Teaching Online Is a Challenge

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Fred Gibbons. Photo by Robert Devaney

It’s been eight weeks since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools in D.C. and teachers were told they had to teach all their classes online. On March 16, when the order came through, it was supposed to be just for a week or so. Spring break was moved up to the third week of March, then schools were to reopen in early April after a week or two of distance learning, recalled Hyde-Addison pre-K teacher Fred Gibbons.

But now the Georgetown school is closed completely for the rest of the term. Only administrators are allowed inside.

Instead, in order to carry on, teachers and parents have been given weeklong packets of lesson plans, suggested assignments and even homework ideas. “Most of the homework will be graded as ‘pass’ or ‘met,’” Gibbons explained. “No student is getting any negative marks for this period.”

There was no time to train teachers in person for online teaching, although they were able to take the computers supplied to them by DC Public Schools, with online teaching and Zoom apps. “Teachers also have been offered online training and ongoing technical support,” Gibbons said.

Thousands of iPads were given out to students in the District who didn’t have them, though many lack an internet connection or a person to help them learn how to use the new devices.

For the little ones, long hours online proved challenging. Instead, Gibbons schedules half an hour of face-to-face lesson time with each student in his class every week. Parents may be here to help press buttons and adjust cameras, but the session is between him and the student, geared to the level where he or she is at the time. Gibbons adds to suggestions from the DCPS kits about at-home activities and materials.

Most of Gibbons’s 3-to-5-year-olds did not know the alphabet at the beginning of the year. Now, most do, and some are reading already. Gibbons spends time each week reading to them in a group session, when he also facilitates conversations between students — something he knows they all miss.

“At this time, we don’t know what next year is going to look like,” Gibbons said. “It will certainly be different, with new health and safety protocols. We’ll have to see how it develops.”

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