CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - After thousands of students weren’t heard from when the state went fully online because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, teachers say they have concocted a new plan on keeping track of their students.
In just a matter of days, students will be getting ready to go to school for the 2020-2021 school year, but a good many will be doing that from a distance through virtual or blended learning.
“I’m excited about it – it’s just something new,” Westview Elementary third grade teacher Shana Taylor said. “I don’t mind change or having anything thrown at me.”
One of the new things in preparation for the new school year is training teachers to handle both in-person and virtual students.
“The children at home will be watching me teaching and they will be able to ask questions for me to answer questions,” Taylor said. “I’m going to put them also with buddies in the classroom, so they can work and partner and help each other out.”
S.C. Department of Education Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown said “It certainly is going to be a big adjustment for many teachers that may not be used to teaching virtually. How do you keep students engaged? How do you ensure that those essential standards are being learned? How do you assess them virtually? So it’ll be a big shift.”
The changes aren’t only for the teachers, expectations for virtual learning this year are also very different.
“The learning is going to be much more rigorous,” Brown said. “There will certainly be a learning curve for students, parents and teachers but expectations from students will be much higher.”
One of the big questions on people’s minds remains how will attendance work. Obviously for the students in person, teachers say they can tell pretty easily if they’re there or not the entire time. However when it comes to virtual students teachers say they pose a more difficult task.
In-person attendance is very similar to what it would be during a traditional school year, according to Brown.
“The one caveat is COVID-19 in positive cases, or a student having to quarantine for close contact, would be considered an excused absence and schools have been given a process for reporting that to the Department of Education but also reporting that to DHEC,” Brown said. “So, for in person, very similar to what you traditionally are used to.”
Reporting absences starts to get a little bit different when discussing virtual and hybrid students, Brown said.
“The level of rigor and expectations on the state level and on the district level will be much, much higher than they were when that emergency learning was taking place,” Brown reiterated.
Berkeley County School District Public Information Officer Katie Tanner said, “Whatever way teachers typically took attendance, they will continue to do. If you’re going to call out attendance, then they’re going to have a schedule of when they’re going to be expected to be online for direct instruction.”
Tanner said Berkeley County’s blended learning includes being logged in online at the same time the instruction is taking place.
“So I picture it as I’m doing a whole group lesson,” She said. “And then third grade at Westview is based in personalized learning. So they’ll go and do their independent work and meet with me in small groups. So while everyone is doing their independent work, the children at home will also be doing their independent work.”
Tanner said that since high schoolers typically change teachers with each subject while elementary students do not, attendance is going to vary teacher to teacher and will look different between grade levels.
Officials say it’s going to be up to the teacher to pay attention to who might be missing subjects virtually.
“If you’re seeing a student who’s not engaging, maybe they only engage in the morning and they haven’t engaged for that direct instruction in the afternoon or opposite,” Tanner said. “That’s going to be a conversation that the teacher has with the family.”
Berkeley County officials say every family will have the schedule for their student. They say blended learning is not a self-paced pathway.
Like SC Virtual, officials say students will have the same expectations at home as the students do inside the classroom because the instruction will be simultaneous.
Officials say teachers will also be expected to keep track of how many and how often, students are missing classes both in person and virtually.
The guidelines on truancy will apply to both and can also be found on the S.C. Department of Education’s website.