Student Responses to COVID-19 and Distance Learning

Student Responses to COVID-19 and Distance Learning

While our students are focused on learning history, they are also living it. And the first few months of 2020 have proved to be quite the time to live through. We reached out to a few Big History and World History Project teachers who had asked their students to journal about their experiences with COVID-19, sheltering in place, and distance learning. The comments we received floored us, it’s clear that students are thinking deeply about how the pandemic is affecting them and their communities now and using their voice to engage in a keen analysis of what they are going through. We’ve selected a few different excerpts from these journal entries to share with the OER Project community as a whole.  

As we continue to self-quarantine I’ve noticed that for myself it has become easier. It’s been just over three weeks and I think I’m officially getting used to staying home, doing online school, etc. I don’t love it, but it is what I have to do if I ever want to leave the house again. I still have company from my family, my sister and I are close in age, and the days are beginning to go by a little faster. Majority of people nowadays have access to technology as well, so those who do should be grateful that it is so easy to stay connected with others. This connection online isn’t exactly the same as an interaction in person, but under these circumstances it is enough. Abiding by the rules and staying home should give everyone time to reflect on everything they have in life and how lucky most of us are. Maybe it’s also a good thing for individuals personally to reconnect and realize how much we all actually have.  12th Grade Student

With the coronavirus pandemic causing harm and pain to the entire human population there are some selfish and uncaring people expressing their rights by deciding to not abide by the stay at home efforts to keep everybody inside. These people have rights to be able to roam freely out and about, putting themselves and other people in danger. These people argue that it is their right to be able to roam freely and not stay indoors because the Constitution supports these claims. However the Constitution was not made with the intention of protecting against a pandemic, it was created to unify the States. ⁠— 10th Grade Student

While not being in school might have excited some students at first (who wouldn’t want a couple days off?), it’s easy to see just how much students are missing their teachers, friends, and school community right now.

Well, this whole experience has been very weird. All of a sudden we can’t go to school and we barely ever get to leave our house. Over the past week, my mom started homeschooling us which was just making a schedule and doing online learning activities. But learning at home is hard. For me, for some reason, I can’t focus as much as at school and I feel like I don’t try as hard as I normally would. Even though there are things to do you just feel extremely bored while at the same time you're thinking about all that is happening and you get really stressed, nervous, and even get mad at the coronavirus for happening. In the beginning, I was a little excited because there’s no school but then reality hit. People are dying, I miss my friends, and even the exciting things that were going to happen got canceled. ⁠— 8th Grade Student

Since schools have been closed, most have gone to online learning. The deficits of online learning are that you don’t get to see friends, and it’s harder for teachers to explain something to you that you’re having trouble understanding. The benefit of eLearning is that you set your own schedule. Almost anyone who can work from home is doing so as well. These have resulted in more family time, and the banned gatherings have more people being active outside. ⁠— 6th Grade Student

A hopeful message that has come out of the last few weeks of disruption is that although students are working outside of their usual mode of operation, new routines and ways of interaction, many of which are facilitated by their teachers, have allowed them to keep some semblances of normal, even if it’s not the same as being in class or talking face-to-face with friends.

When I heard the news that school would not resume yet it was almost as though a rock sunk in my stomach. I was upset because the virus had come so close to home and now was a legitimate danger to me. I was also upset that the virus had become so much of a problem that my daily life was now heavily affected. Basically the news just put me in a bad mood for the next few days, because I was excited to get back to school and return to having a normal life. In the coming weeks, I think what I will miss the most is hanging out with and talking to my friends, and having classes with them. I can still text and video call them, but it’s not the same as being face to face. I will also miss having my basic daily routine, knowing when to go to classes and knowing what is going to happen. I now have a basic school routine but it is very shaky and not predictable. ⁠— 7th Grade Student

Friday the 13 was the day my parents received the phone call that proclaimed in a monotone voice that school wouldn’t open for a week. I had a flashback to two days ago, when I said goodbye to everyone I could and I just walked up the stairs of Edison without a care in my mind. I remember saying goodbye to nearly all of my teachers. I remember watching people play games in the small lawn out front and I watched someone yell about spaghetti from the third floor. I watched all of this, and I took it for granted because I didn’t know that all schools over Illinois would close in a matter of days. I felt terrible about school closing, because if school closed, that meant the coronavirus was getting bad. Like, not just bad, bad. Pretty much an enormous, gigantic, humongous, extensive type of bad. I felt bad about it, but I also sort of understood what the governor was doing- his job was the upkeep of the state, and right now, this is what would be the best for all of us. My first reaction was to write a letter to J.B Pritzker, and I did that. I also made a drawing along with it. It’s just a bunch of words formulated around one thing: How can I help? So to answer your question, I’ll miss my friends the most, definitely…I mean, and it’s not like I won’t miss everyone else. I’m going to miss Edison Middle School as a whole, even the people I don’t exactly get along with. Because that’s what life's like- we all have to make sacrifices, and this one is for the good, even if I don’t like it. We’re all in this together, right? Well, we’re doing this because it’s what will benefit everyone after us. And even if staying home sucks, life is all about things we don’t want to do. ⁠— 6th Grade Student

Students are feeling what everyone else is feeling now: the scariness and unpredictability of the situation and the disruption across daily life. But they are also using critical thinking and analytical skills to think about and record what’s happening. And that’s where the framework of BHP and WHP can help. Through claim testing, critical thinking, and strong reading and writing abilities, students use skills to not only study history, but also successfully navigate their way while living through it too.

Looking to further help students practice these skills? The Historian’s Journal exercise helps students start thinking about how to contextualize their place in history. And depending on the course you are teaching (or planning on teaching), check out Teaching Big History or Teaching World History (Origins / 1750), our free, online PD courses packed with tons of videos and articles to help get you started or give you some new inspiration.   

Photo credit: Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.