Closure inspires remote teaching options
Now that the Methow Valley School District has made sure that virtually every student has a computer and internet access — and with school closed for the rest of the year — teachers are coming up with new ways of teaching remotely that will let them monitor students’ progress and hold them accountable.
In the first weeks of the school closure, as everyone was adapting to being scattered across the valley, teachers rallied to assemble projects students could do for academic enrichment. Many students eagerly tackled the projects, but the work was optional.
“Now, there’s the expectation that all students will participate,” Methow Valley School District Superintended Tom Venable said, stressing that educators will work with students and families to remove any barriers to participation.
There won’t be a singular approach to what the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) calls “remote learning.” Teachers will stay in touch with students by phone, text, and email, and lessons will be available on computers, in books, and on paper, distributed by bus routes and the internet.
“We have to figure out how to support students in a differentiated manner — it’s not easy,” Venable said. “Parents and students have been incredibly patient.”
Teachers will provide extra guidance about what they expect from students. They’ll also ask for more feedback so they can identify gaps in the process and help parents who’ve been thrust into the unfamiliar role of teacher, Venable said.
At the elementary level, teachers are using a simple, flexible system called “learning boards,” which list options that correspond to activities in the weekly packets of assignments, Methow Valley Elementary Principal Paul Gutzler said.
For example, sixth-graders may be asked to read on their own for 60 minutes each day and then answer questions in their reading log. First-graders might be asked to work on their handwriting.
There are also participatory music and art activities, such as singing along with teachers, who recorded a video of themselves singing the “Seven Continents” song, Gutzler said.
Some choices will be digital. Older students may be assigned to listen to a podcast that compares the 1918 flu pandemic with COVID-19, he said.
Although Independent Learning Center (ILC) students miss the direct connections with classmates, teachers, and mentors, the school’s individualized approach adapts well to this unprecedented shutdown. Students’ work is already individually tailored, ILC Principal Sara Mounsey said. “There are no blanket expectations for every student,” she said.
So the ILC’s 30 students are revising their learning plans to reflect what’s important for them to learn — and what they can realistically accomplish — in these circumstances, Mounsey said. Video conferences with teachers and classmates help them explore beyond their individual goals.
“There has been some beauty in closure that we didn’t necessarily anticipate,” Mounsey said. For one student, whose father travels regularly for work, it’s been an opportunity to spend more time with the father and to work on projects together.
Other students have found ways to retool internships — generally an in-person collaboration with others in the community. Students who’d been helping in elementary classrooms are now making videos of themselves reading stories or tutoring younger family members.
Mounsey asked the students in her advisory class to devise a meaningful way to document this extraordinary time. The results — poetry, a journal, photos, or videos — will be a vital historic record.
At Liberty Bell High School, new material and learning opportunities come with extra guidance for students and a forgiving attitude.
The transition to remote learning is gradual, Principal Crosby Carpenter said in a letter to students and families last week. “I’ve asked teachers to give themselves, their students, and our families plentiful amounts of grace as we make this transition,” he said.
Carpenter said the most common question he gets is whether students’ work will be graded. They’re still waiting for a definitive answer from OSPI, but he assured students that they won’t be caught off-guard with unrealistic expectations.
Students are expected to complete any work assigned before school closed on March 13, and they can revise or correct that work and submit it again.
School staff is working with seniors to ensure they’ve completed graduation requirements, Carpenter said. The state Board of Education adopted emergency rules that allow school districts to waive some requirements. Whether students can celebrate graduation with a traditional ceremony is still up in the air.
“It’s so unique — none of us have ever been here before. It’s an opportunity to grow in unanticipated ways,” Mounsey said.