Kent School Employees Evaluate Distance Learning

It has been more than five weeks since Kent School launched distance learning for students from Preschool through Grade Eight. Teachers and administrators are leading the way in sharing tools, techniques and tips for effective teaching and learning from a distance. Over the course of these past weeks, they have discovered which virtual tools work best for them and their students.They have adjusted their schedule to include synchronous and asynchronous instruction, as well as small group and one-to-one instruction. Tools like Zoom, Google Classrooms, and Seesaw have become essential components of an effective virtual classroom, however, all agree that they are no substitute for the face-to-face interaction that happens in a classroom setting.

Teachers at Kent School are finding challenges and successes as they navigate this new world of virtual teaching. There are a few features that they will take with them back to the classroom when we resume on-campus classes. Teachers note that their familiarity with several new online resources will enhance their on-campus classes. They also appreciate their ability to connect with students individually or in small groups, which allows for more detailed feedback on assignments or specialized instruction.

Class curriculum is continuing as planned across all grade levels. Middle School students are continuing their language arts units while reading novels, plays, and poetry, and using Zoom and Google Classroom for class discussions on their readings. Math instruction using Everyday Math and Eureka Math is also continuing. Lower School students continue to build on the reading, math and social studies skills with project-based work and individualized instruction.

Asynchronous teaching gives families flexibility as well. Assistant Head of School for Academics, Jenny Cernak, said, “We realized early in the process that we could not continue the regular academic school schedule with all classes meeting online at designated times. At home, there is limited bandwidth that needs to be shared among students and parents working from home. As a result, several of our teachers are recording and posting lessons on YouTube, Vimeo, and iMovie, and then sharing with families who can then offer the lessons at a convenient time.” Art, Physical Education, Lower School Spanish Class and Library Read Aloud times are typically presented via YouTube and available at the students convenience.

Teachers have been impressed with individual student’s investment in their learning. Students are demonstrating maturity and a deep responsibility toward their own education. One middle School teacher wrote, “Seeing the students become independent learners and have faith in their abilities has been great. I have seen students thrive without the social pressure of their classmates. I love the one-on-one Zoom meetings with the kids. It is optional and sometimes the kids have questions about the assignment or they just want to talk. It makes me feel closer to them. Lastly, the flexibility to meet individual needs has been awesome.”

As with any new venture, there are challenges, but teachers and students are eager to provide solutions to make this situation more productive for everyone. Challenges range from not being with the students to do hands-on activities, missing classroom supplies, and finding a balance of time spent online with students in groups or individually. One teacher remarked, “I miss my large whiteboard!” Providing timely feedback is another challenge of distance learning. Cernak continued, ”Whether it is from a colleague or a student, teachers are missing the feedback they normally get when they are in a classroom. I have joined a number of their classes through Zoom and I am impressed with their planning and empathy for each student. Parents are also eager for feedback. Assurances that their student is engaged and learning are helpful. We have decided to host virtual parent-teacher conferences for each student on May 1. That timing falls in line with our midterm for the third trimester of the year. That one-to-one communication will be helpful for everyone.”

Nancy Mugele, Head of School at Kent School said, “We are as committed as ever to providing academic, artistic, athletic and moral excellence throughout distance learning. While distance learning is not ideal, it does demonstrate our teachers’ commitment to lifelong learning and their dedication to their students. We are all eager to return to our beautiful, riverside campus but until we can safely do that, we will embrace distance learning on behalf of every student from Preschool through Grade Eight.

Kent School is an independent school, located on the bank of the Chester River in historic Chestertown, MD. For more information, email Info@KentSchool.org or visit www.KentSchool.org.

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