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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Online learning issues

I have two children, one in Grade Six and one in Grade Two,” says a mother we call Mae, who runs a family business. “Each has his own desk and his own room, but they still get distracted. How can they learn? I cannot imagine them sitting in front of the computer for the whole day.”

Neither can I. No one, not even programmers or analysts, should sit in front of the screen for most of the day. Aside from eyestrain, headache and backache, constant screen exposure harms developing brains, starting with possible links to attention problems.

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But no school requires children to be in front of the screen for hours. In my college classes, we spend at most 1.5 hours live online (per subject), with brief teacher demonstrations interspersed with student problem solving.

Students lucky enough to have tablets use them to show solutions on the Zoom whiteboard. Other students scribble on paper projected in front of their laptop camera, and this works just as well.

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For younger students, class screens are a lot less. Seve­ral grade schools have 20- to 30-minute classes per subject, with only three to four subjects a day and with breaks in between classes. Online school ends by noon or early afternoon.

I do not know of any school that requires students to be online from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every single day. Frankly, it is the other way around: students may tell their parents that schoolwork requires them to be online the whole day (and night).

This is not true.

Most learning is still expected to be done offline. In math, problems are best practiced with pen and paper. The act of writing down the givens, practicing the procedures, analyzing the equations, attemp­ting the solutions—all depend on regular coordination between the brain and the hand.

Students first study and then do exercises from the printed textbook or online, which can also be printed for offline study.

Conscientious students do exercises for three or four hours daily; unfortunately, others tend to cram at the last minute.

But these habits cannot be blamed on the pandemic. These have been developed (or not) for decades. Aside from a workable routine, effective learning habits include prioritizing effort over ability, self-regulating with regard to gadgets, setting tangible and specific goals.

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See our studies of student achievers and their families in “Growing up wired” and “Helping our children do well in school,” available at the Anvil Publishing site.

Mae, your children are online for a limited period for live classes. Ask them to print assignments to work on afterwards. Then close the Wi-Fi, and train them to study offline for the rest of the day, with no gadgets open.

Your children have the luxury of separate rooms to minimize distractions. But not everyone has private space. Earphones work well, so each individual can focus on his task while still in the same room with the family.

Ultimately, we need to learn to focus despite distractions. As a child, I grew up in a compound with an extended family and a riot of noise. So today, without headphones, I can focus on technical complex tasks even while my husband is giving a webinar, our dog is barking, the helper is playing her radio, all at the same time.

Though our family is much smaller now, my son has been raised in the same way.

In our book “Home Work 2,” Scott says: “in school and at work, we will always be faced with distractions. Developing the power to say no to present distractions is much more power­ful than being sheltered from them. This is something all of us kids have to learn by ourselves—painfully, if needed.”

Discuss a doable routine for everyone in the family, given gadget and schedule constraints. In my class, online exam schedules (only two for this semester, and each at most an hour long) are announced on the first day.

Students tell their parents in advance not to schedule meetings during exams, so the Wi-Fi is dedicated to them. To date, all my students (including those with spotty net access) have successfully taken online tests.

My son and I answer common questions on study habits, learning and growing up in “Home Work 2,” available at Anvil. For highlights of my webinar on online distance learning, go to Anvil TV’s Youtube channel and Anvil Facebook page.

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