FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A study of the Marshallese experience during COVID-19 remote learning found that focusing first on basic and social-emotional needs and making frequent, personal connections with students and families may mitigate negative effects of school closures, especially for culturally diverse students.
Ensuring access to technology for all students was also critical, said Vicki Collet, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Arkansas.
“The study offers insight for schools as they create plans for school closures, whether of short duration, such as weather closures, or longer duration, such as closures due to infections and other crises that may impact face-to-face learning,” she said.
The study, titled “It Will Change Traditional School in a Very Positive Way”: Educators’ Perspectives of the Marshallese Experience during Spring 2020 Remote Learning, recently published in Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies
Collet and Elise Berman, a colleague from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, conducted interviews with educators and Marshallese students and families to better understand their experiences during the pandemic.
In addition to relevant findings about school closures, the study has broader implications. Collet emphasized, “Our findings suggest that when educators are aware of and responsive to cultural and familial structures and schedules, the likelihood that school-based learning activities will take place at home increases.”
She added that educators should also be careful to value the varied modes of learning and interaction occurring at home. “Instead of lamenting learning loss,” Collet said, “educators can recognize and build on the funds of knowledge students develop in their homes and communities.”
The title of the article, “It will change traditional school in a very positive way,” comes from an interview with a middle-school administrator, who mirrored the experiences of other educators. They recognized that, through their experiences in Spring 2020, they had served students and families in ways that were responsive to the cultures of members of their school community. Educators described their experiences connecting with families through technology, including social media, and through home visits to make sure students were “safe and fed.” These interactions increased educators’ cultural knowledge about their students and families.
Collet and Berman’s collaboration includes a current grant funded by National Geographic, through which they are studying Marshallese children’s cultural and linguistic practices and how these practices correlate with assessments of English proficiency. Berman is a linguistic anthropologist who has lived in the Marshall Islands and speaks Marshallese. Coupling Berman’s cultural knowledge with Collet’s understanding of educational contexts creates a valuable platform for their research.
In the grant work funded by National Geographic, they are joined by Rebecca Roeder, a linguist in the English department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, whose knowledge of English vernaculars adds another important dimension to their research. One of the overarching goals of their collaborative work is to encourage learning environments that support positive and equitable experiences for all students.