Remote Learning Insights: The Role of the Student Is Shifting

By 1:33pm PST April 15, 2020

In response to school closures across the country, we’re seeing policymakers, educators, and students shift focus, roles, and efforts to ensure that learning continues. We at XQ are constantly looking at how schools are adapting to this new learning landscape and want to share our findings with educators, students, education leaders, and communities. Our earlier blogs in the wake of COVID-19 closures focus on how teachers are adjusting to remote learning and on what remote learning might signal for the future of learning.

This week, we’re shifting our focus directly to students: looking at how they are adjusting, examining what new skills they are learning, and considering the ways in which communities and educators can support them.  Today, as always, it’s tremendously important to create student-centered, equity-driven educational experiences. But perhaps more than ever before, it’s essential to recognize that students can play an active role in creating those educational experiences. They have the capacity to truly lead their own learning and create engaging learning experiences themselves. Let’s take a look at how students are taking on new roles during school closures to become drivers of their own education.

Evolving Roles and New Skills

Learning advocates. Any time students engage in a tutorial session, they develop their learning advocacy skills. They learn how to communicate what they understand, and what they don’t. No school fosters these skills quite like Brooklyn Laboratory High School, where students are constantly asked to engage with their own learning. Every day at Brooklyn Laboratory High School, InnovateEDU Fellows deliver more than 64 tutoring sessions for students! (That adds up to more than 1,000 sessions since the shift to remote instruction.) Brooklyn Lab staff understand that academics matter, but they also know that the ability to advocate for oneself is crucial to developing relationships and advancing learning.

DIY: Brooklyn Lab has been using Zoom for most of its tutoring sessions.

Critical readers and thinkers. One of XQ’s Learner Goals—Master of All Fundamental Literacies—emphasizes the importance of helping students build a broad and deep skill set, to create students who are critical readers, compelling writers, and mathematical thinkers. It is important to continue to ensure that students are growing in all fields. One example of how larger communities are supporting their students during remote learning comes from Rhode Island, where the Governor and Commissioner launched the “Rhode Island Reading Challenge.” The challenge encourages students to take the lead in their own education and develop critical reading skills while stuck at home. Similarly, at PSI High, Advanced Placement English students are learning concepts of rhetorical analysis and argument construction. These skills will help students not only to become “masters of all fundamental literacies” in the long term but will also help them in daily life as remote learners.

DIY: The State of Rhode Island has leaned on social media and Google forms to engage students.

Time managers. For more years than we can count, students have relied on school bells or chimes to manage their days. These external cues disappear in remote learning, and it’s about time (pun intended!). This presents  a great opportunity for students to develop essential time management skills of their own. Some schools, such as Brooklyn Laboratory High School, provide sample remote schedules for a portion of the day and then ask students to flex their time management muscles by signing up for office hours or tutorials. This is an example of how scaffolding skills and opportunities, and “releasing” students gradually to assume greater responsibility themselves,  can enhance their development. Purdue Polytechnic High School maintains a remote learning schedule that’s similar to their in-person school day, but encourages students to manage their individual and small group time to work on industry and design projects.

DIY: staff at these schools use Google Calendar, calendly and other tools to give students opportunities. Ask students for their ideas; we spoke with some students and here is a sampling of what they said:

  • Set a timer for completion of a certain task – that can help with motivation and focus!
  • Take breaks when it makes sense for the work itself (not just when a bell rings)
  • Remove distractions by turning off notifications and/or set devices not being used aside.

Reflectors and expressers. Particularly during stressful and uncertain times, it’s important to take time for self-reflection and personal expression. A great example of student creativity comes from Crosstown High, where a student wrote about her experience during the current pandemic and entered it in Southern Word’s Memphis and Shelby County slam poetry competition.  In reflecting on her piece, she acknowledged that writing the poem had prompted her to explore complex emotions, such as gratitude: “I felt like this was a thank you note to those things keeping me sane.”

DIY: staff members encourage students to use journals, music apps, poetry slams and their own creativity to reflect in ways that matter to them personally. Link to video.

Vision keepers. Every day, high school students are expected to complete their homework, master new subject matter, and navigate interpersonal relationships with peers and educators. More than that, they are also expected to know where their learning is headed and how their subjects overlap with each other. In face-to-face school settings, teachers can provide this “big picture“ context and link together learning experiences. Without this face time, teachers have had to adjust to completing the learning picture remotely. At PSI High in Seminole County, teachers have created student-and-parent-facing visual content maps to help students see the vision for their learning journey in any particular unit. For example, rather than simply providing a sample outline of a business plan in a business class, this teacher depicts how finance, branding, marketing, and advertising all feed into each other. Instructional Coach Angela Daniel says “Each week, the teachers further break down the content map to let the students see precisely where they are in the flow of their quarter.”

DIY: PSI High teachers are mostly using PowerPoint, Canva, and an online mapping app called MindMeister. Of these, Canva is the most popular, as it can build some really beautiful graphics.

Looking Ahead

These are just a few examples of how student roles are evolving, and we know the process will continue. The transition to remote learning requires everyone to take on new and additional roles: teachers (in addition to their many and varied professional roles!) must become part-time IT technicians. Parents must support their adolescents’ education.  And students are being asked to guide their own learning. These roles can be challenging and difficult to navigate—which is one more reason why every student needs a network of overlapping supports. It is clear that school closures will have lasting impacts on education systems in America. The drastic changes currently underway also provide opportunities to reinvest in high school education, as parents, educators, and students.

We know that we are just in the beginning and the lasting changes to education are still elusive. Tell us what you’re observing or fill out our guest blog form if you’d like to share your story.



Managing Director of School Success, XQ Institute