Jenn Smith | Recess: A few lessons on remote learning

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"Zoom fatigue." Wi-Fi cutting out. Sitting in parking lots to learn.

The struggle is real, people.

But call it distance learning, remote learning, or a pain-in-the-butt — learning online, at home and outside of the classroom, is going to remain part of the "new normal" in some capacity as schools and districts continue to plan for buildings to reopen. It's still unknown if and how amid the coronavirus public health crisis schools and day care centers will be able to safely operate, and at full capacity.

The state, up until this point, has offered some waivers for learning requirements and guidance for local schools and districts shaping and putting remote learning plans into practice, but ultimately, that's just what it is, guidance.

It's now up to schools and districts to provide guidance for students, teachers and families on how to move forward. And from what I'm learning, it varies greatly.

What is remote learning, anyway?

Remote learning, by definition, describes a separation between students, teachers and the physical classroom. There is no definition for how it must take place, how often and how students are affected.

The state guidance is that time-on-learning now equates to approximately half the length of a regular school day, three to four hours. It can include analog workbook activities, independent project or online classes and lessons through Zoom, Google, Microsoft or a variety of other platforms. These lessons can be led by a teacher, parent or caregiver, or a student can explore and learn on their own.

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Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley writes in a 25-page guidance document updated in April: "At the same time, we affirmed that the individual student experience would vary based on factors including student age, individual and family needs, and critical wellness and readiness factors like student and family health, technology, and internet access." That's a truth that runs deep, well before this pandemic began.

What does it look like?

What remote learning looks like can be best grasped by members of the public through visiting a local school's social media site.

On the Southern Berkshire Regional School District's Facebook page, for example, it can look like a first-grader designing a geometric tower using toothpicks and miniature marshmallows; or a seventh-grader curled up over a smartphone in the back of a parent's hatchback watching a video lesson on how to construct a model sailboat because there's still not enough home broadband internet service in towns like New Marlborough.

What it should be

Riley talks often about deeper learning, about giving teachers latitude and making connections between students more consistent and personalized.

What the guidance doesn't include is security. Berkshire County does not have Boston resources. Until matters of equity and accessibility for all students, teachers, school districts and families are addressed by providing adequate resources, success in learning, remote or otherwise, is going to remain out of reach.

Matters of education, learning, equity, community all speak to me. Let's talk about it. Reach out anytime via jsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter or 413-629-4517.


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