Most of the school boards in Ontario have decided to adopt a quadmester model for the school year initially proposed by the TDSB. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/tdsb-back-to-school-final-plan-quadmesters-1.5673519. This model is meant to help minimize the spread of COVID-19, since students will only be taking two courses per semester, and will be in a class of no more than 15 students. A class that would typically contain 30 students will be split into two cohorts to allow for social distancing. Moreover, students will not go to school everyday, but on alternating days. Students will go to school in the morning, and will then have synchronous classes in the afternoon. Remote learning will also have an asynchronous component, where students will have to learn independently. Each quad will be about 9 weeks in class, so just over 2 months. Most students will still be expected to complete 8 courses during the school year.
There are several downsides to the quadmester model. It is understandable why it was implemented; the health of all individuals in our communities takes precedence over the education of the next generation. There is no question in my mind that the learning of many students will be impeded by changing the length of a typical semester from 4 months to half that time. Having each semester be half the length of a typical semester will be especially detrimental to students that miss a week or two due to unforeseen circumstances. This type of model will greatly affect the success of students that learn at a slower pace and need more time to assimilate knowledge. The pace at which each course will be delivered will be twice as fast than normal and students will have less time with the material. The same amount of curriculum will have to be covered in half the amount of time. Many teachers will likely decide to not cover the entire curriculum in each course they teach to ensure that students do not feel overwhelmed and can still be successful. This will result in students having gaps in knowledge when they take higher level courses next school year.
Grade 11 and 12 students will especially be impacted by these gaps in knowledge since grade 11 and 12 courses generally contain a lot more curriculum than courses in earlier grades. Moreover, the concepts covered in these courses tend to be harder to grasp and students generally find that there is a bit of a transition from grade 10 to 11 in terms of the complexity of course material. Grade 11 students will be less likely to do well in grade 12 courses if they have misconceptions and gaps in their understanding, which could affect their prospects of being accepted to coveted university programs. Grade 12 students, on the other hand, will have a harder time in first year university courses since they’ll lack some foundational knowledge due to certain concepts being covered too quickly or not at all.
Another issue that students will face apart from the accelerated pace of each course and less in-class time to receive one-on-one help from their teachers, is the constant distraction of being on a computer or tablet. In the age of social media, online chat platforms, video streaming sites, and online video games, it is extremely challenging for a teenager that is still developing impulse control to stay focused online. If it is challenging for adults to remain productive when working from home, it is considerably more difficult for children and teens to stay on task and get work done. Students will need to be held accountable more than ever. According to policies set out by boards and school unions, students are not to have their webcams on during lessons, which means that a teacher wouldn’t even be able to see if a student is off-task. This type of set up promotes disengagement and off-task behaviour.
What are the measures that can be put into place to prevent students from becoming disengaged, falling behind, and not being prepared for future courses? These issues can be mitigated with mentoring and tutoring. The purpose of a tutor/mentor would be to fill in any gaps in knowledge, address misconceptions, and help students stay focused on their schoolwork throughout the school year. The role of a tutor/mentor will be to guide students through the curriculum at a reasonable pace and check to make sure that students are completing assigned work. The more people a student is held accountable to, the likelier it is that he or she will attempt to get work done to avoid being reprimanded. A famous African proverb states that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Same goes with educating a student – a team of individuals is often needed. A student will learn best if he or she feels supported and is held to a high standard.
Being an Ontario certified math and science educator, I have taught most of the grade 9-12 math and science courses in private and public schools in the GTA. I have also been teaching these courses in a one-on-one setting for the past decade to students that wanted to get ahead. Many of these students have been admitted to admired university programs. I continue to serve as a tutor and mentor to students in the age of COVID-19, just now I have adapted to tutoring online. Being a teacher, I’m well-versed in the Ontario math and science curriculum so I don’t need to rely on students having homework or assignments from school in order for me to instruct them in a subject. I can tailor my instruction to meet the needs of my students and come up with a personalized education plan for each student that I tutor. I can continuously assess my students’ understanding of concepts through frequent assessments such as worksheets, quizzes and tests that I have developed myself. I also provide students with my own resources such as course packs and notes.