Coronavirus threw traditional educational settings into upheaval two months ago.
Now, the instruction continues but in far different fashion as teachers have settled into distance learning rather than face-to-face classroom education.
Several teachers from the Newman-Crows Landing and Gustine unified school districts recently shared their stories of transition and how it has impacted their approach and the education they are able to deliver.
In the absence of classroom instruction, educators are using a variety of digital tools to assign and receive work, and to stay in touch with their students and families.
Many are using videos or screen recordings to illustrate their instruction.
In addition to providing instruction, teachers are also showing support for students and families and looking after their emotional well-being.
Teachers voiced common sentiments of missing the face-to-face interaction with students and the limitations of distance learning - but said that teachers and pupils alike are making the most of an unprecedented and difficult situation.
Combination 4/5 teacher, Bonita Elementary
Flexibility and communication have been instrumental as she works with students and their parents, said Caton,
That her students already had Chromebooks and were familiar with many of the programs being used in remote learning was a huge advantage, she added, smoothing the transition to the new educational setting.
The academic standards are important, Caton said, but she also tends to the emotional health of her students.
“We started doing Zoom meetings this week,” she told Mattos Newspapers recently. “Next week I am going to do some small group things based on their needs in math, but for this week it was more about community building. They really wanted to see each other. I have a purpose for each meeting, but more so it was about how things are. They just kind of wanted to visit.”
Along the same lines, she said, students are working on a digital journal to chronicle their life and experiences while going through an unprecedented time in history.
She distributes weekly assignments digitally, often with videos to demonstrate a task. Students complete the weekly work at their own pace.
“I can see when they turn in work. I check off that it is done, and make comments,” Caton said.
An app allows Caton to log on to see which students are on their computers and what is on their computer screen. She is able to bring their screen up on her computer and walk students through problems.
It’s not the same as regular school, she acknowledged.
“The hardest part is when the kids are struggling because they miss their friends,” Caton told Mattos Newspapers. “They just want to be at school. They miss that interaction.”
Fourth grade, Gustine Elementary
Martin is working with fellow fourth-grade teachers at Gustine High to develop assignments so there is consistency among works.
Each teacher will do a video of their weekly assignments so the students get to see their teacher, she explained. Additional videos detailing specific assignments are made by one teacher and shared by the group.
Because reliable internet access is a challenge for many students, she said, the work assignments can be downloaded at a location where access is available and then completed off-line.
When it became clear that schools were closing, Martin said, teachers worked to send students home with as many books as possible.
Teachers have a daily office hour when they are available on line, she said, and can also be reached via email.
Sometimes, Martin noted, her class just does a video hang-out to get together virtually, and a website allows her students to chat, and share videos and photos in a supervised setting.
“It will not replace being in the classroom. You feed off each other’s energy and you can make immediate adjustment to your instruction in person,” she reflected. “I love things hands-on. I don’t feel like I am doing it justice on line.”
Sixth grade math and science, Yolo Middle School
Calderon, too, worries about the mental well-being of his students as well as their academic learning.
The value of face-to-face connection and interaction cannot be overstated, he said.
“I work with 11-year-old kids,” he shared. “They need to see their teachers face to face for quality learning.”
Calderon said he particularly worries about his who are not engaging with him digitally.
“I don’t know if their home life is conducive to a learning environment,” he explained.
Another challenge, he said, is being unable to immediately provide feedback and support to students.
“In the classroom you can get a good read of the class and who needs support,” he said. “On line, I can’t gauge that.”
Calderon is working with fellow teacher Sally Dickinson, who teaches sixth-grade language arts and history.
Zoom meetings, emails, screen recordings of math problems and other technological tools are being utilized to connect with students, Calderon said.
U.S. history, Gustine Middle School
That his students were already using an online curriculum at the time schools closed helped the transition to distance learning, Beevers said.
At the same time, he said, digital instruction has been a matter of learning on the fly.
“I was pretty brand new to the whole on-line platform,” Beevers related. “What we would do throughout a regular week is shortened down to where they can access that and complete it through the week.”
Most important during this time, he said, is simply that students are able to read and continue to do so.
His classroom is a place where the context of historical events and their impact on today’s society are freely discussed. Distance learning does not lend itself to those discussions.
“If you can’t have them there to have that discussion you can’t do that,” he commented.
Now, Beevers reflected, his students are living a chapter in world history.
“This is not a situation any school prepares for,” he stated.
Some of what he has learned during the past two months will be incorporated into the classroom setting when in-person instruction resumes.
“I have definitely learned some tools that I can take back to a traditional setting that would help in the classroom,” he remarked.
