Many public school educators are immersed right now in preparations for a new school year that promises to be unlike any other. And, along with all of the usual annual back-to-school tasks and trainings, plus learning new safety protocols, a lot of energy is being focused on planning for remote learning that’s more equitable, effective, and engaging.
Every district plan we’ve read emphasizes that this year’s remote learning will differ from when schools closed suddenly in March 2020. Some of those changes are specified in guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: for instance, districts and schools are expected to do more to ensure that all students have the technology and internet access they need; to communicate better with families; and to hold students accountable for attendance and participation.
However, we wanted to know more about how the day-to-day experience of learning and being in school remotely is likely to change. To find out about that, we invited several middle and high school teachers to tell us about what they have been working on. Thanks to Amanda Helgerson (Great Falls Middle School), Jessica Vachula-Curtis (Turners Falls High School), and Eliza Beardslee and Leah Plath (both Four Rivers Public Charter School) for sharing their thoughts!
Increasing Structure, Interaction, and Flexibility
Several teachers noted that the upcoming year would be “more organized” and “predictable,” and they have new ideas for helping kids keep from getting confused. They are all thinking a lot about making the most of scheduled online class time. For instance, Leah Plath is going to try presenting lecture-based content “through slideshows and videos so students can access the material repeatedly and at their own pace” and devoting class time more to discussion and interaction.
“Remote learning actually allows us to individualize” learning in some unique ways, notes Jessica Vachula-Curtis. Many teachers are planning to offer a mix of do-it-together assignments and do-at-your-own-pace assignments that students can complete at times that work best for them. Eliza Beardslee said she looks forward to “fostering real listening and creating opportunities for students to ask and explore great questions in as active a way as possible. She’s also planning on getting “even more creative with how to make learning kinesthetic … when we study water, I want students to get out and examine the streams and rivers right by their homes if they can!”
New Tech Tools
The teachers described learning and teaching one another about online tools that will expand and enhance what they were able to do before. We heard about plans to use technology that supports collaborative online bulletin boards, chat-based discussions, virtual field trips, language translation, voice recording, and reading text aloud. Some examples of apps and platforms they are excited to try out are Nearpod, Flipgrid, and Google Jamboard.
Connections Are Still the Key
These teachers all work at schools that prioritize time for community building and social connections in their schedules, and that’s reflected in their remote learning plans as well. Eliza Beardslee observes that “what I learned about remote teaching from observing classes and hearing from students last spring is that students are primarily looking for connection, to teachers and to other students.” Amanda Helgerson has all sorts of learning games she’s excited to try out with her students in math classes and advisory, and Jessica Vachula-Curtis looks forward to resuming weekly check-ins on Google Meet, a time to “just chat about whatever they want to talk about.” At Four Rivers, academic instruction is taking place remotely, but students will have an in-person opportunity to see their advisor and grade level classmates outdoors at the school once a week.