions was also a large contributor to the inability to pay attention.
For teaching methods, there was no consensus among students as to which type was the most effective. Preferences varied from student to student, but overall, students agreed that increasing the variety of teaching methods would help them retain more information and stay engaged.
The results of this survey were presented to teachers in early February in a faculty meeting. “Their overall impressions of the results were positive, and we received a large amount of thank yous and appreciation messages from teachers,” said Sherman.
“The teachers wanted a student panel because they had questions after they could thoroughly look through the presentation and additional comments,” added Sherman. Sherman and Mittal presented the idea to the Student Council, and students were very receptive. Students from a mix of cohorts and grades were chosen to participate in the panel and prepared answers to the questions the teachers created.
The topics covered during the panel discussions were environment, pedagogy, and improvements to in-person environments.
Early in the discussion, students focused on the positives of online learning–including decreased testing, spaced out homework, and less social anxiety. More specifically, students found that teachers are adopting the “students are at school to learn, not just to take tests,” philosophy more so than in past years, leading to a decrease in tests and shorter tests overall.
Junior Destiny Prioleau says that online school gave her more access to teachers and that online school helped her build closer connections with teachers.
Additionally, the schedule of having each class three times per week has given students multiple days to work on assignments and improve their ability to space out their workload. “Last year, we met with almost every class every day, and most homework assignments were due the next day, but this year we have multiple days to work on each assignment and to study for tests,” said junior Ben Levinson.
While having fewer tests overall has helped relieve some stress, testing is not avoidable for students taking AP tests and MCAS. Freshman Angel Liang explained that many freshmen do not feel prepared because many teachers who used to teach freshmen have taken leaves during the school year. As a result, they have more substitute teachers, learn slower, and do not learn as in-depth as they would like. “I don’t need assessments to tell me that I’m not learning as much,” Liang said.
Seniors and juniors who have the most experience with teaching styles at Sharon High School found that while lectures are the most productive and efficient in terms of sheer quantity for teaching new information, their effectiveness diminishes when teachers lecture for extended periods.
The student panel agreed that teachers needed to intersperse lectures with other activities to keep students engaged. Additionally, breakout rooms were good for group work only when expectations and guidelines were made clear. They explained that breakout rooms were also more effective when students could choose their groups to make them more comfortable speaking and participating.
The section of the panel with the most student responses was when they were asked about the social-emotional aspect of school this year. Every grade had its own unique set of challenges for coping with the loss of a school year and it was eye-opening for students and teachers alike to hear these challenges expressed out loud.
Freshman Nishka Joshi says that the enjoyment of going to school was gone because she could no longer see friends and that freshmen were not fully incorporated into the school community.
Sophomore Zach Loomis says that the hardest part for him was that he was still learning about the school and himself, but it didn’t feel the same as in past years. He felt like he missed out on having authentic experiences.
Junior Emily Dubin spoke about decreased attention span and the increase of substance abuse among high schoolers.
Senior Brynne Aidlin-Perlman expressed the frustration of the loss of her senior year. “It was supposed to be a year with huge milestones, celebrations, and closure, and it is heartbreaking to lose all of it because of the pandemic,” said Aidlin-Perlman.
Despite the difficulties of this school year, students were optimistic about the panel and glad it happened. As soon as the next week, students already saw improvements in their classes, including more varied activities and the option to pick breakout rooms.
“I have already begun to make some changes by using online tools and other interactive platforms like Pear Deck to help my students stay focused during class,” said Spanish teacher Mr. Christopher Brillant. He also says he tries to incorporate check-ins at the beginning of class to help create a sense of community within his classroom.
“I think it’s important to hear student voices during a very challenging time for everyone. Your thoughtful comments and suggestions are most welcome and necessary for us to continue to make sure we are reaching as many students as possible,” said Brillant.
Other teachers explained how the panel helped them understand students’ perspectives. “Educators have adjusted much of what we do this year, and listening to the panel provided an opportunity for me to reflect on my work,” said English teacher Mrs. KristineWeishaar.
Even the student panelists were able to learn from their peers from the much-needed connection between students of all grade levels. “I did find it very interesting to hear from the perspectives of some freshmen. The freshmen this year are going through a completely different experience than a normal freshman year, and it was interesting to hear about their challenges,” said Levinson.
In an isolating year, teachers and students alike are left scrambling to make things work. The more clarity and communication between them, the better this school year will be. “Overall, I think the survey was helpful because it was a conversation starter since many students struggled this year. The survey allowed us to present the facts and suggestions to the teachers for there to be an improvement,” Sherman said.