ASL has completed two weeks of distance learning, which has been met with a variety of responses on what the ASL community thinks of the plan and how they have adapted to it.
Many students and teachers are stressed during this time. To ease stress, middle and high school visual arts teacher Mr. Anthony Gow explained that he encourages his students to do an activity every day that stimulates their mind, body, soul, and heart. As a teacher, he is additionally being less strict on students turning in assignments as he thinks that teachers “really need to be mindful of how students are feeling and coping” at this time.
Many students and teachers felt stressed at the beginning of distance learning, but some are now finding it easier after adapting to the schedule. Eighth–grade English teacher Ms. Carolyn Woulfe said, “I think I was more stressed at the beginning of distance learning because, for a start, it was all unknown. Also, I want to give a lot of feedback to students but I’ve got 65 students. It takes a long time, and there’s so much other stuff happening,” she said. “That stress has really settled down. I’m much less stressed [the second week of distance learning], and I think students are too.”
Teachers have had to adapt to distance learning not only by putting lessons online but by figuring out how to conduct assessments. There is a challenging technical aspect for a test to be structured due to the fact students might not uphold academic honesty. Choir teacher Mr. Ben Waltz said, “[Assessments are] a snapshot of where you are in this moment, and that snapshot doesn’t have to be something that we’re afraid of. At the same time, I understand that there are some bigger things going on. I do think it’s important for students to get feedback. I think that some assessment still has to be there so that the student-teacher relationship is still a learning relationship.”
Eighth-grader Hudson Hill is now enjoying distance learning because he has developed a schedule to keep himself organized. He said, “An emotion that I have felt during distance learning is zen because I have a routine of when I get up, when I do my work, and which classes I do first.”
Math teacher Ms. Maida Shivik sees the benefit of students managing their time and becoming more independent. “I think it’s teaching a lot of people how to manage your own education a little like you really have to read what the teacher says.”
One of the negatives of continuing distance learning for Shivik is that it does not reflect the aspects of teaching that motivated her to pursue a career in education. “If somebody wanted me to do this forever I would reevaluate whether I wanted to do it. But, I still feel like I can accomplish the things that are the most important to me about teaching, which is getting you guys to learn math and be excited about math and make connections,” she said.
Teachers spent the week of March 16 revising their curriculum to prepare for distance learning. Some teachers did not have to revise their units majorly, but some teachers had to completely rethink their lesson plans.
Eighth grade English students were entering A Midsummer Night’s Dream unit, where they watch the Shakespearean play and do activities around it. To adapt for distance learning, Woulfe and the other eighth-grade English teacher Mr. Mike Boodey had to make major changes to the unit. “We had to completely redo our unit, which meant that we had to start with a different production,” Woulfe said. “Our unit before was very drama-based and was very hands-on. We can’t do drama lessons with online learning really.”
Waltz felt similarly about having to reconfigure his classes. “With Choir, there’s just no way to reproduce it,” he said. “There’s so much science that supports the idea that singing with other people in the room does things chemically to your body and to your emotional well being that is not possible through the screens.”
Meanwhile, fifth-grade math teacher Mr. Christian Streit did not have to make as drastic changes to his unit in order to welcome distance learning. He said, “In math, it was straightforward to create the lessons because, for this particular unit, we already had videos made that we used anyway on our Schoology pages. It was a matter of reusing those, and then we recorded some new ones to welcome people to the distance learning and to add extra explanations to things that we were doing.”
On top of changing their units to prepare for the new style of learning, teachers have also been finding ways to use technology in order to help students with their learning. These include using discussion forums where teachers and other students can answer questions, answering questions over email, and doing Zooms with small student groups who need help.
Overall students are very impressed with how teachers have dealt with the switch by adapting their curriculum and finding ways to aid students. Fifth-grader Penny Kessler said, “I think teacher support in all the Zoom calls made it easier because they gave you support because it was all new,” she said. “Overall I think the teachers adapted to the switch really well. They were all very on top of it, working really hard to make it the best that they could possibly make it, and keeping us calm and collected.”
Students had the week of March 16 off before beginning Distance Learning on March 23. The reactions to online learning vary depending on the student’s preferred learning style. Fifth-grader Lilly Roth said, “When I found out that school was canceled, I was excited like most kids probably were. But then, when distance learning started, it got more confusing and I realized I missed my friends and it was a bit harder for me to catch up.”
Some students would prefer synchronous learning, where the students and teachers are in one place at the same time, while others prefer asynchronous learning, where students have more flexibility about when they complete their work. Eighth-grader Parker Forgash said, “I’m a lot less productive because the teachers can’t help you face-to-face and if we have a question and we email them, they won’t get back to you straight away,” whereas sixth-grader Audrey Cushman said, “I thought it was easier than I expected.”
Every student will adapt in different ways to find what strategies work best for them. Hill said, “Distance learning for the past two weeks has been perfectly fine for me. For me, I know I can manage my time with the amount of work that we are given, but I feel like the workload that is actually given to us isn’t actually a lot, except for some classes.”
The way students structure their work throughout the day is individually decided, excluding mandatory Zoom sessions. Kessler said, “I go by the eight-day schedule very strictly, and if I don’t finish the subject before the end of the block, I just move onto the next one and then I’ll finish it later in the day.”
Many people in the ASL community would rather return to school for the end of the year, but they are still ready to adapt to whatever decision is made. Woulfe said, “I want to see everybody again, so I would be sad about that if we did not return. However, health is absolutely the number one concern, and we just have to adapt,” she said. “Everybody’s been so adaptable so far. As I said, I’ve been really impressed. I mean we’ll deal with whatever happens, and we’ll just keep adapting, but it would be lovely to see everybody again.”
Streit is also ready to adapt and is making the best of distance learning. “I think it’s important, as a community, that we give feedback to teachers so that we can make adjustments to make distance learning work well for everyone,” he said. “I know that distance learning isn’t for everyone, but right now that’s what we have got. We’re just doing the best with what we have.”