Students, teachers modify study spaces during unique year

Adapting to remote learning and safety protocols, Mill Valley students and teachers have found new ways to focus, work, and learn

February 20, 2021

During remote learning, junior Maddy Williams had a problem: she didn’t know where to study. She faced too many distractions working from home to focus and succeed – until she came up with an unconventional solution: coffee shops.

Though she still attended mandatory Zooms from home, Williams began making efforts to study and complete classwork out of the house, which she said helped her focus and direct her attention to her work, instead of her at-home obligations. 

“One reason I like studying at coffee shops is because I absolutely love coffee. But other than that, coffee shops provide a really good environment for me to get stuff done,” Williams said. “I am able to get away from distractions at home, like my family and chores, to focus on my school work.“

Working on a math assignment, junior Maddy Williams studies at a coffee shop. (By Steven Curto)

Junior Taylor Doyle, on the other hand, has spent most of her year at home. As an optional remote student, she’s reworked her guest room into an office space for her to attend school. 

Doyle, who believes she’s well-prepared for the fully online environment, has learned to work well from home as a necessary precaution to avoid COVID-19. 

“The most important thing to me is protecting my family and others around me. It honestly made sense for me to be online since both of my parents work from home and I do really well with online school,” Doyle said. “The best thing about this decision is not having to worry about contracting Covid as much. It has relieved a lot of stress off my plate.”

Finding successful learning spaces has also been a challenge for teachers, who have aimed to put their students in positions to succeed while also remaining as safe and cautious as possible. As school has shifted from fully remote to fully in-person, psychology teacher Kirsten Crandall has shifted her students from breakout rooms to small desk groups. 

“The breakout rooms were great — I don’t know what we would have done without them — but I could never figure out a way to make it come close to in-class group collaboration. It just never felt the same,” Crandall said, “Now being in person and having the small groups makes the group collaboration aspect a conversation. With the breakout rooms, you had to kind of force it.”

Adapting to unprecedented circumstances this year has, for some students, revealed radically different needs for success. Doyle and Williams’s ideal situations for studying couldn’t be more different. 

Williams prefers the hustle and bustle of coffee shops, believing that the white noise helps her stay concentrated. 

Answering the teacher’s question, senior Addison Stover shares with psychology teacher Kirsten Crandall what one of her tablemates did during their extended weekend. (By Steven Curto)

“I think that the background noise at coffee shops really does help me focus,” Williams said. “Who knows why, but hearing people talk, quiet music, and baristas making coffee helps me get work done.”

Doyle, on the other hand, prefers the comfort and relative relaxation of working from home and sticking to the routine she’s settled into. 

“The best thing about being an online student is being able to take a nap during the lunch break. I feel a lot more well rested and I’m able to focus more on classes,” Doyle said. “Also I’ve enjoyed being able to do school from the comfort of my home. It is definitely a unique experience, but not in a bad way.” 

As the year progressed, Crandall discovered that a sense of consistency for her students helped them perform effectively in class. She tried to stick to a routine while teaching remotely; now that her students have returned to the building, she’s moved to assigned seats to provide that consistency. 

“With so many changes in school and in the world, consistency was kind of the only thing that was able to keep us running,” Crandall said.

Doyle understands the importance of consistency, and believes it’s been key to her success this year — she thinks she’s actually better off than in-person students because she’s been able to keep the same schedule all year.

“I feel like people going in person are having to adjust more because their schedules of whether or not they are going in person changes constantly,” Doyle said. “I’m the type of person who works better with everything being the same.”

Williams, though, prefers the benefits of getting out of the house and creating a separate, more efficient workspace free of distractions. 

Senior Taylor Doyle has turned her guest bedroom into a study space to use during her year of at-home remote learning. (By Taylor Doyle (submitted))

“I have always loved getting out of the house to study, but COVID-19 has definitely resulted in me going to more coffee shops. I think I got sick of spending so much time at home during our school’s online learning plan,” Williams said. “I was definitely not a fan of combining my learning space with my home space, especially since I find myself getting so distracted with things at home. Coffee shops allow me to focus more and create that separate workspace that works well for me.” 

Ultimately, Doyle, Williams, and Crandall have all been forced to adjust to a tumultuous year, discovering their own personal favorite methods and spaces for learning along the way. 

Though Doyle admits the stresses of the year can get to her at times, she still believes the hectic changes made have been ultimately for the best. 

“I’ve missed out on a lot of things this year, as many others have. I do get down sometimes but I know this time is temporary,” Doyle said. “I’m not necessarily missing out on things at school since no one is going to activities like homecoming. It’s more that I’m just missing out on seeing my friends in a normal way. It has been very disappointing, but I know it’s worth it.” 

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