A statewide lockdown has forced educators to fundamentally change the way they teach and counsel to adapt to the need for virtual classrooms and account for the challenges that students face when learning from home.
On March 12, 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine made an unprecedented announcement ordering all of Ohio’s public, community, and private K-12 school buildings closed to students due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis. Area schools needed to make dramatic changes to the way they teach students amid challenges such as significantly less class time and the inability for teachers and students to meet face-to-face.
Teachers have responded by increasingly using electronic communication to teach remotely and provide students with their educational materials. They also rely on independent learning and a greater emphasis on depth of understanding than the amount of material covered to make the most of limited class time.
Video conferencing software, like Zoom or Google Meet, allows educators to teach and counsel students despite the quarantine. Tools, such as Google Classroom, let them create, distribute and grade assignments. Schools have taken to providing students with Chromebooks to ensure they have access to this technology.
Lisa Adamson, a school counselor with the Bedford City School District in Bedford, uses Google Classroom to provide parents and students with counseling materials, including guides on how to cope with the pandemic. She also uses Google Meet to conduct family counseling sessions and makes YouTube videos for students to help ease any anxiety they might be feeling.
“I keep looking at the world from their point of view and about how it feels to be them and what I can address for them to take away fear,” she said.
Erica Alemdar, a Spanish teacher at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, relies on Zoom to teach her classes and allow her students to work with each other in smaller groups using video breakout rooms.
Rachel Newlin Mullen, a Spanish teacher at the Hawken School in Chester Township, uses Zoom to connect her class to students in Chile who are learning English. This programming allows her students to speak Spanish with native speakers, while the students in Chile do the same with native English speakers.
Limited class time
Teachers are using independent learning activities to provide students with the most comprehensive learning experience despite the limited class time. For instance, Mark Sack, who teaches social studies at Cleveland Heights High School in Cleveland Heights, assigns students of his Lessons of the Holocaust elective articles to read and videos to watch to help supplement the limited time he can spend with them. Sack then uses Google Meet to discuss these assignments with his students.
Mullen uses video creation software, called Flipgrid, to provide her students with introductory material they can watch on their own. This allows the brief time they spend together each week to be much more interactive, she said.
And Alemdar uses Twine, an interactive story creation software, for her students to create video games as part of an independent learning project. Learning new software like this has “helped me to expand the tools in my teaching toolbox,” Alemdar said. “And, as an educator, you’re constantly trying to improve and change your lessons.”
Teachers are also focusing more on mastery of fewer subjects. This change is necessary given that students’ class time has been significantly reduced.
This approach is also necessary given the additional burdens many students face during the pandemic, including serving as caretakers for their younger siblings while their parents are working, Alemdar added.
According to the educators, the new approach to teaching brought on by the pandemic will continue to be the new norm as there is no formal plan for when and how students will return to class.
Stephen Langel is a freelance writer from Pepper Pike.