How Teachers are Reacting to Learning Changes Caused by the Coronavirus
Over the past three months, the coronavirus has caused unprecedented changes to take place in everyone’s daily lives: who they can see, which stores they can shop at, how they work, and in the case of students, how they can continue to learn outside of a classroom environment. T.C. Williams is no different, and teachers are being forced to make changes to maintain learning online. Theogony talked to five T.C. teachers and here are their four major takeaways about online learning.
#1: There has been a lack of student participation and motivation.
Across the board, teachers have reported a lack of participation from students, whether it be turning in their assignments on time or attending Zooms. English teacher Paul Kingston said, “Assignment turn-in rate for my students has probably dropped 30% or more.”
Students are missing instruction, as well. “I am missing anywhere from 1/2 to 1/3 of my students during every assigned class Zoom,” said history teacher Erin Hudson. “The overwhelming number of students who are not present makes it virtually impossible for me to consistently check in with them as I would do if they repeatedly missed my class in the traditional school year.”
#2: AP exams have presented some unique difficulties.
The AP exams this year presented a host of issues, including accessibility and fairness of the testing structure. Math teacher Nancy Ziegelbauer said, “Success in this testing situation depends in a critical way on whether students have read College Board information on how the tests will be conducted, testing time frames, uploading answers, headings to be used on work submitted, etc. Students must be focused and take on many responsibilities that are typically shouldered by test proctors.”
In addition to these burdens that must be upheld by students, access to fair testing was not the responsibility of the schools this year. Individual families were expected to have the proper accommodations including location, technology, and any additional materials necessary. “The College Board is not providing equitable access to all my students,” said Spanish teacher Leslie Auceda. “I have one AP student who cannot test via a computer and we have already reached out to the College Board early in the year about the students modifications … We were told by the College Board that students who are visually impaired may have a family member read the prompt out loud. What if my student is the only person who speaks English in the household. Then what?”
The final major issue students face is the fact that a college credit is dependent on as little as one 45 minute question. This limits the students’ ability to express a whole year’s worth of knowledge and unfairly disadvantages them if the question they happen to get is on the only area of a subject they aren’t comfortable with.
Hudson said, “In terms of the AP exam, I believe that it’s incredibly frustrating for both teachers and students to have college credit waited upon one question and one type of writing for the entire year. That said, I understand the circumstances the College Board is working under … I can’t imagine any perfect scenario that meets the needs of everyone in this alternate reality we find ourselves living it.”
#3: Online learning is rarely the most effective way for students to learn.
Learning virtually requires most teachers to teach over Zoom and post video explanations of material. This eliminates much of the in-person participation and ability to ask questions that many students depend on to fully understand the content they are learning. Students are either not comfortable or don’t have the ability to easily reach out to their teacher as they would in class. Auceda said, “I upload videos of explanations, but students don’t look at the videos on Canvas. It’s one thing to teach online, but some students may have questions and there is no one. Students don’t email me if they don’t understand or do understand the content.”
The same sentiment is echoed by Ziegelbauer: “I feel that the most motivated students did not lose any educational benefits due to ‘Zoom’ teaching. However, many students miss the in-person interaction and were not prepared for prolonged lecture style teaching. Those students did lose educationally in this setting.”
#4: The loss of in-person interactions makes online teaching more difficult and feel less genuine.
One of the biggest hurdles teachers face has been the absence of seeing students in-person. Seeing students in general is a major part of teaching because it allows teachers to get a sense of student reactions to the material: whether or not it’s overwhelming, too difficult, or if there are other questions or concerns. Teachers lose these indications with online learning.
“My energy and instruction feeds greatly off of my nonverbal cues from students,” said Hudson. “Their body language as they walk into the room, their voice inflection when I hear them talking to their friends or talking to me, and even just their facial expressions. I feed off and alter and adapt accordingly and so in so many ways, I’m flying blind with online instruction and it hurts my heart to know that I am missing out on those cues from my kids, which I think is a valuable tool in my teaching.”
English teacher Sarah Kiyak also voiced the limitations of online learning: “I think there is a lot of value in face-to-face instruction. A huge part of learning requires building relationships and listening to one another. Both happen via online learning but not to the same extent as in person.”
Connecting and reaching out to students is also important right now because of the current state of the world. Making sure students are safe and healthy is essential and in-person communication would make it easier; however, that’s not currently possible. With the difficulty of communication between students and teachers, these little check-ins that are taken for granted are now increasingly difficult.
Auceda said, “As a teacher, I just want to know that you are ok and that you are healthy and that your family is also ok.”