The Classroom’s Uncertain Future
As we approach back-to-school season, our local school districts are preparing for the best- and worst-case scenarios, and everything in between. As of earlier this year, educators have needed to adjust teaching strategies and methods to adapt to the COVID-19 environment. Schools are now faced with deciding on the best way to move forward into the 2020/21 academic year.
Current Trends in Teaching Strategies
Teaching strategies range from lectures to presentations to student-to-student interactions to independent study. There has been a general evolution in classrooms from direct instruction toward student-to-student interactions to promote critical thinking and problem-solving, rather than rote memorization.
At the same time, technology in schools has been on an accelerated trajectory for many years. Long before COVID-19, technology had become a foundation for learning, and not just for the STEM subjects. Teachers and curriculum planners have worked to incorporate technology and learning ecosystems (Learning Management Systems, lesson-creation tools, online meeting platforms, professional development components, STEM kits, etc.) into their schools and teaching strategies.
As technology inherently lends itself to direct instruction or asynchronous independent learning (recorded lectures viewed by students at their convenience), teaching strategies must include group work and student-to-student interactions so that students develop problem-solving skills and emotional intelligence to best prepare them for college and careers. This is where in-person instruction combined with technology creates a rich, modern learning environment.
The Impact on Traditional Classrooms
When the COVID-19 pandemic initially closed the doors of schools across the country, teachers and administrators were suddenly faced with the tremendous task of quickly converting every aspect of student learning to a virtual environment, while students and parents were faced with the monumental adjustment to socially distant homeschooling.
The integration of technology into schools ahead of COVID-19 has been somewhat fortuitous; however, many districts at various stages of technological implementation have scrambled to eliminate gaps in instruction due to school closures. School districts mobilized and displayed tremendous innovation and flexibility to transition from classroom to remote instruction, but what has been sacrificed is the progress made in moving from direct instruction to student-to-student interactions. Within the virtual environment, it can be challenging to uphold learning standards and monitor for social, emotional, and physical well-being (i.e., students often reach out to a teacher when in distress from abuse at home) in the absence of usual routines and connections to friends and teachers.
Another component of remote learning to consider is the impact of the lack of in-person interaction on motivation. While asynchronous learning is certainly a convenience, and even a necessity for some, the lack of direct interaction can create an accountability void, one that may be filled with other attractive alternatives, such as social platforms (e.g., TikTok) and online games. It’s also difficult to obtain quality feedback about student work and to assess their progress robustly beyond traditional multiple-choice questions.
Fall 2020 and Beyond
As schools re-open in the fall, districts have the enormous task ahead to ensure the health and safety of their staff and students while following all COVID-19 guidelines to mitigate risk. Some schools may continue virtual-only instruction, while others open fully with social distancing and hygiene regulations or operate in a hybrid virtual/in-person environment. In any case, focus on student engagement, achievements, social and mental health, as well as maintenance of technology infrastructure, will be essential to success. Districts also need to continue to be aware of faculty, staff, parent, and student sentiments so that adjustments to instruction and support environments can be made quickly if needed.
Assessments and the monitoring of culture, climate, and attitudes within communities will be critical for teachers and administrators moving forward. Many may also require help in designing monitoring and score-carding tools for assessments, and inventorying internet and technology capabilities among homes in their districts.
FARM has extensive experience in both qualitative and quantitative survey assessments, persona creation and analysis, and a deep understanding of the education sector, all of which will allow districts to understand the unique needs of their constituents.
Contact us if you find your district is in need of some help or guidance.