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High School Distance Learning Teaching Time Management

on May 26, 2020

When the Warwick Valley Central School District switched to remote instruction, administration and faculty knew solutions needed to be consistent throughout the district, yet flexible enough to be tailored to all grade levels – especially with the high school students.

“We wanted to be fair to the kids and fair to the parents,” said high school principal Marguerite Fusco. “We thought about what distance learning would look like across all grades, and it looks significantly different for high school students, who have different teachers for multiple subjects.”

At first, that dynamic led to a heavy workload as multiple teachers posted three lessons and subsequent deadlines each week. Some students were overwhelmed by this change to an entirely new learning model. The district quickly reassessed its model and reset its expectations to provide students with the best possible learning conditions.

“We scaled back and spread out the work to make it more manageable for the students,” said Ms. Fusco. “We put soft deadlines in place to help students with their time management.”

“A lot of us did feel a little overwhelmed at first because you would get all this work that would normally be spread out over a seven-hour day,” said senior Natalie Daigle. She uses an app on her computer to organize her daily schedule and stay up to date on her assignments.

Arden Hallett

“An unexpected benefit of distance learning is the opportunity to try out something like college-style learning,” said sophomore Arden Hallett. “We have classes a couple of times a week, but there’s no in-class oversight, and it is up to students to structure their own time to complete assignments.”

“Students’ schedules are set for them during a typical school day,” said math teacher Colleen Russell. “When it comes to high school students, we tend to be dealing with nocturnal beings, so the ability to upload lessons and videos and give them flexible deadlines has been great for letting them set their schedules.”

Ms. Russell said it’s not unusual for her to receive cell phone notifications in the wee hours of the morning that students have logged in and posted an assignment or an inquiry. Teachers have made themselves available throughout the day, inviting students to get in touch through Google Classroom, school emails, etc.

“I think most of us are on call more than when we were in the classroom,” said Ms. Russell. “Not having a room where students can pop in at any time is difficult. A lot of them need that interaction.”

“Our teachers have been so flexible through this,” said Ms. Fusco. “They’ve been encouraging students to email, text, or call with their questions or concerns, offering one-on-one interactions and setting up personal Google Meets.”

“All of the teachers have been very caring and supportive during this time,” said Arden. “They’ve made a big effort to look out for all of us, not just academically, but also for our well-being. They’ve all made themselves available to us and have been very kind and personal.”

Students say Google Meets have been especially helpful for asking questions of their teachers in real-time. Junior Dylan Holder compared it to getting the kind of personalized attention you used to get from staying after class or after school.

“Right before we closed, I had a test to finish for math class,” said Dylan. “Once I was set up at home, I contacted my teacher for a one-on-one to review the lesson before I took the exam remotely. I was able to take the test and did really well.”

Dylan shared that his football teammates have been connecting for Google Meet workout sessions, where they’ve been able to talk to their coaches.

English teacher Marilyn Brozycki’s sophomores were reading Lord of the Flies when the district closed. In past years, her classes would begin with a group reading that the students would finish for homework, followed by questions and group discussions during the next class session. She has been able to recreate that important class dynamic using video. “I’m a big proponent of small group discussions – four or five kids in a group – when it comes to sharing ideas and relating them to the rest of the class,” she said. “That way, everybody gets a chance to chime in. We’ve been able to recreate that remotely, and it’s been great.”

District-approved apps like Screencastify and Flipgrid have also helped expand and enhance Google Suite capabilities, giving teachers multiple ways to present their content in dynamic and visually compelling ways. Live and archived videos, along with quick and simple screen sharing, have been a huge help to many students. As Ms. Fusco explained,

“These apps are also very adaptable to different subjects,” she said. “Our teachers can use the same programs for subjects that require a more procedural learning style – math, science, etc. – and ones like English, that tend to be more discussion-oriented.”

“I don’t have to meet with 30 students,” said Ms. Russell. “I can even meet with just one student, and we can share screens and work on math as if we were sitting together.” Compared to the 40 minutes of traditional classroom time that a teacher has in a class period, the archived video lessons let students learn at their own pace. “If they don’t understand a problem, they can pause and review certain clips. It’s all about their pace, and that’s been a big plus.”

Natalie, like many students, shared how appreciative she is of the recorded video content, and how she can view teachers’ screens during live lessons. “Especially for math,” she explained. “It’s helpful that our teacher can share her screen, and we can see what she’s writing, and we have our textbooks. It’s almost as if we’re in the classroom, just at home.”

Ms. Brozycki said that it’s nice to be able to see the students’ faces and hear their voices. “I think we all enjoy that, and it is the closest thing to classroom discussion that we have under these circumstances,” she said.

Arden finds it paradoxical that remote learning has strengthened connections between herself and her classmates. “At the end of these meets, there’s often a time for everyone to share something personal about what they’ve been doing (during quarantine) and to swap recipes and movie recommendations,” said Arden. “I’ve gotten to know more about my classmates and their interests and hobbies in a way I never did when we were all together.”

Ms. Fusco

Ms. Fusco also shared that peer support among teachers and staff has gone a long way toward helping the faculty expand its skillset overall. She has seen it regularly during staff meetings. “I’m so proud of how the teachers have come together to support one another, and that, of course, helps the students,” said Ms. Fusco. “They’ve been phenomenal.”

“Distance learning started as something to get used to, but it’s become easier over time,” said Dylan. “But not going back and seeing everyone has been a big part of what we miss. Seeing your friends throughout the day, hanging out in class, and working together.”

Ms. Russell said that distance learning has been similarly difficult from the teachers’ viewpoint. “It’s hard when we’ve developed relationships with these kids, not to see them anymore,” she said. “I think they miss that interaction, too.”

 Because the district works so hard to maintain the latest technology and training available, many of its teachers already had distance learning know-how before the pandemic. So while there has been a learning curve, faculty and staff feel fortunate to have had the resources to hit the ground running and overcome some significant adversity in a relatively small amount of time.

Even with the end of the school year coming on quickly, an ongoing exchange of feedback between administration, faculty, students, and parents continues to refine the district’s distance learning plan every day.

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