As public schools in West Virginia consider a proper response in the event of a community outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus, the options being considered highlight that the current curricular models are too rigid to accommodate more than occasional missed classes and cancellations. At West Virginia Academy, we plan to utilize online education as a supplement to classroom instruction so that knowledge gaps from missed classes in sequential core topics become a thing of the past. Our entire core curriculum will be available in an online format that can be deployed as a supplement to live instruction any time a child misses class for a major weather event (or in response to a spreading worldwide pandemic). But this approach to curriculum is about more than just addressing the occasional and infrequent school cancellations, it's about addressing the needs of all students who have to miss class for any reason and it also provides an alternative means of learning for students who fall behind in any core topic.
The current system of assigning alternative homework assignments is simply not meeting the needs of our children when classes must be missed. I missed a few days of class back in 8th grade and, while I can't quite remember why I missed, I do recall the topic we covered in algebra that week. Our class learned how to factor equations while I was away and because I missed the class lectures I was completely lost on that topic. The supplemental homework assignment provided little guidance or help. Over time I eventually picked it up enough to get by, but all through my math courses in high school I felt anxiety whenever factoring came up because I wasn't quite sure that I had it down. I certainly don't blame my teachers for this knowledge gap as they couldn't have been expected to go back and re-teach a topic just because I was not present for it. That said, with advances in technology that enable us to better track student absences and progress in core topics, its amazing to me that sequential classes are still taught as if students will never miss a single day of class.
While avoiding absences is ideal for the learning environment in class and of course absences should be discouraged, this ideal is inconsistent with the realities of life and retaining a rigid in person only delivery model fails to account for opportunities for learning outside the classroom. Kids get sick, grandparents pass away, family members get married, and these occurrences typically do not fit neatly into the breaks in the school calendar. There is a better way of delivering instruction and supporting student outcomes that can accommodate student absences and even different rates of learning among students.
Our approach is drastically different from the traditional model as we plan to have our entire core curriculum available online, not as the primary method of instruction, but as a supplement that kicks in whenever a class is missed for any reason. If a child is absent for any reason from any sequential lesson in a core topic, they and their parents will immediately be given access to the lesson online so that it can be completed and the student will avoid falling behind. For absences that are known in advance, students can be given the lessons ahead of time and complete the core topics when they are able. Of course, not every student has access to a computer with an internet connection at home and students who are out sick are not always able to complete lessons while in recovery. In instances where a student does not complete the core lessons online before returning to school, the student will be directed to the computer lab to complete the lessons upon returning to school so that they are completely caught up prior to continuing with live instruction. This ensures that all students have received instruction on a topic at least once before ever attending a live class that builds on that particular topic. Lastly, the online curriculum can be used to provide supplemental instruction over term breaks for any students who fall behind.
Getting away from global pandemics, ice storms, and the stomach flu, supplemental online education is about more than just filling gaps for involuntary school absences. There are opportunities for learning outside the classroom that families can and should be encouraged to engage in. Classrooms simply cannot replicate the learning that can occur when a child visits a historic site or experiences a different culture, but the current curriculum delivery method punishes children of families that take advantage of such opportunities. Our approach to using online education as a supplement to keep kids on track in core topics opens the door for similar family travel during the non-peak travel seasons when families can most easily afford such experiences. This approach to incorporating technology to supplement the delivery of a cohesive and deliberate core curriculum sets West Virginia Academy apart from traditional public schools that have largely chosen to disregard technological advances in online education. We believe our approach to education will be better for students and families and will result in improved student outcomes in core topics.