Illinois shifting to 'remote learning' during school closure

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 31, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Quincy High School teacher Stacie Niffen says there's some important things to understand as Illinois shifts to "remote learning days" for students.

"This is not going to be the same type of instruction you receive in the classroom," said Niffen, who teaches English, special education and serves as the yearbook sponsor. "Understand that you're going to have to be flexible and accommodating, and that's everyone being flexible and accommodating, not just teachers of students who have special needs."

School districts across the state begin remote learning, effective Tuesday, until in-person instruction can resume.

"Remote learning is learning that happens outside of the traditional classroom because the student and teacher are separated by distance and/or time," according to the final draft of remote learning recommendations during COVID-19 emergency from the Illinois State Board of Education. "Remote learning can be real-time or flexibility timed, and it may or may not involve technology."

Niffen and two other area educators -- Central Elementary School Principal Eric Stotts and Pikeland Superintendent Paula Hawley -- served on ISBE's Remote Learning Advisory Group which developed the recommendations over the past week to support educators, students and families.

"It does provide a good foundation to work from in terms of what best practice probably looks like," Niffen said.

Remote learning plans will take districts beyond the continued learning online resources and handouts already made available to students since schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The difference is that we're probably going to be introducing some new concepts, be doing some instruction," Quincy Superintendent Roy Webb said. "We want to take this very slow and not overwhelm our students, our parents, our teachers."

Stotts said one key is making sure the opportunity to continue learning is available to all students.

"Each school is going to be able to serve their students and their district the best that they can," he said. "We're just in an urgency right now trying to make sure kids are growing and learning."

School districts first need to finalize remote learning plans – and can use up to five Remote Learning Planning Days to work with their collective bargaining units.

"Are we going to continue with a weekly packet at the elementary school? Are we going to do plans online? There's a lot of things to consider," Stotts said. "Not all students have internet and technology … and even in one-to-one, it's a struggle. You still want that relationship-building between your students and your teachers which is the social-emotional learning side."

Teachers should be planning and delivering lessons and communicating with students and families. Using familiar technology, like Schoology for Niffen's students, can make the transition easier.

"You can post a variety of resources, post links and videos and assignments directly to it," Niffen said. "Students can do their work electronically, and it has conferencing through Schoology for meeting with kids visually and virtually."

Webb stressed that remote learning is "a brand-new concept" for students, families, teachers and school districts.

"Building something from scratch is going to take time to do it right," he said.

The continued learning materials take QPS through April 7. The district's Phase 2, or remote learning, plan will begin Monday, April 13. QPS will use two Remote Learning Planning Days on April 8 and 9, and April 10 already was a non-attendance day or Good Friday.

Advisory group members worked on guidance for instruction and grading for different grade levels along with special education and multilingual education. The aim, ISBE said, is that student grades are not lowered as a result of remote learning, suggesting a grading model of pass/incomplete.

"Grading should focus on the continuation of learning and prioritize the connectedness and care for students and staff," ISBE said. "A focus on keeping children emotionally and physically safe, fed and engaged in learning should be our first priority during this unprecedented time."