by Richard K. Munro
Until last year I had never heard of “Zoom” as teaching tool or “Canvas.” I had done some online training classes and some correspondence classes via email and via snail mail with the occasional phone call. I remember writing an illustrated poem in elementary school that went like this “THE PLANE WENT ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOM then crashed and went BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! ” I thought it was exciting and realistic but I remember it did not that the approval of the classroom teacher.
I am a classroom teacher in the trenches. Now of course I am teaching students as if they were on a distant moon or Mars or in the Space Lab. I have done virtual teaching since March 18 2020. All I will say is that it is better than in March 2020 and it is better than nothing.
But it should go without saying that online technology creates a barrier or affective filter that discourages and impedes comprehension and learning. No one would think to try to teach a foreign language by phone or merely via emails. Students who do not hear well, comprehend aural English and who do not type or word process quickly and accurately are at severe disadvantage.
All that side we are doing VIRTUAL testing of the English Proficiency Tests this year (via ETS) https://www.elpac.org/ We teachers have to learn a test interface for distant testing.
Students have to use a special ten digit student # for the ELPAC they cannot past this number nor can it be sent via email. Students must have the APP for the secure test browser on their Chromebook or computer
If they don’t they are out of luck. Even so even with a school
Chromebook technical difficulties are not unusual especially due to the quality of the internet connection. The Secure Test Browser requires a fast and continuous Internet speed.
Then students have to use their first name (first letter capitalized)
type in there unique student ID # for the ELPAC
then type in a unique session # for their grade level or the reading, writing and listening test they are doing. Believe me this is complicated If one thing goes wrong or the internet is slow everything crashes.
So far 40 % of students in my class have not been able to log on even to begin a test.
Of those who have tested only about 30% have finished all the required tests. Some are incomplete because the test froze while they were testing. Some are incomplete because despite numerous attempts day after day during class and after school they could not log on via their Chromebooks.
I am a good soldier. I try to do my best. I monitor for HOURS (often after my regular school day) WITHOUT ANY PAY to make sure the students can finish tests. Sometimes I have to spend 3, 4, 5, 6 hours monitoring ELPAC my camera and their camera MUST BE ON and IS RECORDED so that students can finish the test. I have taken to having my ,lunch and coffee during testing because it is too much trouble to log off or pause the test.
And of course the students have to sign a form that they can’t use any materials or phones or aides during the test. But let’s be honest I can see the person who is front of the camera and I recognize that person. I montior what they are doing and how long they do it. But such a test is NOT SECURE. Really it should be considered INVALID.
It is HORRIBLE how much school time is spent merely on test prop for EL PAC all readings all assignments mimic the ELPAC and that is all we do. But don’t forget we have to give other tests like the STAR READING test (fortunately a snap to take and administer just a link no layers of “security”)
But the word is the State of California has paid millions for these tests and ETS is desperate that they tests be given because they want them to be renewed for next year and the year after that.
It would be logical to suspend this testing in this plague year. We could have easily done practice tests to familiarize students for a future year and left it at that.
But soon my journey of the cross will be over and so will the Calvary of the students. We will begin to meet in person April 6-April 12th. But with a difference. Some students will still be at home since attendance in person is voluntary. So teachers have to do distance learning and in person learning simultaneous. We will be equipped with additional cameras, speakers and a Plexiglas protector on our desks. We will have to wear a mask at all times while teaching. In April and May we will dedicate ourselves to literature (Homer) and poetry (including Shakespeare). I have Audible books on tape and electronic versions of all the books and poems. Students will listen and recite proverbs and poems to improve their diction and they will write short responses to literature and keep vocabulary notebooks.
But it appears they will remain on a distant moon and I on my distant spaceship. Some students will report to classrooms (computer labs) with teacher aides but many will continue distance learning from home.
As I said , it is better than nothing but the truth is the Matthew effect is quite evident. The Rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Without constant supervision and close encouragement, many students are distracted and demoralized. For many the entire year has been a loss. Poles and Jews in forced labor camps during WWII have learned more. And I am sure that you are away how disastrous it was for youth to lose out on education from 1940-1945.
Covid 19 has been as bad as war and worse than the Great Depression.
I only hope schools will return to normal by Fall. There is a future for distance learning, of course. But it works best with fluent, motivated mature and highly motivated students.
It is a poor choice for k-6, for English Learners, for neophyte foreign language learners, immature, easily distracted and marginally motivated students. If a student has a poor home environment then that student does not even have the advantage of a bright, clean, secure environment
YES, BY ALL MEANS STANDARDIZED TESTING SHOULD BE SUSPENDED UNTIL FURTHER
But no one pays any attention to me. So I carry on as in the Ypres Salient and do my duty.
But I mourn the massive casualties all about me.
Some students are being destroyed have been discouraged and have dropped out. Many are working in the field, in packing sheds in kitchens etc. The Plague Year has been a sad year. A year of suffering, loss and tragedy.