Teachers adapt to remote learning

 

In math teacher Charles Worrall’s 25 years of teaching, HM Online has been one of the busiest times of his career. While there is less class time for students during HM Online 2.0, teachers must plan asynchronous classes with assigned work to be done on the days that the classes do not meet. 

Worrall said the increase of work during HM Online has been overwhelming. He has a lot more logistical work because the time spent grading and designing classes has increased significantly.

For example, when grading tests, Worrall prints out all the tests, hand-grades them, scans the assignment, and emails it back to the students, which makes his grading process more time-consuming, he said. “There is now built-in extra work for any assignment,” he said. “It could be the shortest little quiz and still has two hours of extra stuff in it.”

English teacher Jennifer Huang has found that the administrative aspect of planning her classes has become more complicated with online learning, as she teaches ninth, 10th, and 11th grade classes, which all operate on different schedules, she said. “Writing and sending Sunday night emails, scheduling and reading and lesson-planning around three separate waves of twice-weekly short responses, making sure students have turned in their work on time and following up with those who haven’t — all of that takes a fair amount of time,” she said. 

During in-person school, science teacher Dr. Susan Delanty plans all of her classes in advance, but she has to be more flexible with class plans in HM Online, she said. “This online world is really difficult because you never know where you’re going to end up, and your plans can blow up in your face at any given moment,” she said. “So flexibility is the name of the game these days.”

Like Delanty, history teacher Barry Bienstock has also found it important to be flexible in what course material he covers, he said. “I am trying to be as flexible as I can, recognizing that it’s not easy for any of us and certainly not easy for the students, and so I am not demanding quite as much as I would normally demand,” he said. 

Math teacher Benjamin Kafoglis spends more time planning asynchronous activities than synchronous classes. However, the previous experience of online school in the spring has allowed him to practice putting together asynchronous lessons — specifically filming videos, he said. “I’ve given myself a little forgiveness and try not to hold myself to be perfect,” he said. “There’s plenty of times where I’ll make a mistake, and rather than start the whole video over, I’m just like, ‘Oh, okay, I made a mistake,’” he said. 

Asynchronous classes give students more independent work, which changes the dynamic of the class, Kafoglis said. “It requires more personal accountability for students, when there’s not those three hours of automatic class time per week, so you have to make that up on your own and it’s more incumbent upon students to make that happen for themselves,” he said. 

However, while the classwork is more independent, Kafoglis said there are benefits to asynchronous work, he said. “Independent learning is itself a skill, and the more practice that the students have with that, the better.” 

Science teacher Matthew Boller also said there is a benefit to students engaging in independent work, as there is a lot more independence after high school. “[Colleges] didn’t call it asynchronous back then, but your classes only meet twice or three times a week in college,” he said. 

With more asynchronous work to plan, Computer Science teacher Lester Lee spends additional time preparing these lessons. However, because last year was his first year teaching, Lee spent a lot of time prepping then as well, he said. “This year, it doesn’t feel like anything different; it’s just like I just have to prep for a different circumstance.”

Huang has a similar amount of work as last year as well. “The HM Online workload, for me, is not necessarily worse than it was last year, because I’m still fairly new to teaching and every year so far has involved a fairly heavy workload as I figure out what works and as I grow and improve as a teacher,” she said.

English teacher Sarah McIntyre assigns asynchronous writing assignments to her students, which help her see how the students are understanding the material, she said. While the additional writing assignments give McIntyre more writing to grade, she finds the extra grading to be worth the insight into students’ analytical process that she gains. “It tells me so much about what they’re thinking and what they see and what they don’t yet see,” she said.

Similarly to McIntyre, English teacher Dr. Adam Casdin gives writing assignments for asynchronous work, and while he would assign asynchronous writing to his students every day, the HM Online schedule limits the amount of work students can spend on asynchronous assignments. “A team got together to decide what was an appropriate amount of time to spend on assignments, and so they’ve partitioned it this way,” he said.

Casdin’s goal in assigning this asynchronous work is to spark thought from his students in a way that might have occurred naturally in class. He also uses the asynchronous writings to have his students do quick analytical assignments, he said. “We should be giving students more opportunities to practice — practice their thinking, practice their analysis, and practice their use of evidence,” he said. When school is back in-person, Casdin will be giving his students more small writing moments, and small projects, he said.

