New Perspectives: How COVID-19 is Changing Students' World Views

Anne O'Reilly Connerty

Anne O'Reilly Connerty

What better way to start a unit titled "Perspective" than with COVID-19 and its profound impact across the world. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet, wrote, "The best-laid plans ... often go awry" and this is, sadly, our reality as plans, from weddings to graduations, are being postponed and canceled and, worse still, lives cut short. We didn't plan on this, yet as educators, we've been working to understand and deliver the best ways to engage, inspire, and advance learning for our students. Daily, we consider what is essential and when and how we redesign and adapt how we teach.

Covid-19 has created a lens through which students view the world with a new perspective.

In English class, the first day back after spring break (and the first day of distance learning), my students were introduced to the IB Perspective unit statement of inquiry: Thinkers observe, question, write, and speak to share their perspectives. The unit asks the question:  What is the impact of societal structures on freedom, choice, power, and perspective?  What I quickly observed is that my students were viewing this statement through a new lens based on their unique shelter-in-place experience, so very different from their norm just a few weeks earlier. Our new unit presented the opportunity to examine these questions in a new light: 

  • How do societal divisions affect communities? 
  • How are identities created? 
  • What does our response to conflict teach us about ourselves?

As I read these questions aloud to the students, we all paused and realized how closely these unit questions aligned with our current lives. Although unplanned, we are taking advantage of the current state of the world as we embark on this new learning unit.

As one of the first assignments, students began to journal about their biggest surprises during the pandemic, and boy did their answers give me insights into what these 8th graders are thinking and feeling.  Whitby MS English Distance Learning

When I go outside to walk my dogs, there is no one around, it looks like a zombie apocalypse.

I was incredibly surprised to see that people weren't conforming to the suggestion of the government to stay inside and distance yourself from others.

I have been surprised about how fast the news and knowledge about the COVID-19 pandemic changes and continues to change.

I was surprised by idiotic panic buying. Why are people panic buying toilet paper?

I was surprised that talking to others online helps us to learn to communicate more effectively and not talk over each other so that everyone can voice their idea. 

And lastly, this one surprised me, "I kind of miss school."

Through their COVID-19 lens, the students continue with the Perspective Unit and are reading and rubickanalyzing Hinton's The Outsiders. They are examining the "haves and have-nots," how each has their troubles, and how people are similar and often want the same things. The students are questioning and investigating universal themes of loyalty and identity. They have studied Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Ted Talk, "The Danger of the Single Story," and they now appreciate the power of a complete story. The students viewed a video that looks at a Rubik's Cube from different perspectives to determine whether it was an actual object or a two-dimensional piece of art. It created a question that we'll ask throughout the Perspective unit: How does our brain make sense of the world? 

As we continue with our distance learning, we will examine our collective responses to conflict and what it teaches us about ourselves, our families, our communities, and the world.

I often tell my students that we're learning to read, write, think, craft claims, use evidence, and become strong communicators. But the vehicles we use to practice these skills are not limited to resources within a classroom and campus boundaries. Whitby empowers and encourages our students, especially in the Middle School, to think about the current world in which they live and start to make those connections. 

If there is an upside to the Coronavirus, it is that it has given my students a new lens from which to investigate and come to realizations with a fresh perspective and a more compassionate world view.

Learn more about what distance learning looks like for Whitby students.

Anne O'Reilly Connerty

Anne O'Reilly Connerty

Anne's main interest and goal in her role as a teacher is figuring out how students learn, and works to meet them at that point; she is constantly strategizing how to ensure that her students "get it." She is an avid reader and loves that her job revolves around words, written and spoken. When she's not at Whitby she can be found outside anywhere with family, friends and her energetic black dog.