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Levelling the Playing Field: One Click at a Time

By Michelle Fung, OCT

MARKHAM, ON 一 During my time of online teaching these past few months, I was experiencing the same amount of stress and concern for my students as all the other 83 000 teachers in the province. Were our kids understanding the lessons? Is the work completed with academic integrity?

The answer to the last question is “not always”, because I have caught too many students using Google Translate.

However, I noticed that students who were typically silent gained a new cloak of confidence during online learning. They participated in discussions, loved to ask questions, and produced stellar work using the resources and lessons provided.

A handful of my students are diagnosed with autism. Each of them works at a vastly different level than the others.

For example, the following work was submitted by a Grade 6 student diagnosed with autism. He would throw or stab things. He would scream in class. He would run away from class. He refused to work with others. He hated group work. He felt incompetent doing independent work. I honestly thought he just hated French and me.

This is AY’s final assignment: students designed at least 3 rooms in their dream house, and described it, then gave a short review of each room (much like a Yelp review). Of course, there were many lessons and resources that built towards this.

During online learning, away from the gaze of their peers and the risk of losing social prestige, students who were usually “deviants” or silent became confident enough to advocate for their learning. At-risk students worked on assignments at their own pace, which gave students agency over their own learning. They were able to ask questions on their own time and work on their own time.

Does online learning work for everyone? Certainly not. Similarly, in-class learning is not the ideal learning environment for everyone either. I have many students who I would never recommend for online learning. Even on voice call with a Google Doc, something that would have taken 3 minutes in-class took literally 2 hours online.

I truly wish that all students could flourish as much as AY could pictured above. I received many exceptional assignments, from learners who were usually very low to very high. I really hope that we can extend this accessibility to learning to everyone.

We know that September is not going to be normal. We have (very poorly made) shoddy “plans” that offer 7 cents per student per day to enforce “covid protocols” and “cleaning”. We know that isn’t enough.

And that’s why we need to iron out the inequities that come with virtual learning, and truly make it “online learning” and not “emergency pandemic crisis learning”.

Teachers want to teach. We want to help your child. You can help us by understanding what the government is and isn’t providing, and hopefully provide sound advice on fixing the infrastructure of the Internet that we have now.

Let’s ensure that all of Ontario is ready when September comes so everyone can flourish just as well as AY did.

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