[I wrote this in March and July, but didn’t post it. I am posting it now… as we rapidly approach the end of August. I have more reflections, but will do those in a new post!]
I am up early, the first Sunday of the official closure. We thought, last Sunday, that we would at least see our students on Monday. That didn’t happen. Late last Sunday night school was canceled for the foreseeable future.
Teachers went in on Tuesday at scheduled times to work on letters to families and to grab a few items. I actually went in on Friday to get a few more items… and already realize there are some other things I meant to bring home. Clearly, before we go back I want to rethink (yes, again!) the way I have the classroom organized.
Unlike some school districts that have families with near-constant connectivity, we are not planning on running online “school.” Too many students in our district do NOT have internet access, or computers to work on. Or families who can readily supervise at-home learning.
ADDING in July…
We were required to pivot to ALL distance learning. Some families had NO connectivity that worked for distance learning, and the only contact I had was by phone calls every other week (almost always from me to the homes, families didn’t seem to want to call) – they used packets and workbooks. Many families were able to get online, but the students spent most of their login time on educational “games” and didn’t seem to take advantage of the video lessons. A few families did the video lessons and turned in the work.
I gradually lost track of more and more students as the “distance learning” continued. Most didn’t turn anything in — I have no way to know if they understood, or even attempted the work. Many focused on the (very short) online, game-like lessons from apps frequently used in their computer classes/intended as introductory/review and so didn’t engage with the more challenging work that we had prepared for them.
A few showed up for “Meets” which were really a time to work on social skills, check in with them (a couple of times I helped a student who was stuck on a particular lesson, but they usually didn’t want to work on “schoolwork”), and a chance to know their teacher remembered their names and cared.
And now the school year is over. The students are officially on vacation. We have no idea what next year will be like as far as schedules or locations. I am going to clean out a LOT of personal materials from the classroom when I go back in August for the return-to-school push of organizing. Already I am working on materials for next year, wondering if families will be willing to engage and support their students’ engagement from home when we aren’t able to be at school. To help them make that change, I am creating some videos just for families so they know what students can and should do!
I didn’t have the time or ability to really think (in advance of starting distance learning in April) about how to set students and families up for success if we didn’t return to school at all. When we restarted in April, we expected to return to the classroom at the beginning of May… Things that are fine for a week or two, are NOT fine for three or four months!
Lesson learned. Taking time this summer to go over classroom routines, think about how they should be adapted for online learning and blended learning (which is some online, some in person), and preparing videos that students and families can watch together to learn about me so there is no confusion about what I expect! Doing these lessons first so I have time to remake them later as I think more, but if I make one that’s “good enough” (I long ago gave up on perfect!), then it’s done and I can just move on.
So, yes, it is technically “vacation” for families and students, but most teachers will spend most of this time rethinking our ‘normal’ teaching practices and trying to make them easily adaptable no matter where the students are! I am taking several courses this summer for that reason; and I am also developing an ELA curriculum to start the year with – across the United States, teachers will need to incorporate a LOT of ideas and skills from previous grades, since many students weren’t able to access the learning this spring. A few students will have essentially been out of school for nearly 6 months when we return to school.
Some students may not be able to attend regularly this fall and winter due to family illness or other difficulties. Some students will still not have internet connectivity. Some students will have no adults in the home who can support their learning when they are not in a physical classroom; many parents work two and three jobs, or work far from home and so their commute makes it difficult to spend time on schoolwork.
Which means every lesson I prepare will need to have an accompanying video (even if only a few minutes) that explains the work as well as the procedures for turning the work in. While I can (fairly easily) differentiate and scaffold for students who need more support or are ready for advanced material, I won’t know who needs it unless I see how they’re doing! And I think once I explain that to the families, they will be willing to help the students turn the work in.
We’ll see. So much can change in a very short time.
For now, please be safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Avoid crowds when you can. As Red Green used to say, “We’re all in this together.”