FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
As the Southern Lehigh implements its Continuing Education Plan, we will update this FAQ section of our website to provide our families with answers. Check back as this section will continue to grow as questions are shared. Thank you for your continued support and partnership with the Southern Lehigh School District.
1) The Pennsylvania Department of Education has provided guidelines for three types of Continuing Education Plans. Option A was to continue planned instruction in a formal virtual teaching and learning environment as if everyone was in school; Option B was to continue learning with enrichment and review to maintain and extend students’ prior learning with activities that are not mandatory for credit or official academic performance; Option C was to Provide No Instruction. Which option has Southern Lehigh chosen and why?
The Southern Lehigh School District in collaboration with multiple stakeholders decided to pursue Option B with some modification. This means that teachers are going to create assignments and virtual learning opportunities that are synchronous and asynchronous. Some of the assignments may reinforce something that was introduced prior to the closure; some of the virtual learning opportunities will pre-teach new content or material. In both instances, students will not be required to complete all assignments nor expected to master the content or skills.
The Southern Lehigh School District chose this option because we felt that the well-being of our students, families, and staff during the pandemic should be considered a priority. This does not mean that another district’s decision is right, wrong, or better- it simply means that when we broadly thought about how the pandemic may affect families and students, we wanted to be flexible. We have families in which both parents are essential workers or health care providers; families in which individuals are working full-time from home; others that are experiencing the negative consequences in terms of loss of employment or family members who are falling ill. We encouraged staff to design experiences and provide support that kept students engaged, but took into account the differing levels of home support available during this challenging time. We also highlighted that this is a prime opportunity for teachers to be creative, as there is no need to teach to a “test” for the 2019-2020 school year. Teachers have been provided latitude to “think outside the box” and consider activities and assignments they have always wanted to do but did not have the time to pursue with students.
2) What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous experiences? What is the requirement for participation?
Synchronous experiences are taking place in real time-- this would be a connection to a class in ZOOM or Google Hangouts Meet to share experiences, read a story or have a teacher demonstrate/explain a concept or assignment. Asynchronous experiences are pre-recorded demonstrations or pre-loaded practices or activities- this might be an uploaded video of a screencast by the teacher, an activity path in one of our multiple software systems, or reading/writing opportunities.
Students are expected to participate as their family circumstances permit. Teachers are tracking participation- not for a grade or as a requirement-- but as a way to gauge what is working for students/families and to provide feedback and/or check-ins to ensure that students are well.
3) Teachers are posting assignments on Monday that are due on Friday. What is required of the students? Are the students being graded on these assignments? What happens if they do not complete the assignments?
Teachers were asked to post assignments on Monday morning and make them due by the end of the day on Friday. This was not done to create stress for families or students, but to provide a sense of structure and clarity around when assignments should be submitted. Students are expected to complete assignments as they are able given their family circumstances, and teachers will provide them feedback. If they miss an assignment, they may submit it later. If they cannot get to an assignment or have difficulty completing it, they should not stress over submitting it. Students will not be penalized for not submitting assignments, but will be supported through the process. In any and all cases, students and families are encouraged to communicate with teachers, counselors, and administrators if there is a challenge or a situation that has arisen that makes it difficult for a child to complete assignments or participate in activities.
4) But in some of the systems I am seeing things like “required” or “points.” What does that mean?
Our teachers did an AMAZING job creating virtual learning assignments in our Learning Management Systems (LMS) Seesaw (K-3) and Google Classroom (4-12). Because this work was done rapidly, in some instances we are learning that default settings our LMS may assign “points” or have labels like “required.” Our technology and instructional coaches are working with teachers to make those adjustments in the systems so they reflect what is expected. Thank you for your patience as we continue to learn and adjust. And as always, please reach out directly to a teacher if you or your child has a question.
5) At times it feels like teachers are assigning a great deal of work. How do we know what to prioritize?
Our teachers are working diligently to determine what works best given our current system and structure. Because this is very new for everyone, there may be times where assignments take more or less time than what was expected when designed. We have also encouraged our teachers to think about what is “core” (most important for children to focus on) and what is “more” (added for children/families to do to extend if they are able). Communication with the teacher is key, and encouraged. What is being assigned and offered is meant to provide a resource and structure for families, not an impediment or another task. If you are unsure of what is expected to be completed and what is being offered as additional, please reach out to the teacher for clarification. We will also continue to assist our teachers in terms of the LMS to provide clarity around what is posted.
