Part 3: Supporting Students
“Good morning, Grade 9s. Welcome once again to online math where today, we are going to look at some exciting algebra facts! As you can see, example 1 shows the exponents…..” “Oh great! Another boring lesson from a teacher who has not really connected with me yet. Well, at least we can keep our screens off so s/he won’t see me in my pyjamas and I can text my friends when things get difficult.”
“Hey, my happy grade 1 friends. It’s time to wake up our bodies and minds with some movement. So, get up from your chairs, follow the action on the screen, and do The Body Boogie with me (https://www.learningstationmusic.com/). Let’s go! Let’s rock!” “This is the best part of the day! I love dancing with the music and watching the action, and then learning other things from my teacher. S/he lets us talk to each other on our devices at the end of each lesson.”
For some students, virtual online learning can be the best way to learn, and for a few, it may be better than actual physical in-class schooling. For others, though, remote learning (asynchronous or synchronous) can be fraught with challenges. In this blog, we will explore how students exhibiting different personality patterns may deal with different virtual learning scenarios.
Jill is in grade four and starts her online school every morning at 8:45 AM. She is quite pleased with the way things are going thus far. Here’s why. Jill enjoys the daily structure of the learning environment as her teacher always begins by greeting each student by name. This is followed by opening exercises which include the national anthem, the reflective quotation for the day, and an individual wellness check-in, using a unique system of emojis. The instructional day always begins with mathematics, followed by language. Once these content rich subjects are done, it’s time for “recess” which is an activity-based program of movement, dance and aerobics. Prior to lunch, the class learns a second language and music. After lunch, (which Jill has with her mother, who works from home and her brother who is in grade six in the same school), the afternoon learning follows with much of the same pedagogical structure in place. With each subject the teacher allows the students to pose questions and have some time for small group interaction (using breakout rooms). At the end of the day, Jill feels as if she has accomplished something positive and is ready to resume her learning journey the next day.
Jill’s personality profile leans heavily towards the description of an Organized Gold personality. School is an example of an institution that is inherently organized and structured, which suits the Organized Gold personality group well. Jill respects the teacher, not only because she may be well-qualified, but because she occupies a position of some authority in the education hierarchy. Whether it is online or in-class instruction, Jill strives to always be prepared and will complete assigned tasks on time and to the best of her ability. The Organized Gold student is very capable of following directions and gathering good information through attentive listening and logical problem-solving. Using a computer to learn can be an effective tool as its vast resources allow the Organized Gold student to plan, collect and synthesize data in meaningful sequences.
So, on first examination, it would seem like Jill and virtual online learning are a great match. In fact, this is largely the case. However, the Organized Gold student (and their parents and teachers) should be aware that there are some areas that can cause frustration. Jill, and others sharing her personality profile, need to feel as if they belong to an organization or group (class, family, team); they need to be a contributing member of something worthwhile. The good teacher and parent will recognize their value to the organization, often by giving them some special added responsibility. At home, Jill will benefit by having a learning space that is free of clutter and where “there is a place for everything and everything is in its place”. The Organized Gold personality also appreciates concrete rewards (as long as it is truly merited), which can be a challenge in a virtual learning context.
Navdeep is in the same class as Jill, but his educational, social and personal needs are quite different. Navdeep’s personality profile is an Authentic Blue. He is all about relationships, and virtual online learning has had some different opportunities and challenges. First of all, he really enjoys his teacher as he perceives her caring, supportive personality through her online presence and teaching style. He feels he has made a connection, even though he is not in a physical classroom teaching space. What Navdeep enjoys most about the instructional day is when the teacher places students in breakout rooms. While they do share information and answer questions, he values the interaction time with classmates as he strives to create strong bonds of friendship and shows concern for their learning journey. In addition, because he is an optimistic creative thinker, he will often suggest novel ways of solving problems and then strive to get consensus through encouraging others.
Fortunately for Navdeep, the inherent structure of the instructional day helps with time management, which can be a bit of a challenge as he may focus on people more than process. Navdeep is learning how to distinguish between content and conscience. His understanding teacher has realized that approval for recognition for his work in this area is a great personal motivator. Unlike Jill, who enjoys tangible rewards, Navdeep thrives on verbal praise and acknowledgement of his special talent of being a group catalyst.
Navdeep is not thrilled with the online “recess” concept of getting up and doing movement, dance and exercise. He finds it all too structured, and if he is going to move, he is going to do it creatively – let his mind and imagination lead his body. From time to time, he may even pull out his pastels and continue work on his private artwork. Lunch is a time to completely relax from the structure of school. Fortunately, he is part of a large family so he can interact with “real” humans (not faces on a screen), have in-depth conversations (often quite animated and expressive).
Navdeep’s parents have discovered that the best home learning environment is one in which materials for Navdeep’s many creative outlets are readily available. The room is comfortable and inviting – sufficient lighting, well placed to support academic rigour, but also some “mood” lighting when he wants to “escape to his own private world” to relax. The parents also encourage his friends to come over on a regular basis and have “social distance visits” to satisfy his need to interact with others and even meet new people.
