For the past several months, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools has led a team of educators from 17 Kern County school districts and partners from Fresno, Kings and San Luis Obispo County Offices of Education to develop standards-based distance learning curriculum in English language arts, math, English language development, science, history and social-emotional learning for students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade.
Nine weeks of lessons and teacher and parent trainings have been completed, intended to give schools a head start on distance learning programs and to make improvements from the previous spring semester.
“When schools were physically closed back in March, distance learning was not something we had planned for. As a result, districts had to make quick decisions without time to create comprehensive plans as to how they would continue to provide instruction for all students,” said Lisa Gilbert, KCSOS deputy superintendent of instructional services. “We can and must do better in our distance learning efforts and we have been very intentional in laying a foundation that we believe will help schools improve the experience moving forward.”
More than half of Kern County school districts have signed on to use Canvas, a learning management system, this fall, representing roughly 80,000 local students.
To prepare for another dive into distance learning, around 400 teachers and administrators have taken part in the three-day virtual Reimagining Teaching and Learning Academy by the KCSOS and the Riverside County Office of Education. Various presenters were featured and panels focused on methods to strengthen distance learning and find new ways to teach students.
Alan November, an international leader in education technology, shared with participants Wednesday that how one words work or homework assignments changes how students will engage with it.
For example, one teacher in Texas posted a photo on Twitter of a baseball diamond and asked students where the perfect bunt was, referring to a previous lesson on angles. Because there was only one right answer, students could easily cheat off each other and not engage as much in their learning, November explained.
The teacher then decided to ask students to write up a warmup problem that involves the volume of a cup. November said that led to many different student responses where they were more involved in their learning and understanding of math concepts.
"As soon as you have the word 'solve' and replace it with 'involve,' it’s a completely different experience," he said to viewers. "They have to come up with designing a problem."
As teachers navigate distance learning this fall, November said it's important to hand students responsibility in their learning. Another example he highlighted included a Harvard University physics professor who decided to change his course and have students do 90 percent of the learning by working together. The professor found that students generally had a better understanding of content material by working together.
Another panelist, Lisa Bosio, who's been an educator for more than 20 years, stressed that learning and teaching is not a one-size-fits-all casserole. In an analogy about serving lasagna at a dinner party, she explained that leaves out individuals who may have gluten, dairy or other dietary restrictions from taking part in dinner. The same could be said when educators have students completing the same assignments, reading the same books and teaching lectures in just one way.
"It causes inequities," Bosio said.
Instead, educators should "serve" a buffet to their students, meaning finding different ways to immerse students in education that better fits their needs. This will "remove barriers" and help them better succeed, she said.
Due to inconsistency among districts and schools across California in providing remote instruction when schools closed in the spring, the state has set new requirements for distance learning to ensure accountability by having schools:
- Document daily attendance and participation and create a system to track.
- Set procedures for reengaging students who are absent or unengaged.
- Communicate with parents about learning progress.
- Ensure teachers interact daily to instruct, monitor progress and maintain connections.
- Provide academic supports for students who fall behind academically.
- Complete a Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan, which outlines how schools will effectively deliver distance learning models.