Linsly Middle School Students To End School Year With ‘Virtual’ Reflection on Learning
WHEELING — With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in America, the 2019-2020 academic year has been particularly unique for schools across the country. Like many schools in the Ohio Valley, when the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality in the United States, The Linsly School in Wheeling quickly made the shift to remote learning online. With only two days for professional development allowing Linsly’s faculty to develop their classes into an online format, Linsly’s transition to online learning was somewhat quicker than anticipated.
Linsly’s first day of online instruction and learning began on March 17 and will now continue through the end of the academic year due to social distancing guidelines and the statewide mandate on school closures from Governor Jim Justice.
With the end of the academic year quickly approaching, and the continuation of remote learning at Linsly the “new normal,” Linsly Middle School Dean Maggie Allison, and a team of teacher leaders are planning to end the school year with a personal touch.
“The best aspects of teaching and learning are the personal relationships we have with our students and the joy of watching them grow and develop into young adults,” said Allison. “Middle school is definitely a time when students need social and emotional connection and we don’t intend to sacrifice those relationships just because we find ourselves teaching online.”
Linsly Head of School Justin Zimmerman, announced recently that because of the transition to online learning for students and faculty, second semester exams will be canceled. The focus instead, he explained, is on teaching and learning and finding new innovative ways for faculty to engage and assess student coursework.
According to Allison, in lieu of final exams, Linsly middle school students and teachers will engage in a virtual reflection of learning. Teachers will schedule video chats with their students who will prepare to reflect on their own growth throughout the year.
“The virtual reflection is a culminating project that celebrates the learning of each individual student,” explained Allison.
Dean Allison, who also teaches 8th grade language arts at Linsly in addition to her administrative role, attributes much of the capacity to maintain relationships with students to the team concept in the middle school. Each student in grades five-eight at Linsly belongs to a grade-level team, which is led by a teacher who is the team leader. Allison said she relies on these teacher leaders to help design educational experiences with personal touches such as the virtual end-of-year reflections, which help maintain social and emotional connection.
“The team leaders are amazing,” said Allison. “They each bring a wealth of talent and experience to their teaching roles and they consistently go above and beyond to make sure all of their students are well-cared for and known.”
Sarah Ochap, the seventh grade team leader who has been a faculty member at Linsly for 14 years, said the end-of-year reflections will focus on the whole child, which is particularly important in these uncertain times.
“Our genuine approach to the personal education of each child has narrowed,” said Ochap. “Our end-of-year, student-led reflections are designed to allow for the many meaningful moments of our fourth quarter to solidify into a sincere conclusion to a very challenging episode in their academic career.”
While the reflection projects all will have a common purpose and use a common online format, they will look slightly different at each grade level. For example, the youngest of Linsly students, fifth graders, will meet individually with their teachers, while students in sixth and seventh grade will meet in small groups with teachers and their peers. Students in eighth grade will meet with their teachers along with their parents, which has become a regular part of the curriculum as part of a year-long portfolio.
The digital growth portfolio, which started five years ago primarily as a language arts project, is now a cross-curricular endeavor where students select evidence from their work throughout the middle school experience and reflect on each piece to demonstrate their personal and academic growth. Students create a Google Site and contribute to it throughout the year. The project culminates in a student-led conference in front of their teacher and their parents during finals week of their eighth grade year. This year, with the elimination of finals, at least two other teachers on the eighth grade team in addition to the language arts teacher will participate in the conferences.
“We just didn’t want to give up that experience simply because we are now teaching remotely,” Allison said of the eighth grade project.
Linsly parent Erica Tomlinson, whose daughter, Alyssa, is an eighth grader at Linsly, said that she is pleased with her child’s online learning experience at Linsly.
“I am happy with the way that Linsly has handled the situation of online learning,” said Tomlinson. “I feel Zoom classes offer a sense of normalcy and teachers are quick to respond to questions. Even though Alyssa is missing out on experiences in her eighth grade year, I do not feel she is missing out on her education. I feel she will be prepared for her freshman year.”
As Linsly enters its sixth week of the online learning platform, students and teachers at both the Middle School and Upper School levels continue to engage in meaningful coursework and classroom experiences.
“This isn’t review work or busy work,” explained Head of School Justin Zimmerman. “Our teachers have found meaningful ways to engage our students online during a very challenging time in our students’ academic careers. The middle school reflections projects are just one example of how the Linsly faculty members are not only engaging our students but also finding ways to assess their learning outcomes on a personal, individualized basis. Knowing our students as individuals, and helping them grow, develop and learn through this challenging time continues to be our primary focus.”