The term “learning pod” (aka pandemic pod) has become a common household phrase in a matter of weeks. For every parent who is anxiously trying to figure out how to return to work while safely educating kids in a learning pod, there is a critic warning us of the dangers in educational inequities they will reinforce. It’s a heated debate. Regardless of which side you’re on, learning pods are filling a gap that many parents and schools don't know how to fill, and that is why their promise is gaining popularity.
Parents desperate to avoid the distance learning challenges of spring want to know what their options are and how to set up a learning pod. There are three trends in learning pod structures: tutor-led, teacher-led or parent-led. Here are considerations for each model as parents plan for fall:
Ways to Structure a Learning Pod
Tutor-Led Learning Pod
If you are able to hire a tutor, make sure you do your homework: check training and ask if they have expertise in a particular subject. It’s important to know exactly what you’re hiring a tutor for and be aware that only some tutors are trained in specific academic areas. If you plan to use a tutor to lead a learning pod, consider the following:
- Consult a teacher (past or present) who knows your child in order to understand his academic needs and any gaps in learning. Report cards show little about the nuances of kids as learners. Perhaps the teacher can provide an email narrative summary or join a conference call (with tutor and parent) to make sure everyone is on the same page in supporting your child's needs. Don’t be afraid to include your child in these conversations—it helps him understand himself as a learner and it helps build agency.
- Find a tutor that is trained in the areas your child needs support. Just because a college student is majoring in math or took AP Calculus doesn’t mean they are an expert in teaching sixth grade math. Look for someone who is well-versed in Common Core State Standards.
- If your child is in early elementary school and you can only get one specialty tutor, consider a trained reading specialist. Starting in third grade, much of the academic content (science, math, etc.) is accessed through reading and writing, so literacy is a good investment.
Teacher-Led Learning Pod
In some areas of San Diego County there are groups of parents banding together to hire “specials” or “pull-out” teachers to run specialized learning pods since these teachers likely don’t have the same full-time expectations as typical classroom teachers. In terms of the equity debate re learning pods, this option feels the most dangerous to me. Most hybrid and virtual schedules don’t include enrichment classes or hands-on science, so I understand the desire for kids to have access to extra resources. The best use of parent time and energy in this regard is to put pressure on school district leadership to find ways to make enrichment accessible to all students.
Parent-Led Learning Pod
No one knows children better than their parents; however, teachers rank right up there! This combined perspective, in conjunction with close communication and collaboration, makes parent-run learning pods an attractive and productive way to approach distance learning for those who can make it happen. Here are tips for parent-led learning pods:
- Communicate with the school.
- Keep groups small and grade-level appropriate.
- “Departmentalize” the pods (have parents oversee specific subjects).
- Create designated learning spaces at home.
- Develop a schedule.
Every parent wants what is best for their children and is willing to use every resource available to do so. While there are fundamental arguments related to accessibility of those resources, working parents are just trying to survive right now. If learning pods can help students learn while parents get back to work, I hope these tips and resources help make that happen.
More Learning at Home Resources for Parents
- PBL for parents mini e-course (homeschool or distance learning enrichment)
- Making and tinkering at home
- How to set up an enrichment space at home
- Family Science: STEM activities to do at home
- Using sports to engage learning at home
- Projects for parents to run at home
- 3 tips for working parents to survive COVID-19
- PBL-ish ideas for parents
- PBL Lite for Parents
- PBL parent resources: Pinterest Board
- How ‘regular’ parents can homeschool by CNN
- Daily learning plans from an Expert
- For parents of “littles”
Dr. Jenny Pieratt is a native San Diegan, award-winning author, speaker, business owner and mother of two. She loves sports, yoga and adventure. To learn more about her work visit www.craftedcurriculum.com and follow her on social media @crafted_jennyp.