Alternative Structured Learning Days in the MURSD
Rationale for Alternative Structured Learning (ASL) Days
In recent years the MURSD has had as many as seven or eight snow days/weather-related cancellations. As a result, with the 180-day requirement, the final day of the school year has been in late June. Their has been much discussion among all stakeholders about how productive the school day may be past mid-June. As a result MURSD School Committee has approved a pilot for Alternative Structured Learning (ASL) Days, a program that ensures that students are still engaged in meaningful learning during a weather-related school cancellation. Under guidelines promulgated by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, schools that opt to implement an appropriate ASL Day system will credited with a day of learning when school is canceled for weather, and hence the day will not have to made up in June after the regularly scheduled 180th day.
Definition of Alternative Structured Learning Day
By definition, an Alternative Structured Learning (ASL) Day refers to the practice of assigning work to students that can be completed at home on days when school is not in session because of weather or other emergencies. Assignments will be any of three types, depending on teacher/content area/grade level preference.
- Stand alone assignments that are directly related to the current scope and sequence of the classroom curriculum (i.e., something that the student’s class is currently working on/studying).
- A series of one time assignments that are directly related to the curriculum but are assigned as enrichment activities to enhance student learning.
- A series of linked assignments that are part of an ongoing, longer term project that will be assessed by the conclusion of the grading term.
Whatever the type of assignment selected, it is expected that the assignment is engaging, purposeful, and gives students the opportunity to practice both academic and time management skills. This purposeful assignment should be part of the student’s assessments for the given quarter/trimester.
Decision/Announcement of an ASL Day
The decision for an announcement of an ASL Day in lieu of a traditional snow/cancellation day will be made by the Superintendent of Schools. However, the following parameters shall exist:
- An ASL Day will not be called if there is an existing loss of electricity or internet service in the communities, or if there is a substantial threat of the loss of service due to imminent severe conditions.
- If there is a substantial storm that requires two or more days of cancellation, there will not be two contiguous ASL Days called.
- The Superintendent of Schools shall announce an ASL Day as soon as possible (e.g., if there is a consistent forecast for a substantial storm the day/evening before a likely school cancellation). The Superintendent may also choose to publicize in advance that in all likelihood, the next school cancellation will be an ASL Day. In this case, teachers, students, and families may prepare in advance for the assignments and requirements.
Assignment of Student Work & Reponsibilities on ASL Days
Students in grades K-4 will work on assignments that do not entail the use of digital devices. Teachers at H.P. Clough Elementary School and Memorial Elementary School will send home physical folders with the assignments in advance of any ASL Day.
Students in grades 5-12 at Miscoe Hill Middle School and Nipmuc Regional High School will work on assignments that may be accessed through their digital devices. Teachers will communicate assignments to students and parents using Google Classroom, or applicable teacher websites. Assignments will be posted no later than 8:30 am the morning of the cancelled day, but may be posted sooner.
At the secondary level (Miscoe and Nipmuc), students will only be responsible for completing activities for classes they would have had on the cancelled school day. The day in the cycle will be communicated to students and parents on the school website.
During regular school hours on the cancelled day, teachers will monitor communication from students/families and be available for responding to questions. They will provide a minimum of two hours (as “virtual office hours”) that they will be available for more immediate guidance/assistance should a student or family need it. Building principals will ensure that these hours are reasonable and at the secondary level, reasonably spread out throughout the day. Teachers will interact with students during regular school hours in virtual ways, including collaboration with shared Google Docs as they monitor individual or group assignments, or communicating through other virtual means such as Google Classroom, Google Hangout, or email – to answer questions or provide support to students. Teachers will communicate instructions for how and when they will be available to students no later than the morning of the cancellation.
Teachers will provide assignments that are meaningful and developmentally appropriate for the age of their students. While prudent professional judgment should be the guiding force, the amount of time allocation, on average, that a student should take to complete ASL assignments should be the following:
Grades K-2: 1.5 - 2 hours
Grades 3-4: 2 - 3 hours
Grades 5-12: 30 min/content area
During the pilot year, parents will be solicited to provide information on how long their students actively worked on each ASL assignment. Parents will be asked on each assignment to estimate the amount of time their student took to complete the assignment. Feedback will be solicited at the end of the year to guide best practices going forward. Teachers should correct/assess assignments as they typically would, in a timely manner. With teacher discretion, students will be given a maximum of five school days to submit the completed assignments after the ASL Day. After the cancelled day, teachers will be available to help students in person following the school cancellation day during their regularly scheduled before, during, and after school hours.
Specialist teachers (Music, Art, Health/Physical Education, Business, and Technology) will also develop assignments/activities that support their curriculum and provide a physical folder (at the elementary level) or post them on Google Classroom or teacher websites. Students will only be responsible for completing the activities for the specialists that they would have had on the cancelled school day. The day in the cycle will be communicated to students and parents on the school website.
Special education teachers and English learner (EL) teachers will review their schedule for the cancelled school day and consider how to best support students to complete their ASL Day assignments. In some cases, they will have co-created the assignments with the teacher and/or contributed to modifications of the assignments. The special education/EL teacher will communicate with the classroom teacher, students, and/or parents as necessary before, on, or after the school cancellation day to provide the ongoing support that students require to successfully complete their assignments.
Technology Use and Access
The district will survey families in grades 5-12 to determine the extent of homes that currently do not access high-speed internet services. For those students without high-speed internet, teachers will provide steps that permit direct download of assignments and related learning resources directly to the digital device (i.e., an iPad). Students will also have the opportunity to access these online resources upon returning to school after the cancelled day.
Evaluation of ASL Program
At the end of the winter season, each school will administer surveys to students, teachers, and families as a means to collective qualitative data to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The surveys will inquire about the depth and breadth of ASL assignments, the time required for completion, challenges in completing assignments, and the ease of access to teachers for assistance during the ASL Days. Quantitative data such as the percentage of ASL assignments submitted (a realistic objective is at least 80% submission), the number of emails/virtual conversations that occurred on ASL Days, and total time to complete ASL assignments will also be collected.
Feedback will be shared with teachers, students, families, and the Regional School Committee.