Distance Education 2.0: A strategic approach to student success during COVID-19
If there is one common tenet to the 2020-21 school year, it is accountability. Nevada Joint Union High School students, staff, and administrators will all be held to the highest level of accountability during this version of distance learning that I am calling Distance Education Version 2.0.
Certificated teachers, classified staff, and administrators spent many hours and days over the summer to ensure this fall’s Distance Education model is challenging and demanding.
During school orientation last week (and partly this week due to the Jones Fire), students logged into training modules and familiarized themselves with Schoology, our new Learning Management System. Instruction about Schoology will also be provided to parents. The system has a mobile app that makes it accessible virtually anywhere, anytime.
During these training sessions, students learned how to submit their assignments, projects, quizzes and tests via Schoology. They know how to check into their online classes so they are marked present when their teachers take roll. Students understand how to follow proper protocols and meet expectations for online instruction. Students also received important information about COVID-19 safety precautions that will be imperative when we resume on-campus classes.
Students have received their class schedules, textbooks, and camera-ready and Zoom-compatible chromebooks. Students have connected with school administrators, counselors, athletic and activities directors, and resource team members such as school psychologists and tutors. These significant milestones were accomplished despite a week filled with fire evacuations, two closure days and numerous power outages.
This week, students began attending online classes. Mondays and Thursdays, students virtually attend class periods one through three. Tuesdays and Fridays, students attend class periods four through six. At the conclusion of each school day, students are expected to spend an additional 80 minutes completing assignments.
On Wednesdays, students work independently for at least 240 minutes while teachers meet collaboratively, prepare and post assignments and projects online, and assign letter grades to students’ completed work. Teachers are also making themselves available for one hour of “Office Hours” every Wednesday.
On Schoology, teachers post weekly synchronous class meeting times held via Zoom within established bell schedules for each school. Students Zoom in or attend by telephone. Zoom classes are recorded for future viewing. To limit any adverse effects of extended screen time, bell schedules are organized with 30-minute breaks between 60-minute classes.
Students are expected to follow their school schedule and attend virtual classes. While they may not need to be online during the entire class period, teachers will be available the entire time. Tardies and absences are recorded. Parents are expected to telephone the school office to excuse absences just as they did when classes were held on campus.
When instruction is delivered asynchronously, students work independently. To ensure assignments are understandable, teachers organize curriculum in folders delineated by week, unit, topic or other naming device. Teachers post new assignments weekly. Due dates and other details are clear. Assessments and grades for completed assignments are updated biweekly in Schoology’s Gradebook feature.
Each teacher has prepared a syllabus using a common template that is comprehensive and easy to understand, and explains the grading policy for each class. Teachers are committed to respond to email or telephone correspondence within two school days.
Our high school district will continue to be flexible. For example, if a student is consistently tardy to class, we will work with that student to ascertain if there are problems we can help him or her overcome. We continue to work one-on-one with students whose families face internet connectivity challenges.
We are also being increasingly creative during Distance Education Version 2.0. Cameras and software programs have been purchased so our performing arts students can continue to do what they love, and perhaps present a play or other performance. We are exploring the use of heart rate monitors to track participation in physical education classes and help students excel. We hope to host small cohorts on campus for hands-on classes such as shop, as long as social distancing and other health practices are maintained.
I believe the NJUHSD curriculum is the most rigorous and robust in our area, and perhaps in all of Northern California. We have established clear learning outcomes, assessments, intervention and enrichment. The challenges presented by this pandemic have prompted us to surgically remove any fluff and focus on what is critical and essential. We are committed to clarity, transparency, structure, and consistency.
Distance Education is great teaching – just done from a distance.
It remains the hope and goal of the NJUHSD School Board to merge into full-time or hybrid in-person instruction after Fall Break. We are preparing for the resumption of classes on campus while keeping a watchful eye on the ever-changing health landscape, both locally and nationally.
As I reiterated during our Aug. 13 virtual Parent Informational Meeting attended by more than 380 parents and students, I want to thank you for your resiliency, patience and trust. It is my honor to continue to serve this community.
Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett W. McFadden writes a monthly column for The Union. He has more than 29 years of education leadership and policy experience statewide. Freelance writer Lorraine Jewett contributed to this column.
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