Keeping up with the workload on a variety of subjects can be daunting, as long-term distance learning forces teachers and students to remain attentive to schedules, online instruction and consistent communication between parties.
But what about maintaining the sharpness involved in learning and speaking a different language?
Haddonfield School District educators Ana Sanchez, Jeanne Augugliaro and Sharon Verdeur — who have more than five decades of experience between the three of them — are tackling that issue head-on.
Augugliaro, who teaches French and Spanish at the middle-school level and another section of French in high school, has to factor in the needs of 130 students across different levels of proficiency.
“I speak the language in the classroom from the start, and we do that in order to facilitate the output from the kids,” she explained. “But now that we are virtual, several times I will make and show videos of my teaching. We can do unlimited Screencastify, teach parts of a lesson in the target language and I have made sure that is a constant.
“Sometimes in middle school, instructions are written in English so students have access and understand the task at hand,” Augugliaro added. “That has been one of the main differences; it’s not written so much as being on video.”
Everyone was in the same boat in terms of figuring out how to proceed with lessons when classes were transitioned from on-site to online in mid-March, but all sides have adapted well since then.
“Everything was so new and I had to make sure everyone knew exactly what to do and when. But now, I’m doing things like a whole 20-minute video completely in French giving instruction,” Augugliaro said.
“My goals going forward are that there is strong engagement between myself and my students, that the kids stay connected, and that they are able to document their learning, either virtually or otherwise.”
Verdeur, a 30-year teaching veteran in the district, handles French across all middle-school grades and has to manage 200 kids total while interacting with 125 per day.
“I’ve been thinking about curriculum and lessons, and how to make them work online — what can I add or subtract to make it virtually friendly,” she related. ”Information remains the same, but the challenge rests in how I get back to them and how they get back to me: It’s all in making videos.
“Because of this, the kids are getting good at problem solving, especially when they upload a video and can’t get that immediate feedback.”
But it’s not all smooth sailing in terms of figuring out the best way to teach, correct and communicate through virtual means.
“(The major difficulty in an online setting) lies in getting the assignments out; just to impart that one lesson, it can be a couple hours from creation to completion,” Verdeur added. “In our classrooms, it can be a matter of minutes for instruction, correction and completion.”
Sanchez also teaches solely at the middle-school level, usually all three grades, but this year, despite handling sixth and eighth grades, she still deals with 165 students.
“I schedule individual sessions on Zoom with my eighth graders and we have a conversation in the target language for about 15 minutes,” she said. “It was amazing to see how much they have grown since sixth grade and how much they can do spontaneously.
“I do different activities to keep them engaged during our live sessions,” Sanchez added, “such as virtual scavenger hunts, Quizlet Live, etc. I video myself speaking in the target language, where I tell stories, talk about activities I do, ask a ‘question of the day’ or introduce new content.”
To bolster her students’ acquisition of the language, encourage application and keep things light, Sanchez has her charges complete various video projects directly related to a theme unit.
Verdeur expressed the following sentiments about dealing with an unknown future, but they were echoed by both Sanchez and Augugliaro in some form: “The uncertainty is challenging, but whatever we decide we’re going to do, that’s what we’ll do,” she said.
“Haddonfield has worked hard so far, and if we have to do this to the end of the school year, we’re prepared for it. There’s nothing that can replace in-person teaching, but we’re all doing the best we can.
“We’re all in this because we love the kids.”