Because it is difficult to translate complete classes into asynchronous work, Worrall assigns asynchronous work that he would not give to the class otherwise. “I’m not making the mistake of trying to teach the same things that I would have taught anyway, but in an asynchronous way,” he said. “Instead, I’m shuffling around and giving different material for the asynchronous stuff than I would have done otherwise.”

Similarly, French teacher Caroline Dolan aims to have her students practice listening and speaking outside of the synchronous classes. “For our specific department, something that’s really important to us is integrating those opportunities to listen and speak during asynchronous time,” she said.

Dolan tries to use the asynchronous assignments as a way to maintain continuity between classes, she said. “We’re already experiencing a lot of disconnection when living our lives, so having that fluidity from a moment of independent work to a moment of collaborative work is something that I really like to prioritize when I’m thinking about a lesson plan.” 

Science teacher Lisa Scott said the work it takes to plan an asynchronous class work is not necessarily more work than planning a normal class, although it is different. “The hardest part about planning asynchronous work is that it’s really hard for me to gauge how long it’s going to take students to do assignments,” she said.

Like Scott, planning this asynchronous work is not more work for Dolan, but it requires using different platforms to communicate with students. In class, Dolan can hear her students speak and give them feedback in the moment, she said. During online school, she has to give feedback to her students through other platforms such as Flipgrid, which is a learning platform that allows educators to ask a question, which students respond to in a video. 

Dolan has found that the technology department, which sends out weekly updates with ideas about how teachers can use different resources online, has been helpful, she said. 

In addition, Kafoglis has found that while planning asynchronous class work is more time consuming, working with other members of the math department is helpful, he said. “[Collaborating] is so pivotal in terms of sharing tips and techniques for asynchronous and Zoom class, and just sharing materials and being able to look at what other people are making,” he said.

Lee said not having instant feedback of how students are grasping material is challenging. When he is walking around the classroom, he can quickly see what is on his students screens and how to help them, but with online school and asynchronous work, he is unable to do that.

“I have to now make students turn stuff in in order for me to see how they’re doing, which is more [stressful] for them, and also now I have to actually grade them before they get feedback, as opposed to walking around the classroom and immediately seeing what students are working on,” he said.

When preparing asynchronous work, Lee considers what topics were confusing for his students last year to anticipate what topics will be confusing for his current students. “It’s a lot more having to think ahead, and I can’t be as flexible as with a class I’m currently in front of,” he said. “And for my half credit, I only see them once a week, so it’s like, ‘How do I introduce new content, but also make sure that they’re not being totally left behind on something [they’re] not getting?’”

Because Lee only meets with his Computer Science 2 class once a week, he encourages students to utilize material that they find online. “I’m hoping that the slides and the worksheets that I provide are enough to go off of, but I also am like, ‘Yeah, look stuff up, I encourage you to Google it,’” he said. 

Delanty tells her students to use the abundance of extra material on her Google classroom page to make asynchronous work easier, she said. “My Google Classroom is just overflowing with resources, and I know that that’s overwhelming for the students, but for those who want to get more answers, that’s important,” she said. 

Because of the decrease in class time, McIntyre has to adjust the material of her 12th grade English elective. She has to either assign the same amount of reading she would give normally, with less class discussion; or, she will assign less reading and not get through all the stories that she intended, and have more in-depth discussions. “That is a really brutal choice to make,” she said.

Like McIntyre, math teacher Catherine Gao has also changed her schedule; she has moved specific topics to the end of the year, so that if that topic is not reached, the students are not missing a crucial skill, she said. “Especially with classes like Geometry where the specific topics are not so critical to the progression of the math sequence, it’s not that big of a deal if they don’t cover something like coordinate geometry this year,” she said.

Between Gao’s math classes, there are different amounts of material that can be skipped over. “In a class like Algebra 2, there’s a lot more pressure to get to everything because we need to make sure that students are prepared for precalculus,” she said.

As class time is so limited, Worrall wishes that there was an additional class period each week that could be used for testing, he said. “I wish that we could just add in a third class in a week when we want to test rather than have to sacrifice that precious 45 minutes for just proctoring a test.” 

Delanty’s classes will also not get through the same amount of content as they would normally. “You can’t just think ‘I need to get through this material, so if they have to learn it on their own, I’m just going to test them on it anyway,’” she said. “You have to leave things behind and focus on the most important information and skills you want your students to learn.”

Similarly, Bienstock has not been able to cover as much material in his classes, so he is currently behind where he would have been by now in past years, he said. “But I just have to accept reality, this is where we are at this point,” he said. “We just have to make the best of it and hope students learn.”