Teaching evolves as online learning resumes

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Senior James Dyke walks past Minnesingers practice on Monday afternoon. By Max Potter

Harding Eville and Ruby Reimann

In March, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) shut its doors and switched to online schooling as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This fall, students continue to attend school remotely. Much has changed, however, since the spring. 

Teachers and administrators were faced with a variety of challenges last spring due to the swift transition into online learning. State guidelines were evolving, schedules were disrupted, and the extent to which all students had access to technology and Wi-Fi was, for a time, unclear.

When school re-opened this year, principal Sara Dingledy was focused on coherency. She said, “When it became increasingly clear that the fall would be similar [to the spring], there was a lot of work put in to hammering out those details so we could move forward with more of a coherent plan.”

Teachers, parents, and school committee members came together and used feedback from student focus groups to devise a fall plan that would result in more streamlined communication, better resources for teaching and learning online, and more ways to support struggling students.

Part of this plan was the introduction of limited in-person attendance, mainly for English Language Learner (ELL) classes, students with Individual Education Plans (IEPs), and classes that require hands-on work. One hundred students are invited each day to access support on campus, while still attending classes via Zoom. While only 30 to 50 students on average are scheduling themselves to come in right now, Ms. Dingledy says that number is increasing. 

In addition to limited opportunities for in-person learning, students also have each class three times a week, an increase from once a week in the spring. 

“It was hard to see students once a week,” said history teacher Leigh Fairchild-Coppoletti. “It was hard to have a sense of how they were doing, not just in terms of their classwork, but with their overall well-being. I felt too disconnected from my students.”

 “I think there really is a greater degree of normalcy with [the new schedule],” she said. “Being able to see classes routinely makes a huge difference.”

Teachers have also found new ways to teach and engage students online since the spring.

“I’m in my sixteenth year of teaching now, and all of a sudden [last spring] I just felt like a new teacher again,” said Spanish teacher Justine DeOliveira. Teachers spent time over the summer learning how to better teach online. For example, the use of Zoom’s breakout room feature has now become an integral part of lessons: teachers can pose questions and break the class into small groups for discussion. In language classes, students can be paired up in a breakout room to converse in the language they are learning.  

While many are concerned with the amount of time now spent on screens, teachers interviewed felt that the benefits of Zoom outweighed extended screen time. Ms. Fairchild-Coppoletti was able to use Zoom over the summer to engage students in a film screening.

“There’s something really terrific about being able to watch a film together and then talk about it immediately afterwards,” she said, as opposed to watching clips in one class session and coming back to discuss the next day.

For language classes, Zoom is vastly superior to social distancing in person.

“Is it too much screen time? Probably, yes,” said Ms. DeOliveira. “But I’m not sure there’s another way. If we were to be in person, the students would have to be six feet apart, facing the same direction, wearing masks.”

If everything goes as planned, that reality is just around the corner. The upcoming hybrid learning plan involves students coming into the building once or twice a week for live instruction. When not in the building, students would do outside work assigned by teachers and there would be a day of remote check-ins, and Zoom lectures as well. For the most part, teachers are excited about these new developments.

“[Teachers] are looking forward to the in-person opportunities because they believe they have even more tools in their tool box than they used to have to engage students,” said Ms. Dingledy.