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Remote learning has teachers juggling two sets of students

Districts offer an online option for those opting out of in-person classes

High school math teacher Kim Anderson reviews problems with her AP calculus students. Anderson also records her lessons for her online students to make sure that they can benefit from other students’ questions. (Liam Halawith/ The Union)
High school math teacher Kim Anderson reviews problems with her AP calculus students. Anderson also records her lessons for her online students to make sure that they can benefit from other students’ questions. (Liam Halawith/ The Union)

MT. PLEASANT – As positive coronavirus cases continue to rise in Iowa, schools continue to adapt to a new way of teaching and learning: remotely.

As part of the district’s return-to-learn plan Mt. Pleasant schools are offering remote learning to any student that is opting out of in-person classes.

As the district enters its sixth week of school, teachers, who handle both in-person classes and remote instruction, are struggling to handle the amount of work that comes with managing remote learners.

In particular, teachers are having trouble communicating with their students.

Second-grade teacher and remote-learning coordinator for the second grade, CJ Gaston doesn’t like being unable to quickly communicate with students and families when they have a question.

“I want to be able to answer questions as soon as possible. Just trying to be able to communicate as quickly as possible is one of the struggles for sure,” Gaston said.

Not only is it difficult for teachers to communicate with students, it’s difficult for some to gauge the student comprehension of a topic when work is done remotely.

High school math teacher Kim Anderson finds it difficult to pick up when a student is struggling with a problem in the absence of face-to-face interaction with the student. While teaching from afar, Anderson has to settle for whatever the student is willing to share.

“You can kind of see their face [in class], and you can see if they’re getting it or not. When they’re at home it’s a little harder to tell exactly if they really understand it,” Anderson said.

This has led to many teachers taping their lessons and sending students the videos through software like Zoom, and Screencastify. Teachers sometimes even tape their live lessons to give the students a more immersive experience.

The tapes allow remote students to learn from other student questions and allow them to benefit from class discussions even if they cannot physically be in the class.

“I basically redo the lesson that I do for my kiddos in my normal classroom. The thing that we’re lacking is the communication between students, we’re missing that turn and talk time,” Gaston said.

Anderson echoed that class discussion is important for students to learn. It allows for a deeper understanding of the topic. This is something that many remote learners are having trouble getting out of remote learning.

Mt. Pleasant junior Tristen Davisis participating in the remote learning model because of health concerns for himself and family members.

He feels teachers have not given students enough resources to teach themselves and comprehend material.

Davis said he feels he is left with a shallow understanding of the curriculum presented in remote learning.

“I’m … given the assignments and [told] ‘this is when you need to have it due.’ So at times, it can be difficult,” Davis said.

Despite the challenges, both teachers and students agree there are some advantages to online learning. Students can dictate their own schedule, learn on their own terms and take more time on material if needed. Teachers are learning new tools they can incorporate into their classroom.

“We’re learning some things that we’ve never thought we’d be able to learn, and we’re going to be able to transfer that into our classroom on a daily basis,” Gaston said.

Still, many wish the remote learning model wasn’t necessary even though it may be here to stay and will continue to be available for students that choose the alternative learning model until the state’s emergency declaration expires.

“It’s working, obviously, it’s not ideal, but we’re making the best of a tough situation,” Anderson said.