With both 30 fewer hours of instructional time and the combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning, MYP and AP U.S. Government teacher Angie Cosimano expresses her main concern with the 4×4 schedule is “I’ve had to massively cut back on content and cherry-pick the most important ideas. There are also activities that I would do in person that do not translate well in the virtual classroom and I have had to get rid of those altogether.”
Health procedures from COVID-19 have left teachers in one of the most uniquely challenging positions, as they have been forced to adapt in order to align with the restrictions of the virtual classroom. Undeniably, the change that has raised the most attention and response from the staff has been the introduction of the new 4×4 schedule, where students have four of their classes every day for the first semester and the remaining four during the second semester.
While activities such as the Electoral College dice game and gummy government models cannot effectively be conducted online, Cosimano has been able to revamp certain ones for the virtual setting. She has also replaced the majority of traditional assessments with projects, class discussions, and short essays. Admittedly, she says, “It has its pros and cons.”
However, the virtual continuation of AP and IB courses has raised one of the main issues of the reduction of instructional time. With half the number of class periods, Cosimano is “terrified of prepping [her] AP Government class next semester.” With the amount of extra work on both teachers and students, Cosimano does not see the 4×4 system as effective for these types of courses. She explains, “AP and IB need to be taught year-round to be fair and be in the best interest for students doing well on the exam.”
AP Psychology teacher Kristina Berney’s initial reactions to the lack of instructional time are similar to that of Cosimano. She explains, “It is hard to know whether teaching virtually during a pandemic has been made easier or more challenging by the 4×4.”
She has appreciated being able to see her students every day with fewer classes to account for. However, she has struggled to adjust to planning daily lessons.
As her course is already taught at an accelerated pace, Berney has also acknowledged the unusual nature of AP exams this year. She notes that “it is essential to recognize the reality that test scores aren’t the most important thing right now.”
Most AP and IB teachers who are preparing students for exams in the spring face the issue of first semester students forgetting the material taught and second semester students not having the sufficient amount of time to learn it.
Another conflict of the new schedule is its impact on World Language courses. Spanish teacher Tina Garfield has expressed her concern with the potential year-long gap between levels and how this will negatively affect the speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills of students. She also considers “Asynchronous Mondays” to be a loss of “valuable instructional time.”
IB Higher Level Math teacher Jennifer Pisapia also believes that with the 4×4, students lack the proper amount of time to fully comprehend new material, unlike with the previous A/B schedule. She further explains, “We cover something new just about every day, and they don’t have that ‘in between’ day to reinforce their learning.”
With such a time constraint, but the same amount of curriculum to be taught, English 9 teacher Michelle Behm expresses her challenges with fitting all eight of her required units into the shortened year.
While in the past it has been at times difficult to get through everything, now “it is like trying to fit an ocean in a 12 ounces Mason jar.”
Behm also expresses her concern with students who struggle to self-advocate, especially online. She explains, “they end up not doing the assignment or activity because they are afraid or not willing to reach out. And the next day, they are now a day behind. It is a never-ending cycle.”
However, Behm does believe that the 4×4 system could become more effective, with the proper revisions. For example, dividing each term into two marking periods rather than four.
This perception of virtual teaching is similar to IB Biology Katie Liakos’s understanding that “knowing ahead of time that we were short days makes you really prioritize what is needed for the content.” She has been able to replace labs with virtual alternatives that take less time to complete.
With the unknown and constantly changing state of the remainder of this school year as well as those to come, teachers and students alike have quickly learned the importance of keeping an open mind.
As simply put by Garfield, “What else can we do?”