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'Meaningful' Matters In Distance Learning, Instructional Videos Not New In Education

Carmel Central School District Superintendent Andy Irvin.
Carmel Central School District Superintendent Andy Irvin. Photo Credit: Contributed

Do you wake up feeling like your children are in a Petri dish and can't wait for the hindsight to know how well it's working?

White Plains Middle School- Highlands Principal Ernest Spatafore takes a glass-half-full approach looking back over the past two months. The biggest challenge, he said in an email, is finding out "the appropriate balance between providing engaging, worthwhile instructional activities, and being sensitive to the physical and emotional toll of the current COVID-19 crisis."

Spatafore applauds WPMS teachers for their hard work and especially for their ability to provide emotional support for our students. 

"Our faculty has done an incredible job of communicating with our families. Additionally, teachers have expanded their capacity to create lessons that are scaffolded to meet the needs of individual students in a virtual environment," Spatafore related.

What would Spatafore say to parents worried about their child's learning? 

"As a district, we are working to provide students with meaningful learning experiences even in this atypical scenario," said Spataore. "We are aware that we cannot re-create the experience of being in a classroom with fellow students, but we are making every effort to ensure that students are learning and being intellectually challenged."

He maintained the most important area to focus on right now is the emotional and physical well-being of the students.

"Teachers are in contact with our families and are making every effort to support them in ways that go far above and beyond their typical role. They are using our learning management system not only to check in academically with students but also to ensure that students’ families are okay," said Spatafore.

He also credits the staff with more than teaching.

"Our staff is consistently donating resources, providing contact information for sources of support and even delivering food and cleaning supplies to families in need. The hardest part of remote learning is that we miss our students."   

Carmel Teachers 

An email from a parent of a child (name withheld) in Carmel Central School District to Daily Voice commented that some teachers in the district teach their classrooms remotely using live video conferencing and instructional videos they make themselves and wanted to know what was the policy. Superintendent Andy Irvin responded.

He said, "We are not doing synchronist learning, which means our teachers are not teaching live online but what they are required to do is create and push out and receive and give feedback on lessons. And it needs to equal five days of instructional time per week."

The lessons might include instructional videos on YouTube such as Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organization that creates a set of online tools that help educate students. 

He used the example of teaching the concept of "volume" to a fifth-grade classroom.

"I'm a teacher and not a math (expert), but I can find five video clips on volume that might be a portion of my math lessons for the five days. Or there may be a video clip on teaching long division that might be the best in the world to teach long division. The question the teacher (asks) is 'Are they really going to learn it best?'

"I know that there are people who feel as if what should be happening is teachers should be teaching for six hours or 4.5 hours online but if you actually spent the day in the school, if the teacher is standing up there teaching 4.5 hours, they're probably not doing a very good job," Irvin said. 

He noted that teachers in class already use these instructional videos, especially in the higher grades, fifth and up. The teachers in grades K to four had more to do when adapting to online learning.

Irving suggests parents with concerns contact their child's teacher.

"If teachers aren't meeting the needs of the students, my hope would be the parent communicates with the teacher. Our principals are working full time. Communicate (concerns) to the principal. They're the ones responsible for supervising what's going on day to day, week to week," said Irvin.

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