Why distance learning spoils the joy of learning

by Marianne Kutscher, Cologne

Our grandson Jan is a first grader and has lived with us for three years. He is fascinated by reading and arithmetic, grasps things quickly and enjoys learning. His teacher raves about her class to the highest notes, is very committed, popular and „down to earth“. Digital media have hardly played a role in her lessons so far. Since I am a retired teacher of special education, Jan had optimal conditions in distance learning with a professional reference person with time. During the first 2–3 weeks of school closure we had a lot of fun together, Jan managed his tasks quickly and with pleasure. He was very interested in the printed plans and worksheets.
     In the morning, at our home, at 9 o’clock at the latest, “school” began, whereby Jan attached great importance to the fact that we did not play “school” and that I was not his teacher – because, as I feel it, his school and his teacher are “sacred” to him. Jan’s teacher made sure that the material was prepared and conveyed as well as possible, usually by e-mail. She kept sending photos of the class animal, the zebra Milo, which, like the students, was not at school but at her home. Milo posed puzzles or tasks and immediately sent an echo again by e-mail. At first Jan thought it was great to hear from Milo, but soon the attraction was gone, and then he only took note of Milo’s answers and didn’t ask for them anymore. Unfortunately, during the whole weeks only one meeting with the teacher for about five minutes could take place in front of our door to hand over the assignments. Jan stood very „devoutly“ but reservedly at the door. He was happy about the reunion, but he held back his joy, that was my impression, because he knew that it would only be possible for a short time and who knows when again.
    After the Easter holidays Jan started moaning when doing the tasks: Not again the pages for the new letter in the caribou, not again the worksheets, I’ll do them this afternoon as “homework”! The “homework” was done about twice without grumbling. After that he didn’t even feel like doing it anymore and postponed it to the evening or to the weekend. During this time the tasks contained more and more information about links to you tube films of about 3 minutes for subject lessons or explaining how to exceed or fall short of ten. Although the films were quite lively, Jan soon had little interest in them either. He was also given the task of working weekly with “Anton” or “Antolin”, two learning programs for reading and arithmetic, with which one can acquire points, but they too had quickly lost their initial appeal, just like the reading passport, with which one can get a pearl from the teacher on the day of the “attendance lessons” with the ten-minute reading exercises acknowledged by the parents.
    Also during the reading exercises I realised what was missing: the human contact with the teacher and the classmates, speaking loudly and clearly so that the others understand, the others, who are listening, the confirmation or even correction and encouragement by the teacher, listening to the classmates reading, perceiving that they too are making mistakes …! Jan only read his homework silently, the grandmother was no substitute for the class community! Finally a mother had the idea to organise zoom conferences of the class. At the first conference the microphone on our mobile phone did not work and on my already somewhat older laptop there was no camera yet, to sum up: Jan saw his teacher like on TV, not as she “lives and breathes”, but as “conserved”. All the fine signals between teacher and students and the infinite facets of wordless communication, which in real lessons convey a friendly, warm, encouraging, intensive, dialogical atmosphere, are not possible digitally. Jan saw some of his classmates in nervous picture changes and some of them were hardly to be understood. Jan himself does not like to appear in front of the camera, as a result he did not appear in the “conferences”. He did not ask for another conference. His friend Tim, his mother reported, wanted to have nothing to do with these meetings on the PC. Jan’s “unwillingness” to work became stronger and stronger. It really hurt me to see how he was increasingly losing his joy in learning and his mood was deteriorating. Since he correctly did what the teacher demanded, no more and no less – which shows the strong orientation of the children towards the teacher – I did not get through to him with my attempts to make the whole thing more creative. Because the teacher didn’t have time to look up all the worksheets on the day of attendance, Jan considered not working on them any more. But when his friend reported that she had checked them on another day, he changed his mind. For the first time he had the remark under a sheet that he should pay more attention to his writing. He set no great store by my suggestion to write more orderly, so now his writing went a little “downhill”. I decided to invite Jan’s friend on Tuesdays and Thursdays to study together. That was the “rescue”! The parents were relieved, because they were both in the home office and still had another schoolchild at home and Tim showed the same “symptoms of displeasure” as Jan. Immediately everything was different, the memory of learning together came back and with it the joy. Both sat down directly and started their work, exchanged about the contents, made their jokes, spurred each other on and hurried. Through their cooperation I could vividly imagine how things were going in the class. Jan literally blossomed! The friendship that had developed at school and had come to a standstill in the last few weeks became alive again. On the days when Tim didn’t come, the same mood of unpleasure and rejection came back to Jan. Once again this time made me more aware of the immense importance of the teacher as the first reference person after the parents and that learning without a real relationship lacks “life” and that school cannot be replaced by anything!     •

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