Offices & Resources

Remote Learning Meets the Challenge of a New Normal
Remote Learning Meets the Challenge of a New Normal

For two weeks now, St. Mark's has been meeting the challenges of COVID-19 with a full schedule of remote classes, taught by St. Mark's faculty and attended by St. Mark's students, all online. Academically, the spring term has been fully underway. While sports, concerts, dances, and other traditional on-campus activities have not been taking place, regular Chapel services and all-school meetings are happening remotely, and they have included music, readings, and presentations from both students and adults.

There is no question that everyone involved finds this new experience, in the face of all that is going on, to be "challenging"—a word that appears again and again in St. Markers describing a unique adventure.

"Remote learning is a new challenge that the St. Mark's community must overcome due to the COVID-19 pandemic," declares Libby Flathers, a V Former from Southborough. "I am running for a 2020-2021 Monitor position, and having 'Meet the Monitors' over Zoom was very difficult. It is sad that we had to cancel our student-run musical, which I was directing, and I had to miss the softball season. You can't do those things online remotely."

Despite these setbacks, Flathers sees many positives in the remote learning approach, noting that her teachers set expectations for each week on Sunday evening, which helps with planning.

"I personally like this setup," Flathers says. "Every Sunday night I sit down with my notebook and planner and plan out my week. I write out all of the Zoom classes that I have to attend and write out all of the assignments that I have for the week. Remote learning has been a challenge, and it definitely took some getting used to, as I had never used Zoom before, but I think that I've got the hang of it now and am ready for a great spring term."

There are different challenges for international students, but they are being met positively and in good spirits. "I appreciate that I am still able to learn and see my peers through remote learning," says Rebecca Wu, a V Former from China. "I am in a different time zone, so I have to attend most of my classes at night, when I am tired and not so productive. But it is so nice and helpful of my teachers that they are willing to record lessons and let us rewatch them! I also appreciate the opportunity to connect with my advisor and counselors while being so far away. Reading all the prayers and poems that Rev. Talcott, Rev. Solter, and Ms. McCann sent to us is also very comforting and encouraging. Above all, I am thankful to be in this supportive community even being so far away, and I hope to reunite with everybody in the not-so-distant future!"

Teaching remotely is a new experience for faculty as well. "I have found it to be an exciting challenge, one that asks me to focus on the most important aspects of my teaching, while allowing the time and space to continue connecting with students both individually and as a collective group," says Kathleen Roussinous of the Modern Languages Department. "Though nothing can substitute for their in-person presence, which I certainly miss, I am thankful we have the technology to continue building a community of learners."

With that "community of learners" in mind. Roussinos' colleague, math teacher Michelle Nieves, also recognizes the challenges inherent in teaching classes remotely.

"I try to incorporate my presence into each learning, practice, and assessment opportunity so that students know I curated the experience specifically for them," says Nieves. "It is unrealistic for me to create everything from scratch, so I definitely seek out and utilize some resources that are already created. But I am very careful when selecting which videos to use, which readings to have them do, and which problems I ask them to solve so that my students have a learning experience that is customized specifically for their unique learning styles and needs."

Assignments across the academic disciplines often take on visual forms. Both Nieves and her Math Department colleague Johnny McNamara had their students do a circle measuring activity as part of an introductory lesson to their unit on circles. Students were asked to submit a photo of themselves with five objects and their work. This is a photo submitted by Si Jones, a III Former from Jamaica Plain, Mass. They also had a "pizza slice" activity to help students develop a formula for the area of a circle, and one of them did it with an actual pizza (see photo below).


In teaching her art classes remotely, longtime faculty member Barbara Putnam has encouraged her students to complete their assignments with whatever materials they have at hand, and then send pictures of those completed works to her, along with explanations as to how they were created. Examples of that student art will be available in galleries linked to an upcoming SM website article.

As St. Mark's director of experiential learning, John Camp (pictured at the top of the story) sees great value in such exercises. A 12-year veteran of the School's English faculty. Mr. Camp is also associate director of St. Mark's Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. Camp is dedicated to "making the 'remote' work as akin to what happens during regular school as possible, to keep students in the routines of teaching and learning that they are comfortable with. As an English teacher, I provide directed written feedback with each assignment utilizing the Google Docs. So, students understand that essential mechanism of their learning—processing feedback and applying meaningful revisions or improvements to future assignments—and that has remained consistent and 'normal.' I have been impressed with the quality of the students' work: seeing that has galvanized for me the system that I use during 'regular' school and the value of maintaining that system for predictable teaching and learning during these uncanny, unpredictable times."

Ultimately, of course, it is the students and their achievements that measure the success of academic efforts. "Remote learning has been an interesting experience," states Vianey Morris, a V Former from Chicago. "One of the benefits is students experiencing having to 'show up' to class on their own and get their work done. This is a good experience because it makes students have to be more responsible. Still, it is hard for some classes to be online and I would much rather have them in person. Even though that is the case, my teachers at St. Mark's have been very helpful with asking for students' needs and doing their best to make things work for students." Still, she says, "I do miss St. Mark's and I hope to go back soon!"

For more information about Remote Learning at St. Mark's, go to https://www.stmarksschool.org/academics/remote-learning