When Jeffco Public Schools introduced remote learning in March 2020 as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, many schools relied on an asynchronous model — students completing online learning individually as opposed to together in real time.
But secondary students learning remotely in Jeffco this school year will be expected to engage in a synchronous learning model four days per week. And as teachers prepare to execute that model, they’re faced with new questions, many of which cannot be answered until the school year has already begun.
The Jeffco school year was scheduled to begin the week of Aug. 24, with all students engaging in remote learning only during the first two weeks of class.
Starting Sept. 8, elementary students will have the option to continue in a 100% remote environment or back to schools for 100% in-person learning.
Secondary students have the options of a 100% remote environment or a hybrid environment. In the hybrid model, students are grouped into an A group and B group. Each group attends in-person only two days a week and engages remotely the other three days, including on Fridays, when all students learn remotely.
Synchronous learning in action
With synchronous learning required for remote learners Monday through Thursday, secondary teachers will be responsible for supervising both in-person and remote learners four days a week.
According to Jeffco’s Restart Plan website, this means remote learners must “have work completed before the live session; will attend class at the beginning of each period; (and) will work independently or in learning groups following the start of each class.”
So what exactly will the hybrid model look like when executed? In many ways, it depends on which teacher you ask.
Melissa Roach, a math teacher at Bear Creek High School, says she and her colleagues have been told they must teach a lesson to both in-person and remote students for part of the class period, then allow students to work on assignments for the other portion of class. She plans to teach and livestream lessons via Zoom before having students break into in-person small groups or Zoom small groups. She will check in on each group in-person or remotely throughout the class period.
Sam Long, a former science teacher at Standley Lake High School who accepted a position in another district Aug. 14, said he and his Standley Lake colleagues had been told by school administrators they would need to spend the entire class period teaching. Long says he was instructed not to ask in-person students to complete any activity that could not be done by students watching at home, which said would limit Standley Lake teachers to lectures only and almost no activities.
Dale Munholland of Pomona High School said he and his coworkers have plans to either record and post lessons online, or livestream them, with each teacher still figuring out the constraints of the hybrid schedule and how they can make those constraints work.
When asked for comment on the hybrid policy, a district spokesperson directed Colorado Community Media to the district’s restart information website.
The website states that “on remote learning days, students will engage in a blend of synchronous learning and independent work.”
“The way that I understand it, it’s not entirely clear to anybody,” Munholland said. “A lot of it is just going to be trial and error and figuring out how this works best. None of my colleagues have a good handle on that yet.”
Part of the reason for some teachers’ confusion has been district and school-specific communications that seems potentially at odds with one another, Roach said.
“We’ve been getting conflicting information about how long we have to teach and what portion has to be live,” she said. “We’re receiving new information every day.”
Though she has a plan for teaching in place, she said she cannot make a prediction about whether the plan will be effective until she sees it play out.
She added that an even bigger stressor for her and her colleagues has been preparing to teach live to online students.
“Teachers are saying, `I didn’t sleep at all last night.’ It’s what most teachers are anxious about,” she said. “The training we had (this summer) was more to do with pedagogy than it was with how to actually teach online. I think there could be additional training.”
Long agreed, saying he and some of his former Standley Lake colleagues feel they did not receive adequate training for the task at hand.
Teachers’ takes on district decisions
In addition to concerns about safety during the pandemic because of a return to in-person schooling, Long said the choices made around the hybrid schedule were enough to convince him to resign from his position at Standley Lake Aug. 14 and apply for a position in another district.
“I’m not the only teacher that’s left. We knew it would be hybrid but we didn’t know we would be expected to teach multiple audiences at once,” he said. “The task we’re presented with has been pretty demoralizing for my colleagues. Neither group of students is going to get the attention they need.”
For many schools, a significant portion of students have elected to learn remotely every day of the week. Roach said school leaders told her that about a quarter of students at Bear Creek are learning online only. At Standley Lake, Long said he was told about a fifth of students will be 100% remote.
According to the data the district had received as of Aug. 10, district-wide, about a quarter of students had opted to learn 100% remotely.
Long and Roach said they have been told these students will often not have their own sections of a class, but will instead tune in over video chat alongside the students in the hybrid schedule.
“(100%) remote learners are never going to have time where the attention is just devoted to them and this is something I don’t think has been communicated to the parents,” Long said.
With the first day of hybrid learning just weeks away, each teacher feels differently about the circumstances surrounding the hybrid schedule.
Munholland said that, given the circumstances — he feels that because of the uncertainty of the pandemic, the district had no choice but to commit to a hybrid schedule fairly late into the summer — “This is as good as it could be,” he said.
“In any hybrid model and for those in all remote learning, I don’t think you’ll get as deep instruction. But it’s a very, very difficult balancing act — it’s like putting together a puzzle and none of the pieces fit,” he said. “Being with the kids is one of the big highlights of my day, but I also want to do the right thing by the kids and keep them safe.”