The return to classrooms in fall 2021 will once again be to a school year unlike any other. Education in New Jersey — and around the world — has changed through COVID-19. And while we have faced challenges that at times felt insurmountable, as educators we’ve found ways to persevere. Along the way, we’ve discovered new approaches that may better meet the needs of students, families and teachers. The question before us now is: Which of these approaches will we carry forward even past the pandemic?
First, we know that students have faced many forms of trauma over the past 18 months. The return to school must include a focus on the whole child by addressing social and emotional and mental health in addition to accelerating academic learning.
In Logan Township School District, we deeply value data to inform our practice. Pre-pandemic, we used formative and summative assessments with iREADY to drive student learning goals and school-based changes. During the pandemic, we have found we need to use that data even more. Our K-2 What I Need (WIN) pilot will expand this year to K-5, and groups will be fluid based on their learning needs. WIN is a period within the school day designed with flexible grouping to provide additional academic or social support.
Another way we are doubling down using data is by implementing a schoolwide information system (SWIS) this fall. Our goal for this new system is to look at our discipline data with a new lens and ensure that our staff and students both feel included, safe and motivated to learn.
Adapting curriculum to new technologies
We also know that teachers have the greatest impact on student success at school. Districts have worked hard to adapt curriculum to new technologies and to engage educators in tailoring quality content to meet individual student needs.
At Great Oaks Legacy Charter School in Newark, we are strengthening the collaboration between tutoring fellows and classroom teachers. This fall, we are committed to engaging students with online learning platforms including ALEKS, DreamBox, Zearn and IXL that allow both tutoring fellows and teachers to access and review real-time academic progress of all our students. We are looking forward to using technology to refine and improve the instruction our fellows provide students during their tutorial sessions.
One of those ways will be recording insights gleaned through tutoring fellow and teacher observations on the Whetstone platform, which will be used to create constructive dialogue and consistent feedback with our tutoring corps. We are also prioritizing the analysis of student data and adapting the tutor’s instruction to meet the individual needs of students. During the pandemic, we used technology to continue our program and support individual students despite school closures. Using the Zoom platform bridged the gap between home and school, and we will continue to use that flexibility to ensure students can get the individualized attention they need.
This summer, the nonprofit organization JerseyCAN released a Framework to Accelerate Learning — a multimedia site with written briefs and videos describing specific strategies (like the ones mentioned here) already underway across New Jersey. We are proud to be featured in this platform and grateful for the opportunity to learn from other districts statewide.
Let’s continue working together to show our students and families why the return to school this year is truly something to celebrate — something even better than before COVID-19.