Faculty News

How the Pandemic Has Shaped the Way Children are Learning

As part of a special series, Nell Duke, Ed.D., professor at the School of Education, joins this episode of Michigan Minds to discuss her research in early childhood literacy development and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected learning.

Professor Duke’s research primarily focuses on early childhood literacy development, particularly among children living in poverty. Her specific areas of expertise include development of informational reading and writing in young children, comprehension development and instruction in early schooling, and issues of equity in literacy education.

In this episode, she dives into how her work over the past year of the pandemic has shifted to support child care centers, assisting preschools and elementary schools. One of the first things she did was develop informational videos to provide research-aligned support for remote early literacy instruction. The videos provided assistance to educators on the topic of early literacy development in a remote context.

“I modeled how a teacher can use the breakout function and zoom to listen to each child read individually, which is a very important thing that teachers do, but is obviously much more challenging in a remote context. I also demonstrated a technique called interactive writing, which is really where the teacher leads some writing, but the children contribute to the writing as well and it gives them a lot of important practice with some early literacy knowledge and skills that they need.”

During the interview, she provides insight into the way children learned differently this past year—with at-home activities and experiences shaping their lessons. She describes that in the age of online learning, many lessons learned are the ones that happen offline.

“There are children who have had the opportunity to, for example, spend a lot more time in conversation with their families, and that is an opportunity for learning. Some children have had an opportunity to spend more time with educational television including programs that are available through PBS Kids, and research shows this is educational for children. Some children had the chance to cook more with their families, and we can learn a ton from cooking—we learn about measurement, mathematics, and sometimes even science, beginning with chemistry.”

Her message is one of encouragement, stating that children are always learning and are resilient in what they can retain. She dispels the concept that there has been a loss or suspension of learning over the past year and moves the focus to how parents and educators can provide a positive learning environment for students.

“I do think it’s very important for us to try and maintain the stance that yes, this has been a really hard period of time. And yes, children probably on average aren’t where we might expect them to be with specific academic skills for their grade level—but they have learned a lot and they are continuing to learn, and we want to welcome them with a very positive and strengths-oriented perspective on their learning.”

Duke closes with an important message about positivity and how parents and guardians can create learning experiences out of everyday tasks and activities. Promoting literacy to children can be done throughout the day by reading signs, pamphlets, instructions, and more—creating a fun and continuous learning environment.