By Cole Parkinson
While the 2019/2020 school year was presented with numerous challenges come early spring due to COVID-19, Horizon School Division is hoping to have an adaptable plan heading into this fall.
During the Horizon board’s regular June meeting, board members were presented with an update on how learning staff were approaching the start of the 2020/2021 school year.
“When it comes to the continuity of learning, one of the messages we are giving to staff is ‘you may not be a physician or have any expertise in all of these decisions, but you do know teaching and learning. You know what our students need and you’ve got this.’ As we look at a teaching and learning point of view for the fall, what our strategy is, is essentially to have one plan but be agile enough that that plan can be altered to deliver a quality education to students whether they are in the classroom with the whole group, split in half or for that student learning from home that needs to get material to learn remotely,” said Amber Darroch, associate superintendent of learner services.
The abrupt halt to in classroom learning earlier this spring presented plenty of challenges for the division but teachers and staff were able to adapt suitably to the situation.
That experience learned over the final few months of the previous school year will be brought over this fall and teachers are feeling confident about their methods regardless of what route the Alberta government chooses whether students are back in classrooms together, split into halves or back to complete online learning.
“One of the key lessons learned I would say during this period of what we are calling ‘emergency teaching’ or ‘remote teaching’, during this period teachers have really appreciated how important it is when they are either teaching a new concept and the level of understanding each student has and when they want to assess learning. That’s when they need the kids in front of them and so as they consider that plan, our strategy would be that when students are in front of the teacher, they will prioritize essential interactions that are occurring in the classroom and provide what we would call ‘practice projects and exploration for the home component.’ If we were in a situation where I was teaching a class that comes Monday and Wednesday, those days I would be introducing new concepts or revisiting key concepts, assessing where students are at and then I would give them something I would expect them to work independently on Tuesday and Thursday when I am actively teaching the other half of my class,” continued Darroch.
Another encouragement the division is giving to teachers is to work together as much as possible.
“We’re working very carefully to provide teachers with tools that will make that planning as easy as possible as well as to highlight the value of collaborating,” explained Darroch. “We are encouraging teachers to work together across grade levels and subjects so they can cover for one another, contribute to one another’s plans and to have a better product overall than from somebody working all by themselves.”
If the province winds up going with a more online-based approach come September, the division is hopeful to provide parents with more direction and guidance in teaching their kids.
“Some principals intend to do some orientation for parents especially if we are in scenario two where students are learning from home. I think parents now have questions around how you teach students. That will be one of our next steps of the blended model — to provide parents with support,” said Darroch.
Board members questioned whether or not band class would be able to function as normal as possible come fall.
While there are still options to have band class in schools, there will be some changes needing to be made if schools are going to go that route.
“From a transmission point of view, as weird as it sounds, when you have forceful breath, if you have COVID you are most likely transmit it. So forceful breath is wind instruments, shouting, cheering, singing, so those activities would be under caution,” replied Darroch.
“The guidelines say to avoid them but you have the ability to do those activities if they are masked,” added Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools. “The problem is this — in an elementary school where it is more of an option, delay the use of that practice such as recorders. In junior high or high school where it is a core course, do you have the ability to have a band class? Under the guidelines, you could but maybe their playing with a mask with a small hole in it. That would actually be one of the safety measures put in place.”
Another situation providing a challenge will be early learning classes.
“In many cases, early learning is play-based learning. It’s pretty tough to do play-based learning and learn about sharing when you are sitting by yourself in a bubble. You have to have some interaction,” explained Tymensen.
One thing that isn’t expected to change regardless of the scenario presented by the province come Aug. 1 is diploma exams. Though diplomas are expected to come again in 2020/2021, Horizon does expect there to be a change with how they are weighted.
“We do expect diploma exams will continue, we’re prepared for that. Alberta Education is decreasing the emphasis they are putting on it from an accountability point of view. We know that there will be gaps in our student’s learning and if we are drawing a graph of achievement results year to year, we expect this one will be different,” said Darroch. “PATs will be optional and limited to English and math only, not social and science.”