Mei goes online every morning at 8:15 AM as she is now in high school (grade 9). All of her courses are virtual online ones (math, language, business studies and science). She has two subjects in the morning and two in the afternoon. There is a ten minute break between subjects and a forty minute lunch. It is the same schedule every day of the semester. The math and science teachers are very structured in their approach to learning. Each day is a new lesson, built upon information learned the previous day. There is always a homework assignment with each lesson (roughly thirty minutes in length) and a quiz to start the next day’s lesson to check for understanding. Students do not turn their cameras on. Occasionally, students will be assigned to breakout rooms for group problem solving, but this is rare and this is the only time students turn on their cameras. The language and business studies teachers take a different approach to virtual learning. They ask students to keep their cameras on (respecting privacy, of course) for the whole lesson. They encourage dialogue as much as possible during the lesson, using a hands up feature or the chat box. The technology can get cumbersome at times, but all participants have learned how to adapt to this reality.
Mei enjoys the approach taken by the language and business studies teachers, even though she is not particularly strong in these subjects. Mei’s personality profile is Resourceful Orange. Her core needs are freedom, variety and activity. As a result, when the teachers allow for input and discussion, she is quick to jump onboard as she thinks quickly and acts just as fast. This helps keep discussions animated and lively and she is often the centre of attraction. Her persuasive nature and clear communication style allow her to influence others and her strong negotiating skills help others connect with her. She does not hesitate to tackle challenging issues. Her teachers have realized this and they often ask her to be a group leader or spokesperson (sometimes to the chagrin of others in the group).
Even thought she is academically gifted in these subjects, math and science are much more challenging for Mei’s Resourceful Orange personality which may struggle with rigidly enforced procedures. She finds that she quickly “zones out” when repetition of content is perceived. As there is little opportunity for feedback during class and cameras are turned off, Mei often fills her class time by texting her friends, getting up and moving around, and finding other activities to keep her stimulated. On most days, she completes the daily homework, but is not overly concerned if she does not get it done that day. She may wake up a little earlier the next day and rush through it to submit prior to the daily morning quiz. A regular school routine is not in her wheelhouse. And Mei doesn’t really care that much. She likes to improvise and may be a tad impulsive so may miss some of the important details of the assignment or quiz. While those with a Resourceful Orange personality often learn by experience, this is a skill Mei is still developing; she is also going through early adolescence which is another complicating factor to be aware of.
Mei’s perceptive parents have learned that Mei acts quickly and decisively, and their communication with her is often brief and to the point. When presenting options (which is a great strategy), they allow her to decide on her own (with tidbits of guidance when appropriate) and try different strategies. Mei’s “home school” room may look messy on the surface, but Mei knows where everything is and how it may be used. In fact, she often likes to try using some things for purposes for which they might not have been designed. She is creative and inventive and likes to be rewarded for her ingenuity.
Pierre is in the same classes as Mei, but his perspective on these virtual online classes is quite different. Pierre’s personality profile is that of the Inquiring Green. His favourite classes are science and math. Not only is he strong academically in these areas, he really enjoys the online learning experience with the two teachers. As the Inquiring Green core needs are knowledge and competence, Pierre feels he can excel in these subjects. He enjoys the logic of the curriculum and its structured implementation by these teachers. Pierre enjoys science in particular as the teacher illustrates both micro and macro concepts for the class, and Pierre absolutely loves to do in-depth research in both. While he finds the rigid structure (time, content) he does realize that this helps keep him organized and focused, as he has a habit of “going down the rabbit hole” when intrigued by an idea. His science teacher recognizes this and from time to time will give him an additional “bonus, above level” project to explore, but with few timelines for completion “etched in stone”. Doing the extra project in itself, is an internal reward for Pierre. The math teacher uses similar strategies for motivating this Inquiring Green personality.
Unlike Mei, Pierre finds the lack of structure and emphasis on group interaction in language and business studies to be a hurdle to overcome. He would much prefer to work on his own, allowing himself time to drill down in topics of interest to him. He requires a good chunk of private time to process his thoughts and he rarely gets this in language and business studies. He also questions the abilities of these two teachers as they seem to allow so many ideas of the students and not contribute enough of their own professional knowledge. Pierre needs to have his teachers earn his respect if he is to be engaged and contribute more fully. He often complains for being bored.
At home, Pierre is often given the time and space to explore his interests, and his parents encourage and compliment him on his progress. They have provided a home study room which reflects his passion for science in particular. Prominently displayed are his models of molecules, space craft and satellites, and a good computer with two screens. The books he has collected are primarily scientific journals and periodicals.
Jill, Navdeep, Mei and Pierre – all demonstrate very different learning styles, according to their personality profiles. All are equally valid and valued, and parents and teachers will benefit by recognizing the strengths and challenges of each, and adjusting their parenting and teaching strategies accordingly. We all need to adopt a “not one size fits all” approach as we encourage social/emotional learning.
Wayne Jones, M.Ed. is an experienced educator, having taught students from Kindergarten through secondary school as well as adult education. Wayne has been a principal in the Peel District School Board and is currently a faculty advisor for Nipissing University. Wayne draws on over 30 years educational practice and numerous life experiences to enrich his writing and workshop presentations. A proud parent of two, with four grandchildren, he enjoys spending quality time with family; biking, hiking, running, and attending live arts productions. His passion for music and athletics fuels an active, healthy lifestyle.