By Lauren Heimlich Foley
The last few weeks have felt like a whirlwind blend of late August preparation and early September go time. The amount of new information, last minute changes, and not knowing what tomorrow will bring makes me thankful that I usually only experience the strain of back to school once a year.
Now in the throes of distance learning—with a scheduled meeting time for each class, priority standards in place, expectations for online behavior, and a revised year-long reading and writing map—one more item came up in my eighth-grade team’s text message thread: a work completion and grading policy.
At the middle grades level, students have a two-and-a-half-hour block of time each week for each class. (First and second period meet on Monday, third and fourth period meet on Tuesday, fifth and sixth period meet on Wednesday, seventh period meets on Thursday. Thursday and Friday offer additional office hour time and independent work time.) During that class period time, teachers are available for real-time virtual office hours, whole-group meetings, small-group meetings, and one-on-one conferences. There is a thirty-minute lesson with up to an additional sixty-minute long-term assignment. Although students are encouraged to complete the work during their period’s time slot, home and personal obligations may make this impossible for students to do. While all students have access to a laptop through our district’s 1:1 initiative, our students have varying levels of responsibilities at home. To help students be as successful as they can be and stay on top of their work, we are asking students to complete each week’s assignments before our next scheduled class time. With our district moving to a Pass/Fail option for the fourth marking period, we want to ensure that our students have the time, guidance, and help to be successful.
Like the start of any new school year, I needed to establish routines and expectations. I have started to do this with Canvas, our learning management system, by maintaining certain key components of our class and creating new routines like our Office Hours One-on-One Discussion Board. Our district asked teachers to develop class guidelines by explaining how distance learning would work within their own classroom. And, while we have a district-wide Pass/Fail grading system in place, my students and their parents needed more information on how this translated to our English classroom.
The science teacher on our eighth-grade team made a grading letter, outlining the expectations and guidelines for distance learning. With a few content-specific tweaks, I adapted it for my English classroom. First, we sent an email blast to all students. Next, we sent an email blast to all parents and guardians. See the emails below. By sending out an email that genuinely hoped students and families were doing well while simultaneously offering insight into how the rest of the school year would work in terms of work completion and grading forged a we-are-working-together-and-we-will-get-through-this bond. Being transparent and upfront with parents and guardians and showing I care for the well-being and success of their students has helped me maintain positive parent-guardian relationships. I sent out the email on Thursday, and I have already received two positive emails in reply.
Although I would like to think the letter will ensure all students turn in their work on time the first week, I know I will have missing work. Being flexible will also be an important part of making this grading policy work. Monday, April 24th will mark a complete, one-week cycle for all classes under our district’s Phase II of Distance Learning and of our new grading policy. For students, who have not turned in work that first week, I will reach out to students and their parent and guardians. Although my grading policy says work turned in late will be marked as failing, I will be flexible this first week, allowing a grace period to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands the expectations.
With the announcement that schools will not be returning to our physical classrooms this 2019-2020 school year, specific guidelines and a little extra TLC—for me, for my students, and my parents and guardians—will help us make it through.
Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts
The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing?
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