“Extended day learning”, “small group teaching”, and “technology-driven strategies” are slogans often used in education these days, and for good reason.
Hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state and federal aid have flowed to schools on Long Island and elsewhere over the past year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, a common question is how this money can best be used to help students make up for lost time and improve their results.
Education experts agree that extended school hours, tutoring and computerization can all help – as long as these teaching approaches are supported by strong programs and well-trained teachers. Many island school systems have been using these techniques for years.
WHAT THERE IS TO KNOW
- A recent influx of additional financial aid to schools raised the question of how money can best be used to boost student achievement.
- Experts generally agree that the extended class time, tutoring, and computer use can all help, as long as these strategies are supported by rigorous curricula and well-planned teacher training.
- Many Long Island districts have employed these strategies for years, as evidenced by the programs in Jericho, Lawrence and Plainview-Old Bethpage.
Extended period: The 1:49 p.m. bell at Plainview-Old Bethpage High School signals the end of classes, but not instruction.
At the end of the regular school day, dozens of students return to classrooms for an additional 40-minute session known simply as “Remedial”. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as the session provides more than remediation.
For some, the extra time is spent catching up on missed lab assignments or preparing for tests. Other students use this time to pursue research projects, or perhaps arrange with a favorite teacher to write them a letter of recommendation for college.
“When you come here, the teachers are able to give you their full attention,” said Nicole Gleicher, 16, an 11th grader. She recently stopped by a science lab during remedial time to get help with her physics homework.
“Remedial” was added to the high school schedule in September 2016 as part of a larger expansion that also included a ninth class period. Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School serves approximately 1,600 students in grades 9 through 12.
The idea behind the move was to give students more time for electives and college-level advanced courses during the ninth period, as well as remedial help during the 10th period. In addition, some students whose class schedules were particularly busy found time for lunch.
Lorna Lewis, district superintendent at the time, was the primary advocate for the expansion.
Extended high school hours are becoming more common across the island, at least in districts that can afford it. To provide remedial sessions, Plainview-Old Bethpage has agreed to pay teachers for a sixth period of work, in addition to their normal five-period daily class schedules, local officials said.
Proponents said the extra time paid off in terms of increased learning.
“The great thing is that it gives administration and teachers another tool to offer parents when their children are in trouble,” said Mary O’Meara, the current district superintendent.
High tech learning: In the Lawrence school system, kindergarten students receive new laptops on their first days of class.
Lawrence is one of a growing number of districts adopting “one to one” policies — that is, handing out laptops for use in both classrooms and at home. Lawrence’s 2,700 K-12 students, along with the district’s 300 teachers, received Chromebook computers costing the district $300 each.
Lawrence began buying laptops in September 2019 and ended distribution in March 2020, just as schools closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing, although fortuitous, immediately helped the district transition to remote online instruction.
“It really was an opportune time,” said District Superintendent Ann Pedersen.
Pedersen added that with approximately 80% of local students classified as economically disadvantaged by the state, the district’s policy serves to provide laptops to families who otherwise could not afford them.
For students, individual laptops provide a virtually unlimited supply of books and other reading materials through specialized software, school staff members said. Students also use the devices to track assignments, write essays, and submit those essays to teachers for editing and grading.
Teachers, on the other hand, can use laptop computers to electronically track the academic progress of an entire class, in addition to personal observation.
At Lawrence Elementary School, Susie Hurwitz, a fourth grade teacher, gave a lesson on literary essays one recent afternoon. The students then turned to their laptops and began reading stories, while typing answers to questions about what they had read. Among the questions, some prompted the children to identify the main ideas of the stories, as well as specific facts supporting those ideas.
Student responses generated grades, which were then transmitted electronically to Hurwirtz’s laptop. A useful aspect of the system, Hurwitz said, was its ability to identify groups of students who need more intensive instruction in specific concepts or skills.
The teacher added that another useful feature was the system’s ability to automatically adjust the difficulty level of questions up or down, depending on what the children were able to handle.
“He meets them on their level,” Hurwitz said.
Small courses. In Jericho, using small class sizes to help struggling students with their lessons is a tradition that dates back to the 1980s.
Heather McGee, a high school English teacher, recently engaged her class of seven 10th graders in a lesson around a Shakespearean play, “Julius Caesar.” Anticipation mounted as the lesson approached the point of Caesar’s assassination, with students reciting dialogue in the gritty tone of Roman senators.
One student, Brandon Luong, 16, expressed his appreciation for the small class setting. “It definitely helps me understand what’s going on in the book,” he said.
These days, Jericho offers a small English class at every grade level, from grades 6 through 12, for students who need more individual attention. Class sizes range from seven to 12 students. A similar approach is taken in other academic subjects: mathematics, science and social studies.
Such classes, although expensive, produce impressive results.
Last year, for example, 63% of high school students with disabilities in Jericho earned advanced Regents diplomas, showing that they had completed higher-level courses and exams. The Nassau County average was 18%.
Hank Grishman, now in his 27th year as superintendent of Jericho, described the small classes as part of a larger approach that also offers extra help to all high school students who want it at 8:15 a.m. before the beginning of classes.
Grishman added that such programs are “tied to a larger philosophy that all children can succeed.”