by Joan Reissman
A resourceful school turns pandemic necessity into academic virtue
The past 14 months of virus disruption have produced a mediastorm about the many difficulties faced by teachers and students forced to practice remote and hybrid learning, and the resulting learning loss or unfinished learning. Teachers have had to perform a juggling act every time they step into the classroom or log into Zoom. Many commentators have declared remote learning a frustrating failure. But not all users of the medium agree. I have worked this year with a school that figured out how to make remote learning work. The Kingsman Academy Public Charter School in Washington D.C. adapted its program to the necessities of online education and saw its students flourish. As a remote learning consultant to the school, I observed students making exceptional progress.
At the very beginning of the year, the Kingsman administration made sure that every student had the technology needed to function in a remote model. Not every school would have the resources to provide a laptop and hotspot to every student, but Kingsman is a small school with about 300 students in grades 6-12. Many Kingsman students have not been well served in traditional settings and the school has given them an opportunity to take charge of their own learning. Kingsman welcomes all students and provides personalized plans and support. The Kingsman staff understood from the start that screen fatigue would be a problem in remote/hybrid situations, so they shortened the school day. Students attended their virtual classes four hours a day.
Kingsman modeled their curriculum on Marzano’s Critical Concepts. The Marzano curriculum streamlines the Common Core so that students don’t repeat concepts. Students are placed in classes based on an assessment system called Educational Functioning Levels (EFL). There are 6 EFL levels for grades 0-12 so students can work on what they need in their level. Click here for more information. Streamlining curriculum has been essential this year because of the lost class time. There isn’t time to repeat anything that a student has already mastered. The EFL approach addresses unfinished learning with individualized differentiated instruction. Streamlining fosters acceleration and increases engagement.
This was my first year designing curriculum and supporting math and ELA classes at Kingsman, so working remotely was my normal. I didn’t need any adjustment. My main task was designing curriculum for six different math levels. I sat in on classes via Zoom and assisted with trainings. Since the teachers and students were all on Zoom, we were all communicating the same way. One thing hadn’t changed– email was still a good way to communicate with busy teachers. Even though I’d never met them in person, I didn’t feel like an outsider. I was able to build relationships with teachers and even with students in the course of working on math and helping them build their curriculum. The students were doing so much work that I had to hustle to keep up with them.
Some of the things students missed about being in school actually helped them get more work done at home. Although students miss the social interaction they would get at school every day, they also complete more work since there are fewer distractions. One student has completed more than 150 assignments—more than double the normal yearly quotient. Almost all the students have made exceptional progress. Every time I look at the student performance reports, they need more assignments!
Last month, my JFY colleague Greg Cunningham recorded a podcast with a student and a teacher from Kingsman. I had a few things to say too. We interviewed our most diligent student, Takerria Young, she of the 150 assignments, and her teacher Chrystal Seawood. Both Takerria and Ms. Seawood agreed that the self-paced daily sessions helped students focus on math. Ms. Seawood told us that students are accomplishing more without assemblies and the multitude of other school activities. Both Ms. Seawood and Takerria felt that the self-paced differentiated instruction provides an opportunity for acceleration and completing more work. Although everyone is looking forward to getting back in the building, teacher and student both feel that they have accomplished a lot this year. Students have done more academic work because they are more focused. Ms. Seawood said the key is shorter classes and flexibility. She has not been assigning homework, but some students do extra work outside the 30-minute class sessions. Case in point, Takerria has completed so many assignments that she has time to help other students.
Remote learning is not a failure. It’s a tool. Like any tool, it has to be used correctly. With planning and the right allocation of resources, Kingsman has made remote learning work. I am certain that students will carry forward the work habits they developed this year. I am looking forward to meeting teachers and students in person in the fall, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to get to know them on the screen. There are many ways to teach, many ways to learn, and many ways to build relationships.
Joan Reissman is a learning specialist with JFYNetWorks.
Other posts authored by Joan can be found here.
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