Should you Try a Learning Pod? The school year has started and many kids are continuing with remote instruction instead of returning to their regular schools. It can be isolating for kids to study by themselves, so parents are increasingly creating private “learning pods” where kids are taught together in groups by a teacher. Which issues should parents consider when looking to join a pod? How do they know if a pod is just right for their kids? Here’s what the experts say:
The first issue parents should consider is whether they share the same goal as the other parents participating in the pod. Attorney Ann O’Connell, an expert on pods, says that pods often have different goals even when these goals aren’t always made explicit: “parents of older children might be looking for a way to support and supervise their teens’ academics, while parents of younger kids might be seeking a social outlet for their energetic grade-school students.” When choosing a pod, try to get a sense of why certain parents have come together: is the motivation primarily academic or social?
If you’re looking for a pod to support academics, find out if a standard or an alternative curriculum is followed. An alternative curriculum may sound exciting, but be careful what you sign your kids up for. “If standards are completely ignored,” says Jill Dresser, a certified teacher who helps parents run pods, your kids may “have to play catch up when they return to traditional school.”
It’s important that the pod has a qualified teacher. Ms. Dresser says that the teacher should have good experience with classroom management (the environment is very different from that of a traditional classroom) and be used to teaching kids with different learning needs. She suggests that parents join a pod where the teacher “has the experience and creativity to get all children engaged, no matter what level they’re at.”
Some pods are hosted in one location, often the home of one of the families. In others, families rotate that responsibility. Experts agree that it’s best to have a single location for the pod. Marisha Snoyer, co-founder of Modulo, an education think tank, says that having a fixed location creates consistency and makes for a better learning environment.
There are also pods that are hosted entirely online, with the teacher interacting with the kids remotely. That’s preferable to having the kids study on their own, but it’s much better for the kids to interact with the teacher and each other face-to-face. Brian Platzer, a high school teacher and co-founder of Teachers Who Tutor, a tutoring service, says that meeting up in-person “allows for problem-solving with peers, which is hard to replicate via Zoom. Students need practice putting pencil to paper and not just fingers to keyboard. They need space and attention to talk through their thinking. They need dynamic face-to-face interactions.”
Experts agree that a pod shouldn’t have more than 10 kids, and that the number should be considerably lower if the kids are young. Ms. Snoyer says that kids age 6 and up do well in pods with 5-10 kids, while kids under the age of 5 shouldn’t have more than three pod mates.
In a regular classroom, all the kids are the same age. It may not be possible to replicate that in a pod, but experts advise parents to keep the kids in as close an age range as possible: 5 and under, 6-9, 9-12, and 13 and up. If the age range is too wide, it may be hard for the teacher to follow a common curriculum.
Finally, make sure that you and the other parents agree on the proper precautions against Covid-19; if you don’t agree it could become a major source of contention. Ms. O’Connell suggests that pod members discuss “each family’s relative risk tolerance and behavior profile regarding Covid.”
Good luck finding the right pod for your kids!
Photo Courtesy of Gemma Martín Photo