Eighth-grade science, Gustine Middle School
In her traditional classroom, Adi embraces the value of hands-on lab projects and collaboration.
Distance learning has shifted to more research-based assignments.
“It has definitely made teaching the content a challenge. Not all of my students have access to materials that they would need to complete a lab. They can’t go out and purchase it. They don’t have the means to acquire it,” Adi told Mattos Newspapers. “Instead of doing a lot of hands-on (assignments), we’re doing more report-based.”
Like other teachers, Adi is allowing students to work in their weekly assignments at their own pace.
“Our students don’t have that set time of going to school, and they have responsibilities outside of school. They can’t always be on their computer at 9 a.m.,” she explained. “I try to make it as easy as I can by creating lessons that they are able to do individually, but the whole class is doing the same lesson.”
One goal, she said, is to continue piquing the interest of her students in science.
“I want their enjoyment of science to continue to grow,” she said. “I don’t want that to die because they can no longer come to my classroom and physically be there.”
History, Leadership, Orestimba High
Chance works with her students through the Canvas online program.
One focus has been preparing her Advanced Placement History students for the exam.
“Usually they have a paper test (with more than three hours to complete). This year, the college board is giving them a 45-minute test they are taking at home,” Chance said. “All the AP teachers and students have had to communicate how they are supposed to sign up, and how they are supposed to take the test.”
Her priorities go beyond academics, Chance shared.
“I want to make sure that students and families are safe. Within that, students have a lot of different roles. Some might have to help younger students, and some students are working. I will post weekly assignments that I want them to chip away at,” she explained.
Chance said she is starting to sense among her students a fatigue of distance learning.
She works primarily with upperclassmen who suddenly had activities such as sports and prom taken from them.
Her leadership students have turned to social media to promote activities.
“Leadership is all about projects and activities. How do you do that without being on campus and seeing each other? We have migrated a lot of that onto our social media platform,” Chance shared.
Distance learning, she agreed, is more limited than traditional instruction.
“The most challenging thing is not being in class with students, being able to have class discussions with students and check in every day with them. When you are in class you can answer questions quickly. There is none of that. It is completely different over a computer,” Chance commented. “I don’t feel like I can offer the same education that I could in class, but at the same time I think we are making the best of our situation.”
Math, Orestimba High
The instruction to his students has not changed, Felber said, but digital delivery is an entirely new approach.
Ironically, Felber said, a few of his students decided to create a YouTube channel for him a few weeks before the pandemic closed down schools.
Now, he uses YouTube regularly as one of his educational tools to connect with students.
“It turns out that it was huge. They were the ones who taught me how to do that,” Felber explained.
He uses the learning platform Canvas as well as YouTube.
Videos and screen recordings - in which he demonstrates how to do a problem while explaining the process - have been important tools for Felber. He also relies on email, but acknowledged that “it is a challenge to explain how to do a math problem in an email.”
“The videos that I post are all well and good. Students can watch it, but if they have a single question they are kind of in trouble,” said Felber. “I have also done some live conferences on the YouTube channel so that they can interact. It is doable, but it is not ideal.”
Delivering instruction solely through digital means has been a learning process, he said, and there is “nobody to ask who has done this before.”
English, Gustine High
Noceti said her top priority has been giving students instruction in the skills that they absolutely need to be successful.
“We are being creative and trying to provide a variety of ways to access the materials and different ways that they can show they have mastered it,” Noceti told Mattos Newspapers.
The education must be delivered in a manner that ensures equity for students, she emphasized, so lessons are being structured in a manner so those who do not have the same access still have robust instruction that allows them to keep up with their peers.”
Some families, she noted, do not have home access to internet. Others may be working on their phone or sharing a device, she added.
Noceti said she has found students to be more expressive and finding their voice during a time of crisis and challenge.
“These are seniors, and their world has shifted in very real ways. We need to be more flexible and extend kindness where we can and encourage them to do their best.”
The atmosphere on campus was surreal and emotional the last two days class was in session, Noceti said.
One day before schools closed, she said, Governor Newsom had expressed doubts that students would be returning to the classroom this spring.
“Those who came on that Wednesday were facing the understanding that it could be their last day on campus,” Noceti told Mattos Newspapers.
Noceti said she has done all she can to maintain connections with students - including extensive use of videos offering voice feedback on assignments so that students can hear her tone of voice when evaluating their work.
Her yearbook staff was able to finish the 2020 edition before schools closed, Noceti noted, but a special supplement will be published to chronicle the times.
Supporting students has been a priority among staff, she added.
Her heart breaks for the senior class in particular, Noceti reflected.
“This is terrible,” she said of the situation. “This is not how we would want it to be, but we are going to do everything we can for the students to structure things so they can be successful.”