The District

In a time of distance learning, an opportunity to motivate and include BIPOC students

The Newsela Team
Jul 20, 2020

When it comes to distance learning, it’s easy to assume that students can’t wait to return to the relationships and routines of in-person schooling. But a recent piece in Education Dive reveals a startling reality: many Black and brown students are more engaged learning from home, where they feel safer and more supported in a culturally-responsive environment.

This realization is deeply troubling, and schools should recognize it as a wake-up call: with so much of traditional education in flux, now is our opportunity to reshape schooling to be more equitable—equity that transcends questions of connectivity or devices. Done right, nontraditional learning environments and approaches can help students who previously haven’t felt comfortable in school—and whether teaching is happening in schools or remotely, educators should consider how taking the following actions can lead to lasting change. 

Nurture relationships to support a sense of belonging

With the dramatic and unexpected pressures of COVID-19, many schools are feeling the strain of tight budgets and the need to “make up for lost time.” But when it comes to keeping students engaged and motivating learning, schools need to prioritize developing a culture of belonging—without that, inequities and learning gaps will only grow.

As a key first step, education leaders are calling for schools to proactively strengthen relationships between students, teachers, and administrators, using mentorship programs and advisories to ensure every student has an advocate they can trust. This approach is valuable in traditional learning environments but important during distance learning as well, when support from a mentor can help keep students motivated and engaged. 

Prioritize culturally responsive instruction and content

Over the past few years, many schools have started working to prevent breakdowns of understanding in the classroom due to cultural norms, beliefs, and behaviors. Culturally Responsive Teaching encourages teachers to identify where stereotypes and implicit bias might be affecting their relationships with students and parents, helping them create a school environment that’s more inclusive and affirms students’ identities.

Understanding students’ backgrounds and prioritizing culturally responsive instruction is critical for schools now and going forward, especially when it comes to serving diverse perspectives and supporting English Language Learners. An important aspect of this is that district and school administrators provide students with differentiated content that’s available across reading levels, especially when it can be implemented in blended environments and accessed as easily from home as in the classroom. 

Commit to student voice and choice

The shift to distance learning and need to keep students engaged from home has brought with it new hybrid learning models, and for some students—especially those in remedial learning programs—this is their first experience of individual choice in learning. Now, with a growing understanding of how important it is for students to have agency and see themselves in what they learn, Black educators are asking schools to commit to student voice and choice for all learners, especially those who may have previously been marginalized or lacked resources. 

Student choice, culturally responsive teaching, and one-on-one mentorship are all key ways schools can drive student motivation—and they’re especially important when it comes to making sure students of color, and especially BIPOC students, feel fully supported by their school communities. Students with disabilities will also benefit from these approaches, as they too often lack instruction and content that’s responsive to their experiences. And as many students continue distance learning into the fall, administrators must also consider how the digital divide plays a role in equity, as even the best content and instruction won’t be able to move the needle if it can’t be accessed by students who lack the internet or technology. 

Every student deserves to see themselves in educational content and have a voice in their learning, and rather than fearing change, education stakeholders can recognize the opportunities for more equitable schooling. The flexibility afforded by blended learning may be new and overwhelming, but it also means that elements of traditional education can be reimagined to better meet the needs of diverse student bodies. As challenging as this year has been for schools, it’s important to recognize that distance learning is opening doors that may not have been available to educators before. 

The Latest from @Newsela

The right content resource keeps learning going, even through times of disruption. See how schools and teachers nationwide are using Newsela for the 2020-2021 school year.
November 24, 2020, 3:04 PM
It is hard to imagine a more challenging year, but that doesn’t mean good things haven’t happened, too. We put together a list of our favorite things from 2020. From panda birthday cakes to llamas in tuxedos, there are fun moments to be thankful for.
November 24, 2020, 12:04 AM
Love hearing about students wanting to learn more after reading a Newsela article! 💙
November 23, 2020, 7:33 PM
Odds are you’ll be using butter during your Thanksgiving meal, so why not make it yourself? With simple supplies and a bit of arm strength, you can use science to make homemade butter!
November 23, 2020, 6:12 PM
Make Social Emotional Learning a part of your distance learning classroom. The articles in this Text Set come from Newsela’s SEL Elementary School Collection and cover topics relevant to language arts 👉
November 23, 2020, 4:36 PM
A safe Thanksgiving during a pandemic is possible, but health professionals know their advice is as tough to swallow as dry turkey. Make the most of your turkey dinner by following these tips from health experts:
November 23, 2020, 2:18 PM
Kamala Harris, a Democrat, made history as America's first woman to be elected vice president. However, Republican women have their own successes in the election of 2020. A record number of them are heading to Congress, with more races still to be called:
November 23, 2020, 1:19 AM
Shoutout to Mr. Macha's English class! 👏 A great project to keep students engaged in a relevant way.
November 22, 2020, 9:01 PM
With high school around the corner, middle schools make math, science and English a priority — but what about learning to manage stress? Or developing healthy habits and friendships? Make them a priority with Newsela's SEL collection for Middle School:
November 22, 2020, 4:31 PM
With Thanksgiving right coming up, lots of people will be thinking about turkey: Where to buy one, how to prepare the bird and how many leftovers there will be for sandwiches the week after. But how much do you really know about turkeys? Let's find out:
November 22, 2020, 1:31 PM
How and why did the foods served at Thanksgiving dinner come to be so fixed? Many falsely assume that most of the same meats and vegetables were eaten by the Pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving, but let's explore the true origin:
November 22, 2020, 12:27 AM
This past week is the second week in a row that a major drugmaker has issued data indicating its new vaccine could be successful at fighting COVID-19. Preliminary results indicate that the vaccine by Moderna is nearly 95% effective in preventing sickness:
November 21, 2020, 9:05 PM
On November 7, former Vice President Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump to become the 46th president of the United States. Use this collection to educate students about his inspiring journey to the oval office and controversial transition ahead:
November 21, 2020, 6:06 PM
Weave SEL into your lessons with content selected for elementary, middle, and high school learners. Take a closer look at the Newsela Social-Emotional Learning Collection:
November 21, 2020, 4:34 PM
In search of creative new ideas and resources for your teaching? 💡 Explore the Newsela Educator Center for videos, lessons, and ready-to-go assignments for leveling up your classroom 👉
November 21, 2020, 3:02 PM

The best lessons start with the best content.

Ready to bring great instructional content to your students?

Contact Sales