I’ve been thinking about President Trump’s all caps tweet with three exclamation marks, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” Ideally, schools should open, but saying “must,” ignores the fact that
the decisions will be made locally, based on local conditions. I also question the definition of “open.”
Of course, schools must be open for business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all or even any students and faculty must be physically on campus.
There are various models when it comes to how schools can operate during a pandemic, including a hybrid approach where some students are on campus and some are attending class online. And the same goes for faculty, who might spend part of their time in each location or — perhaps because of special risk factors like age or the medical conditions of themselves or people they live with — may do all of their teaching from home. And, as powerful as national, state and local officials may be, there is a more powerful force called the coronavirus — that doesn’t listen to their proclamations. Any plans have to be flexible to adapt to local public health concerns that may change at any time before or during the school year.
There are numerous approaches to how to operate schools during this period. New York City has decided that schools will open in September, but according to the New York Times, attendance would “be limited to only one to three days a week in an effort to continue to curb the coronavirus outbreak.” Like many districts, the city plans to use a hybrid of in-class and online learning for the foreseeable future.
Bay Area schools are also looking toward a hybrid approach. KCBS reports that the majority of students in San Jose’s Alum Rock School district will attend school remotely with about 10% on campus, including those who are homeless or have special needs.
None of these options are ideal. While expressing caution about the risk of spreading COVID-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) acknowledged the importance of face-to-face learning. “There is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the organization wrote in a planning guidance post. “Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation. This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.”
The AAP advises school authorities that “policies must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information” and that strategies “be revised and adapted depending on the level of viral transmission in the school.” The organization has an extensive list of recommendations broken down by pre-K, elementary school and secondary school, based on risk factors and different behavior patterns of different age groups.
Remote learning techniques
While the general experience of remote learning has been less than ideal, there have been some silver linings from the experiences of millions of students and teachers over the past few months. The website Edutopia, has an article on Distance Learning Strategies to Bring Back to the Classroom based on things that went well during the lockdown. These include using email to provide frequent feedback to students, using screen sharing to help students validate their research in real-time, and “providing space for relevant side chatter.”
One of the things we’ve learned during the lockdown enforced remote learning is that teaching skills matter but classroom techniques do need to be adopted for remote learning. Many a parent has commented that they feel ill-equipped to home school their children and that’s partially because teaching is a craft that’s learned in school and in the field. I have a doctorate in education, but when my kids were in school, I still had trouble even helping them with their homework. And the day that I tried helping out in my daughter Katherine’s kindergarten class was almost laughable. Although I love and get along very well with young children, I had no idea how to help them with their work, unlike Katherine who knew exactly what to do. Teaching secondary students from home has even more challenges because of subject matter expertise. Not too many parents are experts in calculus, history, chemistry and biology among all the other subjects that teachers specialize in.
There are numerous online articles with remote learning tips that include advice such as using online resources, avoiding lecturing when possible, making assignments clear, and offering lots of feedback. Working in small groups online is often preferable, and teachers have told me that it often makes sense to spend one-on-one time with students.
There are some very creative ways to educate remotely. My daughter is teaching grades 1 through 4 during summer school and is having her students build things at home — often out of cardboard — and make videos showing off their work that she shares with other students.
A principal’s experience
In an interview, Henry Turner, the principal of a 2,200 student high school in Newton, Massachusetts, said that his district is still in the planning stages to determine whether to fully open, offer only remote learning or a hybrid of the two. The district is surveying families and consulting with state and local health officials. Even if the school reopens, it’s likely that some parents will choose to keep their kids at home so — in any case — they will have to offer remote learning services.
When I asked him about the challenges of this past school year and his thoughts for next, he said that “equity is the number one thing you need to think about” to make sure you’re serving your most vulnerable students, including those for whom English may not be their primary language and students with disabilities. There is also the issue of students whose families may not be able to afford the necessary technology and connectivity, though Turner’s school has a “one to one” program that provides every student with a laptop. Equity also involves listening to all parents — not just the affluent ones with the loudest voices.
But he worries about all his students. Even if school reopens, “school is not going to be as social as it was.” He said there will be distancing guidelines, restrictions on where they have lunch, extracurriculars, sports, field trips — many of those are at risk.” He added, “when we’re in the building, we need to be fostering our relationships with students and thinking about how they are going to relate to each other and continuing to do that when they are remote as well.”
I asked Turner about any silver linings from the lockdown, and he said he saw a lot of innovation and opportunities that may not have been practical during normal school sessions, such as guest lectures from people who might not normally have been able to travel to the school, successful digital assemblies, smaller classes and “digital office hours” for one-on-one communications between students and faculty.
Students will learn
Despite all the planning, we don’t know what the next school year will look like, but there are things we do know. It will be made up of students, teachers and parents who are anxious to do their best to make it work. It will be rocky, unpredictable and probably chaotic, and there will be some experiments that will fail and some that will succeed. But we will get through it and learning will happen. Students may not learn exactly the same things they would in normal years, but they will learn some very valuable life lessons and technology skills.
Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.
Published at Thu, 09 Jul 2020 14:00:06 +0000