For example, at the elementary level, related arts/special area teachers have been posting assignments and activities for students. These are important, as they provide different learning activities and outlets for students in the areas of art, music, physical education, and library. However, students should not feel stressed or required to do these activities and assignments. If they do, teachers will provide feedback. If they do not, teachers will most likely check-in to ensure students are OK. Not doing an assignment will not result in some sort of punitive measure for the child, nor do they have to “catch-up.”
6) Will there be a fourth marking period with grades?
Our current plan is not accounting for a fourth marking period with grades. We are continually working through guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education to inform our decisions within these areas.
7) If students are not being graded on assignments and work during the closure, how will this affect transitions to the next grade level, placement in classes, or even graduation?
The challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic have brought include the inability to “do things the way we always have.” We are so used to grading as a core principle of school, that this is most likely one of our greatest systemic challenges besides ensuring the health, safety and well-being of children during this time.
We have asked teachers to keep a record of completed assignments, provide constructive feedback (not grades) on assignments, and track participation in synchronous and asynchronous activities. The intent is not to “grade” students, require them to do all work, or create a system of “caught you.” Instead, the purpose of doing this tracking is to:
- Monitor student participation to ensure that they are OK
- Keep children and families engaged in learning and activities to the extent they are able given our circumstances
- Gauge and plan for upcoming assignments and activities to be delivered in the LMS that takes into consideration student capacity
- Have information to support students and teachers when we return to face-to-face instruction so we know what we need to do to support students.
Grades will be completed for the third marking period. The work being done by students during our continuing education plan will not preclude them from moving onto the next grade, and our teams have started to plan for what types of curricular adjustments will need to be considered to ensure student success as they move along. There is a common belief that students will not do assignments that are not graded; there is also research that demonstrates that students who are provided feedback on assignments (what they did well, what they could do better, what they have not mastered yet) perform better than students who just have assignments graded. We understand this is a mindshift we all need to make.
In terms of processes and prerequisites that are in place for movement onto certain courses (ie. placement tests, grade attainment, etc.), the fact that we are unable to do “business as usual” will not preclude students from opportunities. For example, if we are unable to administer a placement test or use PSSA scores to determine a placement, then we will use other data to inform recommendations. Not completing assignments during our continuing education plan should not inhibit a student’s progress. This provides an opportunity to focus on learning for the sake of learning and growth, not for grades, and to access resources that are available (additional activities, special education teachers, EL teachers, intervention specialists, instructional assistants, counselors, administrators) to assist in the process of learning.
We are currently working through guidance that has been provided from the Pennsylvania Department of Education around graduation for seniors. More will be included in this FAQ as plans are solidified.
8) If we end up going back to regular session, will students be required to catch-up on assignments or work not completed during the closure?
The short answer is no. Our teams have started to plan for what types of curricular adjustments will need to be considered to ensure that students have what they need. Students are not expected to have mastered the content/skills/concepts that have been presented through activities or assignments during the continuing education plan when we return. Teachers, instructional assistants, and administrators will work together to support and design the differentiation and support that will be required to ensure that pre-taught skills/content/concepts are reinforced and mastered.
9) There are many events and occasions that have been postponed or that might be affected by closures (musical, prom, graduation). Does the district have any plans concerning how to address this?
We are all concerned about how the COVID-19 Pandemic and subsequent actions have and potentially will affect the “normal” way of school and events for students (academically, socially, athletically, artistically). Any and all adjustments or coordination or planning of “alternatives” will be based upon guidance that is released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Governor Wolf’s Office, and the Centers for Disease Control.
Our dedicated team of principals, directors, teachers, and support staff are very attuned to how disappointing our current situation is for all students, especially seniors. However, the great relationships that have been built over the past two years between school faculty and student representative groups will ensure that collaboration, creativity, and communication will provide the basis for designing and executing any alternatives to events that may have to be substantially altered, postponed, or cancelled.
10) What should we do if something is unclear or if our child is struggling?
We are encouraging your first step to be reaching out to your child’s teacher. That individual is going to be best suited to answer specific questions about assignments, what is required, and what can be done to support your child.
Counselors and Principals continue to work as a resource for you and your child, even though they may not be physically in buildings. They can also help provide insight, suggestions, or clarifications about the application of the continuing education plan as it relates to their particular grade level.
For general questions or other items that might need to be addressed on a larger perspective through our FAQ section, please send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org. That in-box is regularly checked, and we will continue to work as a team to develop individual responses or add answers here.