– Peter Santoro –
In New York, we are entering our tenth week of “Pause.” Schools and non-essential businesses have been closed and radical changes have forced everyone to face the realization that life will be dramatically different for the foreseeable future. Students, teachers, parents and administrators have had to navigate the Rapid Transition to Online Learning with little or no preparation. We haven’t even been able to catch our collective breath. Moving forward, businesses, state and local governments, and schools, among other entities, are being pressed to develop reopening plans. The CDC just released a decision-tree for reopening schools and our school administrators are currently working on plans to implement the CDC guidelines. The big questions for school administration are: 1. How do we move forward in education, keeping students and staff safe, AND maintaining academic standards? 2. What have we learned from these past ten weeks that should enlighten the decision-making process? As teachers, we need to translate these administration-made decisions into a practical, standards-based approach for educating our students.
The school year will be coming to a close in New York in a few weeks. There are more questions than answers, which is not the typical way the school year concludes. There is so much uncertainty moving forward as New York begins the process of reopening. Everyone will be watching the news to see if COVID-19 cases start to rise again. If cases do not rise drastically, people will feel safer sending their children to school in September. The rise (or not) of COVID-19 cases will affect what our schools will look like in September. If schools choose a split-session model, the school day will be extended by several hours so that half the student population can attend classes in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. This would require additional teachers to teach the additional sections that need to be taught amid financially strapped state and school budgets. It would also negatively impact after school activities, such as clubs and athletics, not to mention child care issues for teachers and the parents of our students.
In preparation for this article, I reached out to my Principal, Mr. Kevin Steingruebner for his thoughts:
I wrote a combination of big picture and personalized viewpoints about preparation for the road ahead…
This pandemic has forced us to prepare for what is ahead in education. As unfortunate a scenario this has created for our entire society, it has forced us to embrace the technology that is useful in education at all levels. Many of us have been preparing and making the transition to online teaching and learning for years, and not just the last few years with flipped learning and Google Classroom. I took a few online courses as part of my master’s degree at SUNY Stony Brook in the late ’90s. There may not have been video on the internet at the time, but the basis of interaction in an asynchronous environment showed me that this would be part of the future in education. Those were the most cognitively engaging courses I took at the time. Students had no choice but to respond to each and every prompt the professor presented; there was no sitting in a physical class and observing others participate while others zoned out and watched the clock. The roles of time and location weren’t paramount anymore. I tried setting up similar types of online environments in my own high school classes in the early 2000’s with varying success; some of the independent projects I can still find on the Wayback Machine are just as relevant today; but none of this work replaces the connections that are made in the physical classroom, and the relationships that are built and required for the appropriate growth of youth and adolescents. The future of education will be a combination of both; a hybrid model where teachers and students develop relationships in the physical classroom and through online learning. Some students thrive using technology as the primary source of gathering and synthesizing information, while others need more support; not necessarily on the technical end, but with focusing, organizing and processing objectives and content. The reasons we might be starting such hybrid models this fall may be for social distancing rather than a shift in philosophy, but it will be a great test for what may be a long term model for teaching and learning.
As I read Mr. Steingruebner’s insights and look at the road ahead, there are several relevant points:
What can we classroom teachers do now to plan for the new reality we are likely to face this fall as we return to school? It seems as though the education system is leaning towards a blended environment of learning at home and at school. Based on the CDC guideline referenced above, social distancing will be here to stay for the foreseeable future. The manifestation of that reality in our schools will most likely be that students will attend school on alternate days. Half of the class is in school and the other half is at home. We need to provide learning activities for both groups – online and face-to-face – every day. This will be a drastic change to how we deliver content, as well as how we utilize class time since we will be face to face with our students half the number of school days as we’ve been accustomed to in the past.
This new reality essentially makes Flipped Learning the new model for education moving forward. When students are in their “at home” class, we need to provide them with not only video lessons, but engaging learning activities that can enhance their understanding of the material. This is where teachers need to be as creative as possible. We cannot use the same techniques every day. Great innovative technology tools are available. I know I will spend time this summer researching and testing out many of the great offerings, and I will be planning how to best utilize these tools when school starts. I realize that I need to expand my “bag of tricks” in order to keep students engaged when they are in their “at home” classes.
On those days when we have students in our classrooms, it will be critically important to carefully and thoughtfully plan for the best use of face to face time with our students. Active learning strategies to reinforce the learning that our students did at home are critically important. This time with our students is going to be so precious; we cannot waste it. This is the time to critically examine how to move to the upper levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and guide our students to those higher-order thinking skills. I have already started thinking about the strategies that can be used to achieve this in my classroom. One guide I am using to plan for this is based on the Harvard Project Zero’s Thinking Routine Toolbox. The resources provided here are a great starting point. Some examples are: Core Thinking Routines, Digging Deeper into Ideas, and Synthesizing and Exploring Ideas. These strategies provide frameworks for teachers to guide students to delve below the surface of topics covered in video lessons and expand student thinking, learning, and achievement. This is the time to get your creative juices flowing. The class time is so valuable; we need to give our students the very best of ourselves as teachers.
The decisions we make moving forward will be critical to maintaining student achievement and ensuring that we can reach every student, every day, in every class.
Join us as we discuss the ideas in the article with educators around the global at the Second Wave Summit | 2020
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