Two months ago, Vermont schools closed their doors and students opened their laptops.
There was an air of panic about how to deliver remote learning to thousands of students weathering the COVID-19 pandemic at home.
Teachers and students quickly became adept at using unfamiliar technology and finding creative ways to connect and share work or ideas.
Schools say the innovations have made them stronger and plan to incorporate them into the new era of education, in whatever form it takes.
The greatest learning curve for digital schooling has been technology. Teachers have expanded the use of products like Google Classroom as a hub for assignments, links, chats, schedules and reminders. Teachers and administrators have found Google Classroom to be a valuable tool and hope to utilize it more even when in-person schooling resumes.
Finding Google Classroom especially helpful in upper elementary, Joe Resteghini, principal of Champlain Elementary School in Burlington, hopes to start technology lessons even earlier, issuing Chromebooks and teaching Google Classroom to kindergarten and first-graders.
Teachers of the youngest grades are using Flipgrid and Seesaw to post short videos explaining a concept, like math, that a child can watch repeatedly.
“We had never heard of Seesaw and Flipgrid,” Resteghini said. “But now it’s just part of our routines, and I imagine that we’ll have added that to our regular curriculum as we go.”
Being away from one another has fostered a new level of communication, which Beth Cobb, superintendent of Essex Westford Schools, believes has strengthened their relationships with students and families.
Cobb looks for the “silver linings” during these challenging times and has found weekly surveys of families and seeing parents on Zoom calls a boost to the social-emotional bonds critical to the learning process.
“I love problem solving,” Cobb said.
Cobb sees expansion of the district’s use of social media as a tool to present student work, as well as teacher collaboration, which has been frequent during distance learning.
Office hours have been implemented by many teachers, which allow students or parents to pop in via a Zoom or Google Meet video.
Resteghini said video conferences gives kids an opportunity to ask a question that they may not have otherwise done in class. He foresees a hybrid model that could be a video or phone call, or an open time before or after the school day or during lunch.
Reading books aloud on Facebook livestreams have created shared experiences that give students opportunities to participate through comments.
The way learning is structured going forward could look different based on what has been learned during this time apart.
High school students who work or have an internship could benefit from recorded lessons and the ability to learn on their own schedule, Cobb said.
Because family situations have been wildly different from one another, teachers have spent considerable time developing individual learning plans and have seen the value of focusing on individual needs.
Resteghini said his students engage better when the material is something they are interested in, so project-based work and extensions that build upon known material have become important. This type of assignment also promotes proficiency-based learning, which Vermont schools first adopted this school year.
The ability to have access to lessons from home means that learning could take place even when school was out, Cobb said. “Snow days could look totally different.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Resteghini said the first order of business when regular classes resume is to reinforce the social bonds of the school community and, as he said, “get back to what we do best — being with the students.”
Contact April Barton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-660-1854. Follow her on Twitter @aprildbarton.
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