School districts are starting to make plans for how to reopen for the new school year in the fall, coming up with contingency options for continued remote learning, in-school learning or a blending of the two. Emerging plans call for schedules, seating arrangements, lesson planning and other things to be vastly different from what was customary before the coronavirus pandemic forced most schools around the country (and the world) to close.
Ferlazzo teaches English and social studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento. He has written or edited 12 books on education, writes a teacher advice blog for Education Week Teacher and has a popular resource-sharing blog. He has written pieces for this blog over the years, including one on how teachers can help students motivate themselves and this one, one of my favorites, titled: “NEWS BREAK (not breaking news): Teacher asks students to grade him. One wrote: ‘I give Mr. Ferlazzo an A at being annoying.’ ”
Every year, he sums up the best and worst in education news of the year, and then he predicts what will happen in the coming year. He did not predict that a pandemic would shut down schools in 2020 and send tens of millions of students home to do their schoolwork. (But really, who did?)
On his resource-sharing blog, he has been posting pieces about what the next school year might look like, and now, he has his own prediction in a piece titled, “It’s Going To Be A New Classroom World In The Fall – Here Is What I Think It Might Look Like.” He gave me permission to publish this.
By Larry Ferlazzo
Here is what I think it’s going to look like in many high school classrooms, including mine (and very possibly in elementary and middle schools, too):
- There will be some kind of staggered attendance — either by days or morning/afternoon shifts (more likely the former), and done in a way that there will be a maximum of 10 students in a classroom at any one time, spaced apart. I think the absolute maximum amount of time any one student will physically be in the classroom each week will be the equivalent of two regular school days.
- The remaining student work will be done online at home in asynchronous classrooms (which are classes students can take whenever they want and don’t have to attend with other students or a teacher).
- Forget physical books, pencils or papers for quick-writes; all reading and writing will be done on laptops, even if students are in physical classrooms.
- Even small group work will be done online. Perhaps specific procedures and locations can be identified to have pairs of students carefully move to locations where they can talk at a distance, but not to make physical posters. They can make online posters that can be shared with the teacher.
- Every student will have a school-issued laptop, and will be required to bring it to school every day. Of course, some will forget, or will have slept in a different place the night before, or their device will break, so we’re going to have to have several extra laptops on hand each day and a procedure for sanitizing them.
- Students will be placed in cohorts so they can stay — at least for most of the day — with the same group of classmates each day in the same room. We teachers will be moving around to the rooms rather than the other way around. Because we won’t be using paper packets or books, we won’t have a lot to carry around with us. We’ll also have to find time and create a procedure to sanitize the teacher desk, computer projector remote control and teacher computer each period.
- Lunches will be staggered, and students will eat breakfast and lunch in the same room with their regular classmates.
- Of course, all of us — teachers and students alike — will be wearing masks every day, all day.
- Teachers will have to radically reconfigure how we teach our curriculum. How can we maximize our physical face time with our students and determine what is most appropriate for online work when we’re not around to help? We certainly want to minimize student use of laptops when they are with us — but what will that look like?
- I know there is talk about giving students and teachers temperature checks before they enter school every day, but that just seems to be a logistical nightmare (not that every other thing I’ve listed isn’t). I do wonder, though, if this move would just be “a bridge too far.”
- Classes will have designated times and locations for bathroom breaks.
- Cleaning and sanitizing: Boy, will there be a lot of time spent cleaning and sanitizing. But I have no idea how or when all that is going to happen.
- Teachers will have to be planning each class as if it is the last one before schools close again — which is possible any time if the coronavirus flares up, as many experts predict.
I’m sure I’m missing a lot of things, and I hope readers will share them in the comments section.
It seems to me that if my predictions are correct, things should be safe enough for everyone to go back to school, including for those of us in the range of 55 to 65 years old.
One of my biggest questions is how serious districts will be on providing protective equipment and funding staff to do the necessary cleaning.
Another bigger one is the issue of equality vs. equity. Some of our most vulnerable student populations, including English-language learners, students with special needs and others who are challenged by “opportunity gaps,” need to have more than two days a week of live classes to move ahead. Can districts make exceptions for these students, who will also benefit greatly from the small class sizes?
It’s going to be a heck of a year …