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Education in the anxious autumn of Covid

Education in the anxious autumn of Covid

by Gary Kaplan

The need for continuity of instruction and accountability—and help.

Help! I have to convert all my classes to fully remote. Can you help me?

Hi. I’m a high school math teacher. I have to teach two classes for the summer program. Can you set me up with a curriculum?

I’ve been drafted into doing a Zoom presentation for parents. I would like to show some screen shots of math and ELA curriculum. Can you send me some slides that would appeal to parents?

Would you be able to send me my classes’ pre and post assessment scores in an excel spreadsheet so I can include them in my progress report? Thank you in advance for your help.

This is a scary and uncertain time for everyone, especially our students. They are figuring out how to learn remotely and we are figuring out how to teach remotely. The emotional toll this is taking on teachers and students is tremendous.

When schools closed in March, we were concerned whether teachers in our partner schools would be able to continue using our program. As the anxious weeks of March and April passed, we received appeal after appeal from teachers and administrators. We were relieved that teachers and students were in fact trying to continue instruction remotely using the same JFYNet resources they had been using in the classroom. More than 2000 students and 70 teachers were able to continue accessing their accounts. Our staff continued to work closely with teachers, responding to their appeals via email, text and video conference just as they had done in the classroom.

Over the course of the shutdown and summer, we kept our partners supplied with ELA and math curricula aligned with the periodic directives of DESE. We also developed a storehouse of supplemental tools and techniques that teachers found effective in differentiating instruction for students of every description, including high needs.

As summer bled into fall and the discussion about learning models kept running into the public health situation, it became clear that most instruction was going to be remote or hybrid and that both models would have to deliver core instruction online. We distilled the experience of the shutdown into a prescription for teachers in pandemic flexible-mode pedagogy. It came down to three basic tools:

  1. Comprehensive online curricula with integrated assessments covering all standards prescribed by the state or district and compliant with DESE directives such as 603 CMR 27.08;
  2. A portfolio of supplemental resources and strategies to vary and individualize instruction;
  3. Ongoing personal training and support in methods, materials and practices of flex-mode online education.

These features had been in our toolbox for years, but never had they had to fill such a central role.

In the few weeks since schools have begun to reopen, we have enrolled more than 2000 students despite the uncertainty about models. As teachers settle in to the new conditions and send us their requests, the dialogue of support continues. We are developing new tools and strategies that move seamlessly between classroom and home and can become permanent features of post-Covid pedagogy:

  • Comprehensive ELA and math instructional content aligned to all state standards in grades 6-12, with integrated assessments and performance data to track student progress, and specialized alignments for MCAS, SAT, Accuplacer and other ancillary needs;
  • Specific strategies for High Needs students, including EL and SPED students, detailed in training webinars and supported by professional development;
  • Extensive supplemental resources and strategies including curriculum for science and social studies;
  • Compliance with DESE and BPS requirements for alignment to state standards and High Needs accommodations, with granular student performance data to inform grading policy.
  • Yearlong professional development to train and support teachers, including training webinars and tutorials, regular communication through virtual meetings, office hours and group conferences;

The most important priority now is to keep students engaged in their class work and moving ahead in the acquisition of grade-level skills from pre-high school to 10th grade MCAS and on to college readiness. MCAS will be a particular challenge this year because of the 6-month interruption; but since MCAS questions are derived directly from the state curriculum standards, working on grade-level skills should be an effective preparation for each grade’s MCAS. It should be emphasized that MCAS is not the goal of education: it is only a measurement. The skills and knowledge measured by MCAS, or any other assessment, are the sum and substance of education.

Online learning can supplement live classroom teaching and even substitute for it, with the guiding hand of the teacher, when circumstances require. When public health conditions permit returning to the classroom, many of the tools and strategies of online learning will become permanent features of post-Covid pedagogy. The range and variety of content; the real-time performance measurement; the self-paced delivery that allows each student to learn at her own pace and enables teachers to address individual learning styles and degrees of mastery; the seamless continuity between classroom and home —these properties will hold their value for teachers and students. The efficiency of including instruction, assessment and student work on a single, easily accessible online platform will stabilize learning and accountability across operational models even as circumstances change.

Response from the field has been encouraging:

You feature some great engineering/STEM resources on your Free Science Resources page. It’s a great reference for high school students who are interested in studying science and engineering. Thanks.

I appreciate your feedback and the report regarding student performance. Many of our students who have participated in JFYNet have commented on how comfortable they are with the program. Teachers have been relieved to provide students something so easily accessible and helpful.


Education in the anxious autumn of Covid. The need for continuity.

Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks.

Additional posts authored by Gary Kaplan can be found here.

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