As we near the end of the school year, and more COVID-19 rules are finally being less restrictive, it seems that our daily school experience is moving towards normal. Most kids are learning physically in the school building full time, with only 5.4 percent of our school’s population being distance learners, meaning 94.6 percent of the students are sitting in an actual classroom throughout the week (as of May 5, 2021). With these numbers, it’s normal to infer that teachers should pay a significant amount of attention to the massive majority of students in the school building. However, that’s not entirely the case.
We believe at least five minutes in every class is spent setting up and working on the Zoom meeting’s technicality, answering questions in the Zoom chat, and constantly checking in on the distance learners. This both leaves the students in school with less time in class to efficiently learn, and the distance learners feeling isolated, subjected, and singled out.
Bedford’s way of dealing with this pandemic-caused divide in classes is anything but efficient – but we’ve got an idea of how to change it.
The most productive way of educating kids is to have students be working with other students, as socializing is especially essential to any education experience. According to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), “Talk becomes critical when students discuss tasks or ideas and question one another, negotiate meaning, clarify their own understanding, and make their ideas comprehensible to their partners.” The ASCD clarifies the critical importance of socialization here, listing its many benefits. However, with only one or two distance learners per class (with most being muted most of the time), the students in school are really the only ones who get to talk to their friends.
The “Ursus” editorial board has developed a solution to this socialization and communication issue: separate classes for distance learners – and only distance learners. Having all the distance learners in one grade have Zoom classes together would allow for larger groups of distance learners and Zoom-less in person classrooms. Since there are very few distance learners left, the most efficient way of conducting these classes would be with one LA class per grade, one math class per grade, etc. Teachers could be specifically assigned for Zoom teaching, and could create lesson plans that catered to the tech requirements of online learning. This would mean all the distance learners could experience something closer to the social interaction the kids present in school get, as they’re communicating through the same medium of Zoom.
Recently, the Connecticut State Department of Education has clarified that schools do not have to provide distance learning amenities, such as Zoom calls, for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. However, with over 5 percent of the students being distance learners at the moment, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that there should be some sort of a system in place for distance learners for the next school year. That’s where our plan could come in. While it may be easier to eliminate distance learning altogether, this plan is efficient and helpful to the distance learners while also keeping the students in-school in a normally functioning classroom.
The Westport School District has worked extremely hard to make sure distance learners have the resources they need to learn efficiently this year; however, the structure of their plans could benefit from a different approach by giving distance learners their own, separate class in which to focus.