What’s happening in education right now is unprecedented. Within a few weeks, our world has been turned upside down. No one had much time to prepare or plan, nor do they have similar experiences to draw from to make the best decisions. Administrators and school boards followed the direction of their state or local government and the directive to move to remote learning. This is being done in an attempt to keep kids connected to the school and salvage instruction and the remaining curriculum. Local and state officials gave varying levels of guidance and direction on how to handle attendance, grades, assignments, and access to resources. While well-intentioned, every remote learning plan is laced with inequity that privileges certain groups of students over others.
How is remote learning inequitable?
An uneven playing field isn’t new in education, but schools and teachers were better able to provide an equitable experience for students prior to online learning. In the art room, students likely had access to supplies, a teacher, and a facility where it was appropriate (at least by the school’s standards) to make art. You closely monitored their work providing feedback and adapting your instruction to their needs. Students likely also had a safe space in the building, whether an office or a specific teacher, they could turn to for support and guidance. Art projects were created with the students in mind and what was possible based on the school environment and relying very little on the home environment.
Much of that, however, is gone now and your students are more impacted by their home environment than ever. While you might be able to predict some of the home factors of a student, you will never know the whole picture for each student. Students and families tell you and the school what they want you to know.
Success for a student with remote learning is about more than a device connected to the internet.
There are a number of factors that could directly impact a student’s ability to focus and execute their artwork. Some of these include:
School used to be an escape for some students where they felt physically and/or psychologically safer than their home environment. A student, for example, could be living in an abusive household and are now being told to remain in that unsafe space and demonstrate their learning at the same time.
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Additionally, LGBTQ+ students might not be supported at home or even open about their identity and are now confined to that environment. If Mazlow has taught us anything, it’s that students can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.
Without access to an art room, students need a space to create art. Not every student has a space in their home that can get messy, is big enough, or is supported by their parents or guardians. Some home environments might be more challenging than others to focus on schoolwork.
You might have students who are watching their siblings during the day while a parent works. A student might not have a quiet space to speak with a teacher or a home they want to show on video chat. Other students might not be home because they are working as a result of a parent losing their employment.
Districts vary in their level of support and resources for students. You’re likely aware of how your district is set up and the ability for students to use a device or the internet. Even if your district is 1:1 with students having devices at home, there are still potential barriers that could prevent students from working.
For example, be aware of your school’s plan to support students with a broken device to direct students accordingly. Also, remember a student’s device might actually be used for the family or other siblings in the home, making it unavailable for periods at a time.
Access to supplies is one of the major barriers for students. While some students have the ability to pick up anything at the grocery store they want to use, others will not.
In addition to materials, some students might have a parent or guardian readily available for questions, support, or progress monitoring. For students with parents or guardians still working, it might be more difficult to stay on task, work through challenging assignments and manage their time.
The world is facing a pandemic impacting people at varying levels. Some of your students might be sick or know someone who is sick, which could impact their ability to focus and execute their work. Students could be concerned about a parent who works in the medical field or is considered “essential staff” in their place of employment.
More broadly, a student could be concerned about the current state of our world and the future. Students might not be focusing on schoolwork because their attention is on the safety and security of those around them.
The challenge with all these barriers is they impact students at varying levels and no two students are alike. You might also be completely unaware of what students are facing. All of which makes it difficult for teachers to plan and make accommodations for students.
What can I do about it as the art teacher?
Given the circumstances, you’re likely following the directives of your administration who have made decisions about grades, lessons, attendance, etc. with remote learning. There might still be opportunities to support all of your students, even with the constraints you’ve been given.
Here are a few ideas:
- Provide flexible deadlines
- Allow options for supplies
- Grade on completion
- Excuse students from work
- Give grace even when it is not reciprocated
- Minimize new content
- Focus on enrichment opportunities
Moving to remote learning was an answer, but not a solution. It’s likely remote learning is temporary, but some impacts on students like a failing grade can be long-lasting. This is not a time for students to demonstrate their commitment to art by having to video chat at certain times or complete robust assignments by a deadline. If they can do it, great! But if they don’t, this is a time to support them by assuming the best of intentions.
Even if you aren’t aware of something going on, consider your response carefully. You care about your students, and you want what’s best for them. Keep this at the forefront of your mind in your planning and execution of this unique learning environment.
What other factors could impact a student’s ability to create art?
What restrictions has your local or state government put in remote learning?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.