Naomi A. Morris, Rootstown High School
This week, my district started in-person, full-time instruction. Students and parents had been given the choice of attending in-person or staying on remote instruction. Those who chose to stay remote had to commit to remaining at home for the entire semester. Those who opted to come back to school had to commit to following the safety protocols established by the Portage county health department. Early indications are that this is going to be a work-in-progress. Things will probably change daily, or at least weekly. We had a slow roll-out of students at the high school. Freshmen attended Tuesday, sophomores on Wednesday, juniors and seniors on Thursday. Friday was a remote day for all students to give them an idea of what asynchronous learning will be like if the district has to switch to a hybrid or remote teaching model. Next week, all students will be in the building every day.
In the build up to the first week of school, and in the wake of finding out that we would be back in-person, the realities of teaching face-to-face in pandemic situations posed a new set of challenges. The restrictions on student movement in the classroom, the wearing of masks, the inability to share materials, and the lack of devices in classrooms meant that the normal strategies and methods I used would have to be adapted or scrapped entirely. At first, direct instruction looked like the “best” option for this new reality. However, certain little tools and workarounds quickly became evident as I pondered potential issues and had numerous conversations with colleagues. In short, workshopping ideas, asking for advice, and being open to new ideas has meant, at least on paper, that my physically-distanced, masked students need not suffer dull and boring teaching techniques in the name of health and safety.
I can rely on the fact that the vast majority, 90% or more, of students have cellular devices with them at all times. So, those digital powerhouses will become their gateway to turning in all work, digital or handwritten, as well as their tools to produce reflections and short presentations through the use of apps like FlipGrid and Google Classroom. Assessments will be administered through Edulastic whenever possible, given constraints of computer cart availability.
Through these tools, it feels possible to operate my classes in a more flipped-style manner. Class presentations will become videos recorded at home. Posters will be digitally created through Canva, Piktochart, or Google Drawings. In-class students may find themselves doing a bit more reading, a bit more taking notes, a bit more sitting quietly in their desks listening to me, but, unlike our asynchronous model from the spring, they will benefit from being able to ask questions in real time and receive quicker feedback from me in the process. Embedding these digital tools in the classroom also ensures a continuity of experience if/when the district is forced to move to a hybrid or remote model of instruction. In the early days of a new school year, so much time is spent instilling the mindset of a classroom, a school, a community. It makes sense, then, to take some of that on-boarding time to educate students on the digital tools they can expect to use throughout the year. From experience, the initial setup and use of some of these services is the most difficult, thus, if those speedbumps can be overcome in the classroom, the end user experience for students will be significantly improved over asking them to tackle something brand new on their own.
As my principal has been fond of saying lately, “this school year is going to be one for the history books.” What that history of 2020 public education will look like is very much in the hands of the stalwart educators committed to providing the very highest quality education they can. Hopefully, through the lessons learned and the experiences shared through this collective, the 2020-21 academic year will be known more for the innovation of educators everywhere and less about the hamstrung realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.